By Jessica Brodie
This fall, churches seeking a fresh way to look beyond themselves and be in ministry with their local community will get the chance to learn about a new “forward focus” process from Bishop Jonathan Holston.
Holston will hit the road beginning in October to travel to each of the 12 districts in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. Called the Bishop’s Forward Focus Tour, the tour will feature Holston, congregational specialists and other conference leaders talking to laity and pastors about a new plan for church revitalization unique to the individual church.
Set for 9 a.m. to noon, the tours kick off Oct. 8 in the Columbia District. They wrap up in February. (See box for dates.)
“The idea of the tour is to introduce this process, the Forward Focus process, which is a new resource for the local church in South Carolina,” said the Rev. Jim Arant, congregational specialist for the Orangeburg and Greenwood districts. “What’s happening is the congregational specialists have been working on this program, adapted from a program in the North Georgia Conference called Facing the Mirror, and we have taken it and adapted it for South Carolina.”
Holston said the process will assist churches in taking a look at who they are and how to offer the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a fast-paced and changing world.
“The focus of our time in the districts is in modeling to congregations how to better engage their communities in mission and ministry as they seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” Holston said.
The Rev. Kathy James, Connectional Ministries director, said the tour provides an opportunity for a church’s pastor and leaders to step apart from the everyday business of the church and think together about what it means to be faithful in the midst of a rapidly changing culture and community.
“The 21st century proves to be changing rapidly, and most of our churches live with a 20th-century mindset,” James said. “We need to be intentional about looking ahead, rather than behind. Bishop Holston has a gift for inspiring leaders to take the next step with faith that God can work through us in ways we haven’t imagined before.”
Forward Focus is strictly voluntary, Arant said, but it is one that will have major impact for churches that sign on.
“The bishop sees it as a program having tremendous potential to help churches move beyond where they are to do something new, stop looking inward and start looking outward, and create vitality for the church and discern God’s will for the church,” Arant said.
To date, congregational specialists have spent more than 120 hours adapting the program for use in South Carolina. The process takes about three to four months per church, depending on the time of year and other factors. Each congregation will be assigned a “forward leader,” someone from the district trained as a coach by the congregational specialist, who will work with the church’s pastor and a church-appointed “forward team.”
They will spend time looking inward—analyzing finances, membership, attendance and facilities—as well as outward, trying to understand the current needs of the surrounding community and doing interviews with community leaders.
Every congregation determines its own plan, Arant said, and at the end, they will come away with specific action steps to revitalize their church and community in a way that is uniquely them.
The possibilities are limitless, he said, and exciting.
“Let’s say one church discovers in their research there’s a big need for help with school systems in the community,” Arant said. “That church might choose as one of their goals to be involved with the local school to do mentoring, backpacks, classroom leadership—a cadre of things they could do. I worked with one church one time that decided to adopt a teacher!”
Congregational specialists have already written the participants’ guide, and now they are working quickly to finish the leaders’ guide in time for the BFF Tour launch in October.
Registration will begin soon through district offices; each pastor attending is asked to bring five members of the church.
Dates for Bishop’s Forward Focus Tour:
- Oct. 8—Columbia District (Shandon UMC, Columbia)
- Oct. 22—Orangeburg District
- Nov. 12—Greenwood District
- Nov. 19—Marion District
- Dec. 3—Hartsville District
- Dec. 10—Florence District
- Jan. 7—Walterboro District
- Jan. 14—Spartanburg District
- Jan. 21—Anderson District
- Feb. 4—Greenville District
- Feb. 11—Rock Hill District
- Feb. 25—Charleston District