Bright Spots and the Mosaic Model

"What are the bright spots in your congregation/Conference?"  The question rings in my mind from our recently concluded Team Vital meeting.  To briefly back up, Team Vital is a pilot project that has come out of the Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church and the Council of Bishops.  Eleven different conferences from across the United States gather to share insights, learning, and analysis in increasing the number of vital congregations across the United States. The "bright spots" question directs our attention not only on what is already working or is fruitful in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but it also points us to a wider solution.  The question directs us to a different way of conceptualizing our strategies for building vital congregations.  An old adage echoed in my mind as we sought to identify and share our bright spots across conference lines.  "Reinforce success."  Without meaning to, it is easy to focus on the shortcoming.  Faithfulness and fruitfulness comes best when we learn from our "bright spots" and focus on growing ministry that is fruitful and faithful - reinforce success, not failure. One of the bright spots that fascinated me came from the sharing of people from the Greater New Jersey Conference.  They reported a new ministry called "Mosaic." Briefly, three small churches within a reasonably short distance from each other all had their church facilities badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy.  All were quite small and on the edge in terms of sustainability as a full-time charge prior to the hurricane.  After Hurricane Sandy, two of them were months from being bankrupt and having to close their doors.  The third was struggling.  Yet all three churches wanted to continue their independent existence. Using the expertise of Bruce Hartman (former CFO of Foot Locker and Yankee Candle, who is now Director of the Connectional Table for the Greater New Jersey Conference), they worked with younger folks in the area (some seminarians, but not all) to go into these churches which could no longer afford a full-time pastor.  The Greater New Jersey Conference folks call the project "Mosaic" because there is a deliberate intention to engage the neighborhood (mission field) and become a "mosaic" church the reflects the makeup of the local area (or mission field).  The young leadership (mostly volunteer, some on a small stipend) went into the churches with the churches willing ascent (working with a coalition of the willing!) and have become supporting pastors.  They lead worship (but don't preach!), provide pastoral care and help the congregation engage in outreach ministry to the surrounding neighborhood. Worship on Sunday morning is different.  The Supporting Pastor with other volunteers share leadership in music, hospitality, prayer, etc.   The sermon comes via technology (download).  Bishop Schol is the regular preacher.  In each of churches they report a much higher excellence in pastoral care, mission outreach, and worship!  All three are now growing!  All three are reporting a membership that is starting to reflect the demographics of the mission field.  It is a bright spot in the Greater New Jersey Conference. We have experimental bright spots as well.  One is Life Church.  It is a marvelous outreach ministry/new church parented by First UMC in Waco reaching a multi-ethnic but predominately Hispanic group.  Another is the creative work of Thompson Chapel and the experiment of the 7th Street Mission, an off-shoot of First UMC, Fort Worth.  In truth the list is long.  Will they all succeed (be fruitful and faithful)?  Probably not, but the experiences are an exciting and creative way to reach out with the gospel of our Lord Jesus. For too long, we denominationally have “shot” our entrepreneurs.  For too long, we have squelched creative ministry experiments.  I celebrate the many bright spots around us and long for more creative outreach offering the gospel of Christ to all people.