This week staff and deans met with Kirbyjon Caldwell and some of his staff. Windsor Village Methodist Church in Houston is an outstanding congregation. We wanted to see why. We did.
Windsor is a very large church. About 11,000 members. 6,000 average worship attendance. They tithe 10% of their budget to the Methodist Church. That’s $1.3 million of a $13 million budget. Times are tough; they won’t make their $1.3M this year, but it’s not because they don’t want to. These folks are passionate about Wesley’s vision for the church, and Wesley was a giver. Windsor Village is an outwardly-focused congregation, providing hope and practical tools for those in need. They’ve spun off a school, a neighborhood, a YMCA and much more.
Immediately the sense of hospitality was palpable. Even the security guard knew we were coming. We were met by an assistant who gave us a tour, explaining the church’s core values and ministries. These folks had agreed to meet us for free. When we walked in the room, there was coffee, juice, fruit, rolls, canvas bags, pads, pencils and nametags for us. They rolled out the red carpet, because that’s what they do.
After a short overview Kirbyjon invited us to have prayer with the staff. When we arrived they were doing a line dance, music playing on a hefty sound system. We laughed and stumbled, and got our hearts pounding. Then they passed out a long series of prayers on paper and invited us to read these prayers aloud on our own, walking around, as the music played. At one point we were invited to find a partner and pray together. Then the prayer leader invited Kirbyjon to greet the staff. It struck us how prayer was an integral part of their life together. The building was scattered with information about classes on prayer. Later Kirbyjon gave me a book on prayer written by his spouse.
We told him the ongoing saga of mainline Protestantism, a story he already knows well. We asked him to imagine he was the bishop. What would he do to reinvigorate congregations for mission? What principles had he used here, that we could share with congregations.
He spoke of the three-legged stool he began with, and that still guides their work:
2. Children and Youth
He said worship is number one. You can’t get members if you don’t have visitors, and you won’t have visitors if you don’t have engaging worship. He said, if you don’t preach well, then don’t preach long. Children and youth had to be a top priority. Finally, adult education had to be faith and life. They teach people to pray, and they teach people to manage their finances. Very practical.
Decide what kind of church you are going to be, and what kind of folks you want to reach. Are you going for church people, or unchurched? My favorite quote: “Most people looking for a dead church have already found one.”
We noticed that he surrounds himself with good people. He trusts them, and they seem to really trust his leadership. Leadership is transparent, and contagious. We heard many of the same things from different staff people. Their core values permeate every corner of the organization. There is a clear sense of teamwork. He was sent to serve this church of 25 people in 1982, in one of the poorest areas of Houston at the time. It is now the largest Methodist Church in the country. We noted that he is still in touch with the original 25, in fact some of them are on his staff as key leaders. The person in charge of children’s ministries was one of the original 25.
“Don’t prop up old, failed models for being church. Decide if you want to cater to those who are already there, or those who are needing to come. If you do creative things, expect to take fire. Decide: Do you want to be a historical church, or a history-making church.
It struck me, he called each of us by name. Great people skills. Made us feel welcome and at easy. Ready to learn. He said enthusiasm from the pastor is vital. You bring hope and empowerment. Bring people in as they are, with all their faults. Love them. Don’t try to clean them up too fast. You have to catch the fish before you can clean it.
He was easy to understand and follow. No code words. Learn to speak the language of the people you are serving.
We came away with a sense of the importance of leadership. Several things rose to the surface:
1. Getting the right leaders in the right congregations is vital. Call process is still one of the most important things we can do to revitalize congregations. We brainstormed ways to get better at helping congregations get the right pastor for their context.
2. It’s not enough to get the right new leader. We need to continually be growing ourselves, and the existing leaders we have. What about taking leaders on field trips like this to spark the imagination and rekindle the fire? How can we better leverage Disciple Project, Theological Conference, Ministeriums, Lectionary speakers, studies and the Fall Leadership Event to equip leaders?
3. Candidacy has to continue to be a high priority. We have to attract gifted leaders, and screen well.
4. We need to take a close look at our pipeline for growing leaders from baptism, through confirmation, camp, college and into adulthood. How do we feed top notch leaders into ordained and lay ministries?
5. We need to fan the flame for the three-legged stool: worship, children and youth, and education. In a way we have been, with the addition of evangelism. Our top four “WISE” priorities have been worship, intergenerational ministry, spiritual growth and evangelism. This year’s focus is on IGM.
See photos of our time at Windsor Village at http://flickr.com/gp/48351584@N04/85523z
February 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm
Bishop, an exciting post. Thank you. All of my time in the ELCA has been in this synod (pre-ELCA I ‘interned’ @ St. Paul, Columbus), brought the ALC mission in Huntsville into the ELCA in 1987, served almost 10 years @ Grace in New Orleans and am now working on 15 years in Pearland. Thus, I know this synod and have colleagued with many of the pastors…new and old.
Three questions: Will we ever present something new and exciting, life shaping, mission driven stuff and then FINISH it? Too many things have ‘begun’ and then in time run out of steam… EX = The “transformation” events held at Park Place, Zion, etc and never concluded. It lacked a strategy for having majority of congregation’s members ‘buy in.” The other EX = “The Re-rooting” process… presented at synod assembly…given to pastors, AiMs and a few congregational leaders, to be followed up on in ministeriums of which I have heard nothing since. NOTE: I’m not ‘grumbling,’…just sharing what I’ve observed.
The second question is in response to KJC’s comment about engaging worship. Can the ELCA colleges and universities creat a music track to train musicians to use our ‘church organs” to create a style of music that is 2oth C + friendly…like song styles like Three Dog Knight and Grand Funk Railroad where a Wurliter is the key instrument supported by bass, drums, guitar and sax… ? The generation of folks who demand liturgical organ cranberry hymnal style of music will be gone in 15 years or less… and unless we fill our houses of worship with the next generation..there wont be anyone to engage… NOTE: The Sundays and Seasons book has no contempoary style songs in the ‘suggestion’ list… What does this say about ELCA’s direction…? But’s that’s not the 3rd question.
Question # 3 is if KJC started with 25 people and has grown to 11,000…where do those folks come from? Would it not be a good strategy for our synod to ‘close’ 4-5-6 churches and combine them into a larger ministry area?
Praying for you and us daily,
PS. By happen-stance I met the So. Baptist Convention’s key person in starting 75 “Cowboy Churches” in TX over the next 10 years. Like that or not, the SBC has a strategy that ALL their churches are being drawn into. Either I’m out fo the loop or I don’t see that happening around here.
February 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm
1. Rerooting isn’t ex-rerooting. It’s still as critical as ever. I’m hitting it hard at a congregation this weekend. It’s the heart of KBj’s community engagement strategy.
2. Excellent idea. Goes to the leadership pipeline question.
3.ur right. There is no single ELCA strategy.
February 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm
Studies of churches with vitality show no pattern with respect to musical style. Traditional music churches grow. Contemporary music churches grow. Style is not a predictor of vitality. Quality is however. Whatever you do, do it well. Cowboy or Bach.
The other enduring strategy we have not abandoned is the WISE strategy. Worship, Intergenerational Ministry, Spiritual Growth and Evangelism. It is the same as KBJ’s three legged stool plus evangelism. We have a four legged table. These WISE priorities emerged in 2007 when visited congregations. We spent 08 kaying out the plan, 09 on evangelism, 10 on spiritual growth and this year is on Intergenerational Ministry. Next year on worship.
February 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm
Finally, we have started developing core values and best practices for every area of ministry. See Mission Strategy and Mission Support Strategy on out website for examples.