Bishop Will Willimon: Turnaround at Helena

I appointed Mike Edmondson to our Helena, Alabama congregation in 2008. Since then, the church has experienced a remarkable turnaround. I have been studying Mike's leadership and the moves that this congregation has made in the past few years and wanted to share some of what I have learned by observing Helena by asking Mike to describe some of the most important leadership moves:

Jim Savage told me, "It will be three tough years, but when the church comes through the other side, a spirit of excitement will emerge." And Mickey Morgan stated, "In these situations, a pastor needs thick skin and a soft heart." I have found both statements to be true!

In my first meetings with the Helena SPRC and Finance committees, I was made aware of that:

1) We had $15,000 total cash, and 2.7 million in total debt.

2) The entire roof system was failing, and we had a serious mold issue.

3) The church was in the midst of a 7-year crisis of spiraling decline in worship attendance.

The biggest strength the church had is a strong group of committed Christians whose mindset has been all along, "This is our church and God is not done with us yet." Most importantly, as a group, they saw a necessity for change.

The Pastoral Team, Staff, and Lay Leadership set out on a three prong solution: 1) Identify the needs of the community, 2) Identify what can be fixed in house quickly, 3) Simplify the Vision and organize the entire church around it.

We revised the vision within the first month, then we continued at an accelerated pace to organize around the three distinct but interlocking groups, which were: 1) Worship, 2) Discipleship, and 3) Missions.

It was important to achieve quick victories in order to gain some level of trust. Scriptural References Used: Acts 1:8; Acts 4:32-35; Eph. 4:11-12; John 17:20-23; Acts 2:6-11.

After the initial assessment of the situation using the SWOT analysis as well as putting the vision with core values in place; the leadership of the church set out to address the toughest issues holding us back from numerical and spiritual growth. During this time, the congregation achieved the following:

1) Repaired the entire roof system.

2) The church raised $400,000 for the refurbishment of the campus.

3) The church grew by an average of 150 additional people in worship.

4) Baptisms and professions of faith increased.

5) We launched 2 more worship services.

6) The inside of the church was given a makeover.

7) The average age of the congregation dropped from the mid forties to the upper thirties.

8) Debt was reduced from 2.7million to less than 2.5 million. This includes a $500,000 loan obtained to help with the repairs.

We have prepared a 3 to 5 year plan, making preparations for Helena UMC to be averaging 800 in worship. The church continues to work the plan in order to become a stronger partner in the connection. Overall, Evangelism, Discipleship, and Missions (which is being instituted aggressively) are paramount for us reaching our full potential. We have made great progress, but we still have a long way to go!

Mike typifies a new breed of pastoral leaders who are not content simply to maintain a congregation but who feel called to lead a congregation forward into growth. We are blessed to have such fine, productive, faithful pastors like Mike in North Alabama.

Will Willimon

[Taken with permission from the Bishop's blog, North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.]