Over the years, the North Alabama Conference has worked to renew and equip existing congregations as well as plant new congregations. While the goals are often the same, the process and strategy to achieve those goals are often different. To that end, Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett has announced the creation of two distinct ministry areas: Church Revitalization and Transformation to be led by Rev. Nancy Cole and New Church Development to be led by Matt Jones.
Bishop Wallace-Padgett says, “Healthy new faith communities and vital existing churches are keys to the North Alabama Annual Conference’s effectiveness in making disciples for the transformation of the world. We are fortunate to have persons with the passion and skills of Matt Jones and Nancy Cole leading us in these areas of focus.”
Church Revitalization and Transformation will focus on helping existing churches become healthy and vital. A comprehensive plan for church revitalization and transformation is being developed and Rev. Cole is working to create an advisory team of pastors and laity in this effort.
Rev. Cole says, “There is no easy road to revitalization and renewal, but with our trust in the Christ who gave us the Church, we will prevail.
“I am haunted by a statement made by John Wesley which is proving too prophetic these days, ‘I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.’”
One of the initial emphases of this new ministry area is small-membership churches. This weekend, the first initiative will be started in four districts. This initiative is called ABIDE. The purpose of work toward church revitalization will be to create leadership teams in smaller churches who are staffed solely by a pastor. This program will be replicated in the other four districts at a later time.
Rev. Cole says, “I am grateful for the opportunity to further develop and lead a comprehensive process for the renewal and transformation of our existing churches in the North Alabama Conference. Initially, the emphasis of our efforts will be on our small membership churches. Having pastored small membership churches, I have a heart for them. Many of these churches are doing remarkable ministry, but many lack the resources needed to once again become vital churches in the communities they serve. Our goal is to resource and engage the small membership church in a process or processes that will encourage and promote revitalization and transformation. Natural Church Development will remain and important component for the assessment of church health and thus a way to prescribe goals for renewal. I am in the process of putting together a team of lay and clergy that will help lead in this vital work for the sake of the Kingdom.”
She notes that Natural Church Development will remain a vital component in the Conference’s church transformation focus. Rev. Cole, reports that 87% of North Alabama churches active in following the NCD process and who have taken two or more NCD surveys have showed an upward trend in attendance.
Matt Jones, who has been serving as Director of Congregational Development working with both new congregations and existing congregations, will be leading the effort to effectively start new congregations within the North Alabama Conference.
Jones, says, "My primary role is currently to determine the most effective way for our conference to plant new churches within the parameters of a large existing system. Planting cannot be considered successful until we have a way for these new churches to have long-term success.”
Jones notes that long-term success includes successfully navigating new congregations through their first pastoral change, a transition that has proved challenging for many new churches in North Alabama. Jones notes a part of his new role is to work with the Bishop and Cabinet to develop “a plan and process for the transition from the planter to the next appointed pastor."
The North Alabama Conference is still active in Disaster Response work for the April 2011 tornadoes that devastated many parts of the conference. Rev. Nancy Cole serves as the Director of the Conference Disaster Recovery Coordinator overseeing the long-term recovery efforts. Lori Feist has been named Assistant Conference Disaster Recovery Coordinator.
Lori has worked as a volunteer with the Disaster Recovery Team from the first days following the storms serving as the Volunteer Coordinator. She is now serving the position of Assistant Disaster Recovery Coordinator. Her duties include continuing to coordinate and schedule volunteer work teams and placing the teams in areas of the Conference where they are needed by connecting them with the local district coordinator. She also now works with the financial end of the recovery by dispersing the UMCOR grant funds to the districts as needed.
Lori says, “I love the people I meet and talk to from everywhere who want to help. And the people we are helping- the storm survivors. Seeing people want to do something gives me hope for humanity.”
She notes that many teams now serving throughout North Alabama are repeat teams traveling from out of state.