Revitalizing Old First–Assessing Our Progress

Revitalizing Old First–Assessing Our Progress

Believe it or not, we are now at the halfway point of our covenant with Covenant Pastor Rev. Michael W. Caine and the Penn Southeast Conference!

With a year and a half behind us in our three-year effort to revitalize our congregation, it’s time to take stock of what we’ve done.

The overall goal of our Revitalization Effort is to reach and serve more people. To change lives. To practice and preach a powerful, progressive Gospel.

The Revitalization Task Force (RTF) met recently to review our progress toward this goal to date.

Our Process—Study, Dream, Innovate

After an initial period of study of ourselves, our congregation’s recent history, our neighborhoods, the city and the metropolitan area around us, the congregation identified four populations—groups we felt, in light of the gifts and graces of this congregation, God wants us to stretch for, evolving the traditions of this church, so they and we might better serve:

  • Young, post-college professionals up to about 35 years old;
  • Families with young children living in our city;
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered folk;
  • People who had been turned off by church, either by experience or perception.

The congregation then met in a day-long retreat in May 2010 and dreamed about ways we might reach those populations. Those ideas were passed along to the Standing Leadership Groups that run our various ministries. The RTF encouraged them to take on one or two innovations by the end of 2010 that would move us closer toward our goal of reaching more people in our target populations.

Taking Stock of Our Accomplishments

So now it’s time to celebrate the progress that we made. Here are some of the innovations that were implemented during 2010:

  • Hospitality Ministry—We improved our ability to greet visitors and newcomers on Sunday mornings, and provided a fun, easy avenue for service in the church.
  • New Web Site—We’re using the voices of real Old Firsters to send Christ’s message of love, forgiveness and welcome into the world.
  • Young Adults Group—As more young adults have joined our community they have organically developed into their own fellowship group that meets regularly for social activities.
  • Parents’ Night Out—On two evenings (one in October and one in January) the young adults group provided free child care for parents of young children so they could enjoy an evening to themselves.
  • Visibility in the Neighborhood—We’re getting our message out in our busy neighborhood through thought-provoking posters hanging on our perimeter fence, an new outside bulletin board, an outdoor Blessing of the Animals, the Farm to City Program, and improved outdoor plantings.
  • Leadership for Sunday School—New leadership for Sunday school is providing support for teachers so that our church school will be more attractive to families with young children. New leadership for Adult Forum is helping to engage and inspire the adults in our community.
  • New Programs for Children—The Sunday School offered a Christmas Pageant and Children’s Sabbath.
  • Youth Group—Monthly First Saturday events for the youth led by Michael and several young adults that supplement occasional outings led by parents.
  • Music in Worship—We have diversified the musical canon to include musical offerings during worship to attract our target groups.
  • Stewardship and Financial Management—We are working on a thorough stewardship campaign to support these revitalization efforts. And despite a rough economy and difficult financial times, we hung together as a community and ended the year with a balanced budget (for the second year in a row, after a 10 run in the red!).
  • Connecting with Old First’s Dispersed “Relatives”—A email list is in progress to stay in touch with the broad network of Wellspring volunteers who can help us get our message out further.
  • Connecting Wellspring to all of Old First—New leadership and staff in Wellspring keep our social service efforts front and center to Old First members through regular online updates.

Watching the Initiative Bear Fruit and Looking Ahead

It’s still too early to see major results from these innovations. But there’s anecdotal evidence that our efforts are bearing fruit.

We are seeing increasing numbers of visitors on Sunday morning. They are mostly under 35 years of age—those “young professionals” who make up one of our target groups. Their advent is strong enough that they have organized into their own young adults fellowship, which now gathers regularly—a new, vibrant fellowship group in our community. The second noticeable group are folk from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. Several of these newcomers have told us that they saw a poster on the fence or viewed our Web site before visiting—and that these messages helped them take a second look at church… and begin to wonder if church might not offer more than they expected it could.

Having assessed our progress to date, now it’s time to consider how to best use the next 18 months. The Revitalization Task Force will meet again on Thursday, April 7 at 6 pm in the Fox Building. All are welcome!