January 23, 2023

St. Luke’s UMC: Reversing Decline & Pursuing Vibrancy

st. luke's umc reversing decline pursuing vibrancy

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St. Luke’s United Methodist Church (Hickory, NC) was once a vibrant church but, for the last 9 years, had been living in the past… 

Attendance was declining year after year, yet the perception of the congregation was that St. Luke’s was still a vibrant large church—in reality, the livelihood had grown stale, uninspired, and passionless.

“Alongside the already visible decline of health, St. Luke’s was facing another pastoral change—the second since Covid began. The church had also started a capital campaign, but these plans were put on hold.” Associate Pastor Monica Childers explained, “There was much enthusiasm to get the capital campaign kicked-off, yet I knew that the capital campaign would not be successful unless the church was able to name where we were going and what our vision was.”

A Renewed Desire for Vibrancy

For Pastor Monica, the pandemic allowed time and space for study and a lot of reflection. “After hearing Tony Morgan on a podcast, I purchased The Unstuck Church book and began reading. After the first chapter, I was hooked, and the words on the page began to speak to my soul,” Monica said. “I quickly realized that St. Luke’s was in the maintenance phase and, in order to lead the church back to vibrancy, change must happen. I felt it was more crucial than ever to begin a process of visioning.”

The post-Covid season offered a unique opportunity for St. Luke’s to come together and realign itself, defining who they are as a church and how they are being uniquely called to serve God in making disciples of Jesus Christ. 

“As the associate minister, I found it imperative for the church to hire The Unstuck Group to give space for laity to speak into the vision so that the new pastor would know exactly where they were going and how to lead well in their tenure,” recalled Pastor Monica. “Within two weeks, the key leaders were on board and money was available for us to hire The Unstuck Group.”

Overcoming Communication Barriers & Resistance to Change

St. Luke’s faced two key challenges throughout the vision process: communication and resistance to change. Senior Pastor Amy Spivey explained:

Communication has been key. We developed a plan for communication that involved our initial launch of the vision and ongoing transparency in sharing the vision and our progress. 

Of course, change has been necessary as we have discerned and moved forward with the vision. As we have introduced new ideas and new approaches, we have been intentional about connecting everything we do to the vision. However, change takes patience and openness, and not all people are ready at the same time. 

When the momentum of change becomes challenging, we have had to stay the course, communicate some more, and trust that God is faithful with grace-filled provision and guidance.

Wins & Victories from The Unstuck Process

St. Luke’s vision is to help people find and follow Jesus. Despite the challenges of communication and change, Pastor Amy has seen “God show up through our renewed energy and excitement—people are becoming more and more invitational and we are slowly but surely experiencing growth in our ministry again.”

“We have had so many positive experiences throughout this first year in the Unstuck process. We have experienced small victories over and over again and our most significant ‘wins’ are directly related to our three action items: communication, children’s ministry, and worship.

  • Communication: We launched a new website, established a new intentional process for welcoming new people, added the Text-in-Church resource, and created a new and updated “brand” for our church.
  • Children’s Ministry: We have connected our vision work to our children’s building renovation, implemented the Grow resources with a year-long ministry plan to reach children and families in new ways, and utilized Text in Church to connect with families outside of the church. 
  • Worship: Based on our newfound vision and strategy around worship, we launched a new worship experience and added our first new worship ministry hire.

In addition to these wins, we exceeded our goal of reaching 75 new people in 2022—reaching 90 new people in an 8 month time period. Repeatedly, we hear from guests that they feel very welcome. One new guest shared, ‘This is the most welcoming church—and not the fake welcoming, but an authentic and genuine welcome.’

These wins have come because we were able to understand our ‘why’ and gain clarity and direction around the strategies that will enable us to reach our goals now and for the next five years. St. Luke’s is now a healthy church who seeks to grow into a healthy future by helping people find and follow Jesus.”

– Senior Pastor Amy Spivey

We help pastors clarify where God is calling your church to go in the future and define how you'll get there—and then we coach you as you lead change.

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Jordan An

Jordan is our Digital Marketing Manager. She graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University and, prior to joining The Unstuck Group, worked in social media and marketing communications for a Christian non-profit media ministry. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband Sam, and enjoys leading worship at her local church.

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