Strategizing for the District

Since being appointed to serve within the Topeka District of the Great Plains Annual Conference, I have had the opportunity to serve as the lead for the Topeka District Strategy Team. I have been learning as I go, seeking to get to know congregations and leaders of the area. Here are some of my current thoughts on how this team can be most effective to create a strategy for the district.

During some years in the past, the Great Plains Annual Conference (and three conferences) has operated with a structure that encouraged local churches to send both people and resources to be part of initiatives and ministry efforts that originated and were executed at the annual conference level. This lead to a measure of success. However, this model is not working as effectively as it once was.

In recent years, there has been efforts made to push the resourcing and leadership “down” from the annual conference toward the mission field of local churches. Some of this is being accomplished with the creation of Networks which connect local churches to more effectively reach their collective mission field. It also is being accomplished through the work of district strategy teams which work alongside the District Superintendent to develop a strategy to reach the mission field within the district.

What does not need to happen is for a district strategy team to come up with a layer of strategy, events and planning which local churches are encouraged to add to their existing ministries and goals. Instead, I believe that a more effective approach will be to look for common goals that exist among many congregations in the district and consider what resources or strategies that district can bring to bear which support those goals.

As part of the charge conference process, goals are developed and turned in annually from every charge in the district. This fall, we are running an experiment by offering local churches goals to consider for 2019 (Experiment_ Topeka District Local Church Goals (PDF)). If churches have an existing process for developing and iterating on goals, great – keep doing it. However, if they do not, they might consider one or more of these goals for the year ahead. The purpose here is to help local churches make progress on goal setting and create the opportunity for local churches to coalesce around similar goals. We’ll see how this goes…

Regardless of whether or not local churches choose from the experimental goals which were offered to them, our next step will be to review the goals from all the churches in the district to see what, if any, similarities there are. Then, create strategies to help support local churches in the goals that they have already set for themselves.

I am hopeful that this approach will support local churches and more effectively coordinate our efforts together as a district.

Making the Network Work

Over the last several years, the Great Plains Annual Conference has introduced Networks into our life in ministry together. These are groups of congregations that share a physically contiguous mission field – all the churches in an area. The church which I serve, Berryton United Methodist Church, is connected in a network with Big Springs UMC, Highland Park UMC, Lecompton UMC, Shawnee Heights UMC, Stull UMC, and Tecumseh UMC.

I have the opportunity to serve as the Network Leader which means convening the pastor and a lay person from each congregation so that we can make progress together and reach our mission field more effectively. I am committed to making our network work. I don’t have time for to add a meeting to my schedule in which we are getting together only to “check the box” that we have completed the task.

We met for the first time as a Network last week. If you are interested in the agenda, click here to download it as a PDF. I believe that our network has the opportunity to be the most innovative in the Great Plains Annual Conference. I am looking forward to building relationships with colleagues and friends and working together to share God’s love with our neighbors and live boldly into God’s dream for southeast Shawnee and northwest Douglas county.

Experiment: Facebook Live Book Study

I am running an experiment this fall in the local church with the purpose of engaging people in discipleship. The experiment is a Facebook Live Book Study. Some of the observations that lead to this experiment:

  • High engagement of video on the church’s Facebook page
  • Congregants sharing the value of study’s led by the preacher
  • Desire for discipleship opportunities outside of Sunday morning

We will be reading Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World by Shelly Miller (Amazon.com) using a reading plan that you can find at the church’s website. My plan is to go on Live on the church’s Facebook page each week to share some highlights from the reading and invite responses. I hope to be able to engage with people who are able to join online at the time, however the content will also be available to engage with through questions I will post in the comments.

I hope that we will be able to connect with new people who would not otherwise be able to fit a discipleship opportunity like this into their schedule. No matter how it goes, there will be valuable learning.

Let’s do this.

Preacher FAQ: Why do you park so far away?

Last Sunday, a member of the congregation asked me why I park so far away from the church building. So, in this edition of frequently asked questions for the preacher, here goes: I park far away from the entrance for two reasons – the mission field and my health.

