Congregation Experiences Growth Along Vitality Pathway

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (August 16, 2012) – Editor’s note: The following article appears in the summer issue of the e-publication Imprints produced by the Northwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC).

Bethlehem’s Journey Toward Vitality

Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis traces its earliest roots to a South Minneapolis home, where in 1913 a Sunday school for children studying at Minnehaha Academy was started.

On December 28, 1922, Bethlehem Covenant Church was organized with 26 charter members. The facilities of Minnehaha’s school chapel and classrooms were made available to the new church.

Fast forward 90 years, and Bethlehem is now the first church in the Northwest Conference to complete the Vitality Pathway and develop a resulting strategic ministry plan.

Bethlehem’s journey began in 2008 when the church was in the midst of a pastoral search. Delegates to the conference annual meeting heard about Veritas from John Wenrich, ECC director of congregational vitality. Church leaders were excited about the potential impact of Veritas, but decided to wait until a new pastor was called.

Pastor Ryan Eikenbary-Barber was installed in September 2009 and one year later 60 members participated in a Veritas seminar led by Mark Stromberg, now serving as conference superintendent.

“There was an excitement generated that day that can only be explained by the Holy Spirit at work in the congregation,” said Charlotte Sjoberg, congregation president.

A Vitality Team was formed and potential leaders identified. Bethlehem leaders participated in the first Navigate meetings in Kansas City and out of that experience, Bethlehem was paired with two other conference churches on the Vitality Pathway – Edina Covenant Church and Rice Creek Covenant Church.

Bethlehem’s Vitality Team held its first meeting in January 2011 and by March church leadership was participating in an EPIC workshop, also facilitated by Stromberg. The Vitality Team developed a month-long devotional series based on the 10 Healthy Missional Markers as one means of keeping the congregation informed.

“A lot of effort has gone into keeping the congregation informed about the process and outcomes,” Sjoberg said. “It has been very rewarding to hear people other than those directly involved in the process talking about becoming a more healthy missional church.”

The congregation took the PULSE Survey during a May worship service, with 78 percent of respondents supporting creation of a second, more contemporary worship service. The Vitality Team spent the summer studying the demographics of the church’s neighborhood using MissionInsite, a tool provided by the conference to all of its churches.

That fall, church leaders attended “ONE: A Unified Approach to Strategic Planning,” a presentation by Wenrich and conference staff designed to help facilitate the planning process. The job of developing a strategic plan was divided into “bite size tasks” with a completion goal the following May.

“We started putting up ‘Post it’ flip charts where we held our meetings that summarized the main points . . . so the congregation could follow our progress and give us input, if they had questions or ideas,” explained Lowery J. Smith, Bethlehem’s Vitality chairperson.

“We were a stable congregation and it was easy to think there was no need to change anything, Sjoberg said. “After a realistic evaluation of where our congregation was moving, I believe we have taken strides toward becoming a healthy missional church.”

The strategic planning team developed a mission statement, vision statement and a set of core values. From there, the team also created critical success factors and a first draft of the strategic plan, followed by a second draft that was approved by the church council.

“We have committed ourselves to studying the Bible more,” the pastor said. “We are seeking to take more risks and leaps of faith. Bethlehem is developing a series of small groups to enhance fellowship and discipleship, study God’s word, and serve others in need.”

“We pray that the final strategic plan will not sit on a shelf and gather dust, but can be updated and modified on a regular basis as conditions and priorities change,” Smith said.

“The Vitality Pathway invited us to go exploring our own uncharted territory,” Eikenbary-Barber said. “It gave us the freedom to step away from stability towards health and vitality. There is a profound sense that the Holy Spirit is moving in new ways at Bethlehem Covenant Church.”

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