Eighteen months ago, Brandin Melton and family moved from Missouri to Portland, OR to start pastoring 110-year-old Portland First Church of the Nazarene. The church had been 1,000 members strong in the 1980’s and dealing with decades of decline when he arrived.
We encounter a lot of churches in decline in the work we do.
Like most, Brandin said his church knew it was stuck but was having trouble figuring out why. They were also experiencing what Tony Morgan has called “the giving lag” — an inability to see how urgent the need to change is because giving is still strong. Brandin recognized this and led the team on a journey to plan for the future. We were honored to join them early on in their process.
This church’s attention to the importance of communication stood out to us from the get-go. Few pastors appropriately communicate for change. When we’re helping churches with strategic planning, we often see pastors make one of these errors:
- Sharing everything all at once with everybody – which invites too many voices into discussions about where the church is headed and creates unnecessary headaches
- Sharing far too little or waiting to long to communicate – which makes people skeptical, lets things leak out inaccurately or out of context, and breeds mistrust
So, we were really impressed by how the leadership team at Portland First Church of the Nazarene approached our first intensive planning retreat, and we thought other pastors might want to run with a similar idea.
When communicating to the congregation that the church would engage in a strategic planning process to clarify mission, vision and values, Brandin invited all 265 members of his church to join him in a 72-hour prayer vigil leading up to the leaders’ planning time. They divided the 72 hours into 30-minute slots (around the clock!), and people signed up to cover a slot in prayer.
They had three primary reasons for taking this approach. Brandin puts it like this:
We needed a prayer covering.
We promised to do our part to be at our best — rested and mentally prepared — but we knew we needed God to be strong in our weaknesses.
We needed them to understand this was a spiritual endeavor.
Yes, we were bringing in outside help and were working through a structured process, but we understood we were on a spiritual journey and we needed them on it with us.
We wanted them to have ownership in the outcomes.
We needed everybody to embrace the fact that change was coming.
The leadership team provided a specific prayer focus in the form of key areas they believed to be crucial to the success of the planning retreat:
1) That they would be Spirit-led rather than fear-driven
2) That they would see where God was at work around them
3) That they would faithfully carry forward their faith
4) That God would shape them into the community of faith He desires in an ever-changing world.
Because the church pulled together in prayer and unity before any change started, Brandin says there was a real sense of anticipation from people to know what came out of the planning time.
They’ve continued to be extraordinarily intentional about their language and deliberate in their communications process, sharing only what’s helpful at each new stage of leading change and creating forums for people to process together.
It’s now been about three months since Portland First’s planning retreat. They are deep in the midst of executing on big plans for big changes, and they’re still drawing on the spiritual unity created before the process even began.
Photo credit: unsplash.com via pexels.com