The mission field is the community to which I have been appointed. There are just over 18,000 people that live within five miles of Berryton United Methodist Church. Over 10,000 of these people are not involved in a religious congregation or community. This is the mission field.

Parking away from the entrance to the building makes sure that there are spaces that are closer for people who may show up for the first time that day. I want to do everything that I can to help welcome people who come to the congregation and a little closer parking spot may help. Also, as I am walking toward the building I am mindful of the cars that will fill the lot and pray for all those that will gather for worship. The walk also offers time to consider those in our community who are not yet connected with a congregation. I am able to reflect on these persons and consider how the choices that I make as a leader in this congregation is helping share God’s love with those who have not yet heard.

Also, I want to stay as healthy as I am able. One healthy habit that I track is parking at the far end of the parking lot each day. This small step adds activity to my day and health to my life.

So, why do I park far away? For a healthy congregation and body.

Eero: My Church WiFi Hero

Last month, I undertook the task of upgrading the wireless network at Berryton United Church. I am a bit of a tech geek at heart and enjoy things working well. I am grateful that there was an existing wireless network, though one of the challenges was that it was a different network in the sanctuary than it was in the office. Devices would be able to hold on to the signal along enough to make it almost, but not quite, usable when I walked back and forth on Sunday morning. So, I was looking for the opportunity for a mesh network that could cover the entire building.

A solution from Ruckus Wireless, while it would have been excellent, was beyond my ability to install. So, I was started looking for other solutions and found a great one in the Eero Pro WiFi System. You can purchase it from Amazon.com here and find more information about Eero and their technology here. After a Memorials request was approved, I placed the order. It wasn’t too long until these sweet looking pieces of technology arrived:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 1

The next step was to get them installed and going. The main network equipment is on a shelf above the door of a closet. Here is the before picture:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 2

You may notice that there isn’t a wireless router of any kind in this picture. That is because I had already taken it down and didn’t want to plug all the things back together just to get this picture. It was sitting on the shelf in just about the middle. Here is the shelf after installation:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 3

There is the Eero on the right hand side, connected to the cable modem on the right and a network switch to the left. A handful of 2 foot patch cables came in handy to help cut down on the cable clutter.

The next step was to initiate the network. Installation was through the Eero app which I had downloaded as per the instructions with the Eero. It was fantastically simple. You created a name for your network, password and I created a guest network with a single swipe. Amazing!

The next step was to add the other two Eero devices to the network to extend better coverage throughout the building. One in the office, which allows wireless connections to the printer:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 2 (1)

And one just outside the sanctuary in the library / treasurer’s office:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 1 (1)

I have experienced rock-solid performance throughout the building and even extending into the parking lot much further than previously possible. This has been particularly helpful in our location with cell service that can be spotty, at times.

I am glad to have made the upgrade and it has been a benefit for the congregation, as evidenced by the connections on Sunday morning:

Eero at Berryton UMC - 1 (2)

Would you like to add WiFi in your local church? I would be glad to answer more questions, be a consultant, or do the install – if you are in the Topeka area. You can contact me by email at aconard@greatplainsumc.org

Happy Small Church IT Adventures to you!

Pilgrimage to Resurrection

I have attended Leadership Institute at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection every year that I have served under appointment as a United Methodist preacher. I was only able to be present for one day this year, but it was still worth it. Here is what made it good:

  • Connection – It is great to reconnect with both congregants and staff at the church, as well as colleagues from across the conference and around the connection.
  • Remembering – Nicole and I began our life as a married couple serving as associate pastors. They were formative years in discovering how to be a couple and how to be a pastor.
  • Time Away – I am able to rest in the reality that, even for just a few moments, someone else is tending to all the details at church.
  • Inspiration – The speakers and workshops are excellent. They help stretch my mind beyond what is to what might be.
  • Being Present – It is good to be around a big group of people that are committed to making progress in their local church – wherever that may be. There is a tangible sense that we are all about God’s work in the mission field.

I realized this year that it has become a bit of a pilgrimage for me and I am glad for the opportunity to return.