March 31, 2014
By Royal Speidel
Wesley United Methodist church in Jefferson City had its commissioning service on January 9, 1966 as a daughter of First UMC in the Capitol City. It is surrounded by homes on 5.2 acres of land in the northwest side of the city.
Two months after Tom Vansant was appointed to lead the congregation in June of 2011, he had the church council considering becoming a Healthy Church Initiative Church. The church had its consultation weekend on February 17-20 in 2012 resulting in five prescriptions the church accepted to work on to develop greater vitality.
Prescription #1: Mission & Vision
The church agreed “to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” its mission statement. The leaders of the church adopted a vision motto of worship, work and walk, meaning that the congregation would make weekly worship a central focus, would work at developing deeper faith and would walk the faith through service in the church and the community.
Prescription #2: Worship & Assimilation
To address the declining worship attendance (drop from 334 in 2004 to 221 in 2011), the church was asked to develop “a variety of worship experiences that will reach young families and youth.” Through the leadership of a newly formed Worship Design Team the congregation agreed by a unanimous vote to having their Sunday 8:30 a.m. service be traditional with the 11 a.m. service (Apex) becoming their contemporary service in January, 2013. Wisely, the church hired a worship coach for a six month period to enhance both worship experiences. Tom Vansant said, “That was one of the best things I did.”
Wesley UMC was averaging 1.5 first time worship guests, and it appeared that more effective assimilation had to take place in order to retain 25% of those guests. To address assimilation the church hired a Connections Coordinator. Also, about one hundred came to hear Jim Downing of Sedalia UMC talk about how to create a more welcoming worship experience.
Through the Healthy Church Initiative, Wesley was encouraged to create a Welcome Center for pre and post worship fellowship. Recently a couple returned who had been there two years ago but were unimpressed. They noted the change brought about by the welcoming center, and now want to make the church their home. The wife commented, “This is just wonderful.”
Prescription #3: Community Connections
Sixty-four signed up for Serve 2012 to do service projects in the community. Folks went to the homes of people in need to help them cut grass, pull weeds and wash windows.
Wesley UMC has had a pumpkin fest for years and in 2012, they gave away prizes to the 500 who came along with surveys about how the church could serve the community better.
The church lawn became a neighborhood outdoor theater on Friday nights during the summer of 2013, when movies were shown. Free popcorn and popsicles were served. It was a creative and fun activity for the neighborhood, but unfortunately no effort was built into it to receive new names to contact.
About twenty youth of the church went to Joplin to help clean up after its devastating tornado, and twelve went to Haiti to serve in the name of Jesus Christ.
Wesley has about 100 involved in self-giving efforts for Jesus Christ, which includes serving lunch on first Saturdays at the Salvation Army. Their Hearts, Hands and Hammers ministry helping with home repairs was featured in a local newspaper article.
Prescription #4: Young Families
With the average age of Wesley UMC at 62, the church needs to take dramatic steps to bring in younger people. The contemporary worship service should help that, but filling the 22,670 square foot lovely building with week day children’s ministries would be a great boost. A children’s coordinator was hired to address that issue. The church has a Wednesday evening fellowship dinner, which is followed by youth and children’s programs. Pastor Vansant feels enhancing the outreach efforts of these would be helpful.
Prescription #5 Intentional Faith Development
This prescription calls for the church to develop a step by step process to disciple the people of Wesley into being faithfully committed to follow Jesus Christ. The development of a small group program was to be the center of that effort. Accordingly, under the leadership of Connections Coordinator, Stephanie Greiner, one hundred participated in the 2012 Lenten Small group program studying Soul Revolution.
The book challenges its readers to think about God every hour for sixty days, called the 60/60 program. Many committed to follow that discipline, and it had a profound effect on the church.
Home “Story Groups” are being formed to begin after Easter and continue during this summer. Giving reflects faith, and Wesley had stewardship campaigns in the fall of 2012 and 2013 using an outside resource for each campaign. Churches allow God to help their giving by using outside speakers to help organize their annual campaigns.
Whereas average worship attendance slipped to 210 in 2012, it grew to 217 in 2013, and that year the church welcomed 37 new members. Wesley has grown in Extravagant Generosity with strong finances, and apportionments were paid for two consecutive years for the first time in five years.
The church has a lovely building with 22,670 square feet which offers great opportunity for weekday ministries for children. Wesley is in prayer about how God can help them use that space Monday through Friday for ministries to bring Christ to families as well as to help lower the age of the congregation.