Growing Together at First Churches

As another busy Fall unfolds, it is helpful to pull back and see the big picture, so we can clarify our mission and actions for the coming year.  About 25 people gathered Saturday, September 28 to join together in this work.

By the end of our time together we had identified a need for 3 new teams:

Stewardship Team – This team will 1) work to create a spirit of generosity and giving in the life of the church, 2) keep the congregation informed about our mission and budget. 3) Work with the congregation to cultivate a healthy culture around money.

Vision and Strategic Planning Team – This team will explore ways to expand our capacity for ministry, including developing stronger financial, human and spiritual resources to carry out our work.

Welcome Team – Develop a process to help new attendees engage in the life and mission of the church.

We are actively recruiting for team members.  If you are interested talk with MJ Adams, Todd or Sarah.

 

It is important that we don’t lose the momentum and insight of our work. Here is a summary of what was discussed:

We began with an updated financial presentation in order to address questions raised at the annual meeting from the week before.  Here are a few key points:

  • We draw significant resources from our endowment. Last year’s deficit lead to us taking more than anticipated.  Fortunately a strong stock market has helped us maintain the overall value of the endowment to between $2 million and $2.2 million over the last few years.

Endowment Report:            Value Over Time Report The First Churches.

  •  Our attendance has been steadily rising for the past six years and up until this past Spring the number of pledges was on the rise as well. This year pledges leveled off, in part because a number of older members have passed away or scaled back giving as they enter retirement.

Attendance chart

  • Last year was also a particularly challenging year. We were nearly $15,000 over budget on building related costs for utilities, repairs and snow removal.
  • We also had some one-time expenses for our cleaning costs as we had a gap in sextons and a couple of big rent refunds. All-together

Financial overveiw

Takeaway: Although is clear that we need to increase membership and stewardship, and reduce our dependency on invested funds, by the grace of God and due to a strong market, we are still a growing and thriving church. Maintaining one of the largest historic buildings in Northampton is a tremendous responsibility, but we can live into that responsibility if we keep our focus where it belongs, living into our vision and mission as a healthy and vibrant 21st century downtown church.

To that end, we turned our attention to the variety of ways we grow as a church:

  1. Spiritual Growth (our own journey of discipleship as well as caring for our congregation.)
  2. Congregational Growth (membership & stewardship)
  3. Growth in Mission and Community Engagement

We engaged in an exercise where we placed all of our existing teams into the above categories.  We noted that we have many ways to engage in spiritual growth (Sunday morning, Common Ground, Dorcas Society, small study groups, our care and visitation team, and anti-racism work.)

We also have many efforts to engage in mission outside the church (Cot Shelter meals, the circle of care refugee resettlement, Hot Chocolate Run, PRIDE, scholarships for Haitian school children).

We noted that we do not have many teams focused on helping the church grow in membership and giving, except a team of greeters and coffee hour.  We would like to create a new Welcome Team more focused on intentionally helping people move from their first visit to participating more in the life of the church.  We also have a few people who would like to become involved in developing a more robust approach to stewardship and improving our financial resources so we can anticipate our needs as a congregation rather than just react to them.

We divided into five discussion groups to generate ideas in the following areas:

Evangelism for the liberal church,

Welcome and extravagant hospitality (greeting, coffee hour, follow up)

Discipleship – integration, participation, and membership

Community Fund Raising

Stewardship for our Congregation

 

We want to express our thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion and to all of you who have taken the time to read through this letter. We are blessed to work with you all and remain hopeful about our shared future.

Pastor Todd and Pastor Sarah