Local Church Conversation about #gc2019

Yesterday afternoon, we had an all-church conversation at Berryton United Methodist Church to process the 2019 special session of the General Conference. I put it on the calendar about a month ago. While it was, of course, impossible to predict how things would go, I did figure that we would need some time and space to process whatever it was that was passed. This was true.

The weather was bitterly cold and it was snowing for the first part of the morning with about 3 inches accumulated before the first worship service ended. It was the second lowest in-person worship attendance in the last two years. In spite of the conditions, we had a great turnout on Sunday afternoon to talk about General Conference.

I shared these documents with those that were gathered:

The first document was a statement that I shared in worship and the second was shared at the meeting in the afternoon. Both were adapted from resources provided by the Great Plains Annual Conference.

I am glad that people gathered and were willing to share their pain, questions, confusion, and hope. It felt inadequate. There needs to be and will continue to be more conversations in local congregations just like ours across the United States and around the world. People are moved to take action.

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.

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!

Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement

I am spending my day in Wichita at a professional development experience – Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement. It provided by the Disney Institute and hosted by the Wichita Independent Business Association.

The concepts planned for the day, include:

  • Fostering a Workplace Culture
  • Selecting the Right-Fit Talent
  • Training the Culture
  • Communicating to Inform & Inspire
  • Creating a Caring Environment

I am interested to see how these concepts apply to Berryton United Methodist Church and the Great Plains Annual Conference. The engagement level of the current congregation today is evident to people who may visit the congregation for the first time. Engagement also makes a difference in how readily someone is to share with others about their experience with God and the local church. I am looking forward to more today and will be paying attention to how we can make progress in congregational engagement.

Metrics for the UMC: Comparing Stories (2 of 3)

Clearly numbers do not tell the whole story of a local church, annual conference or denomination. There are stories of life change that are more important than raw data. One of the challenges of collecting stories is how to report them. It is far easier to look at a graph of worship attendance at our church over time and seek to draw conclusions over time. How do you look back over time and compare stories that have been collected?

  • Number of stories?
  • Category of stories?
  • Stories of visitors?
  • Community impact?
How do you collect stories of people and tell them in a way that builds up the body of Christ both at the time and will be able to used in a meaningful way in the future?

Metrics for the UMC: A Question of Counting (1 of 3)

Several weeks ago, I wrote a series about Why Numbers Matter in the UMC and I wanted to follow that up with some thoughts that I have been percolating on since then.

Statistically, for metrics to be any good they need to be measuring the same thing across time and among different locations. I don’t have any conclusions today, but just a question:

What is the standard for counting worship attendance? Do you include:

  • Children?
  • Infants in the Nursery?
  • Adults?
  • Volunteers?
  • Staff?
What do you count at your church for worship attendance?