Planning for the future

By NORA MABERRY-DANIELS
FOR THE LEADER

Pastor Gene Turner wants St. Joseph United Methodist Church to be around for many years to come.
In order for that to happen, he is challenging his parishioners to make some changes. This includes being more welcoming to those who may not be regular churchgoers as well as opening their doors to people that may be different than the current makeup of the St. Joseph UMC congregation.
“There may be some folks that come that don’t look exactly like us and that is OK,” he said.
Turner said that within the next year he hopes that the church welcomes numerous new members and he is challenging the parishioners to be welcoming through conversation and invitation.
Turner has also challenged the congregation to examine if they want guests or if they expect guests. Turner said expecting guests means the congregation has to take certain steps to be more welcoming.
One change the church has made since Turner has become pastor is placing a sign inside of their main doors that tells people where to go in the building.
Turner feels that is important since coming into a new building for the first time can be intimidating. They also have greeters at the doors which welcome visitors as well as directing them where they need to go.
Turner said this is to ensure visitors feel comfortable from the start of their visit at the church.
“If you don’t feel comfortable the first time there is a high chance you won’t be back,” he said.
Another thing Turner has asked the congregation to do is park in the adjacent parking lot if they are able.
“I park over there every Sunday and walk across,” Turner said.
Turner said leaving spaces closer to the church open on Sundays makes it easier for new people or people who don’t attend church regularly to feel welcomed.
“That is just one of the simple things we can do to position ourselves to be ready instead of just saying we want guests,” he said. “We are preparing and making space.”
Part of being more welcoming is to ensure the future of the church. Turner said that while the church’s membership is currently steady, that may not be the case in the future unless the church takes some proactive steps.
That means recruiting new members to replace members who move or pass. Turner said the reality is that older members are usually the significant givers in a church community.
“When they are gone and the resources are gone what do we look like,” he said. “At that point if we haven’t done something it may be too late to reach into our community.”
Turner said he is challenging the church to simultaneously focus on doing great things now, like Vacation Bible School which starts July 16 and runs through July 20 for children in pre-k through fourth grade, while also looking into the future to ensure those activities can continue.
“We need to continue to have new folks come in,” he said. “Mainline churches have been in a state of decline for the past 50 years. I think the main reason for that is the church has not been attentive to the folks who make up the communities around it.”
Turner said several local churches have become two-point charges where the pastor preaches at two churches, sometimes many miles apart, because attendance at both churches is low and cannot justify having their own pastor.
Turner said many churches have gotten stuck in systems and ways of operation that do not resonate with younger people.
“If the 1950s would ever come back we are poised for great success,” he said.  “That is probably not going to happen so we have to find a way to be relevant to the community around us.”
Turner said this not only applies to St. Joseph UMC but all churches.
“Non-denominational churches are facing the same struggles,” he said.
Turner, who has been at St. Joseph UMC for a year, said he has asked the congregation to think about what their church means to the community. He has asked the congregation what would happen if the actual church building no longer existed.
“Who in this community would miss us because of what we do,” he said. “When we can name that we will have our finger on who and where God is calling us to be as a congregation.”
Turner said he has told the church members it is not just adequate to come and worship for an hour or two and leave.
“That is not everything the church is about,” he said. “If we do the things God is calling us to do we will be amazed at what will happen.”









 

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