Future Search and Congregations
Many faith-based organizations, regardless of denomination, are dealing with issues of internal conflict, financial struggle, attracting and keeping new members. Changes in the congregation and community make it difficult to pull together and create a sense of mission that everyone wants to rally around. Even in healthy and thriving congregations, gaining agreement on specific goals is challenging.
Haddonfield United Methodist Church is a large congregation in Haddonfield, New Jersey, USA with a 180 year heritage. They had recently completed a multi-million dollar expansion to their facilities and wanted to create a dynamic future. Ninety-six people, representing the “whole system”, participated in the Future Search. The planning team worked very hard on logistics. In reviewing attendees they focused efforts and recruited 10 Young (mid-20’s) adults that are part of the congregation. They added energy and excitement to the entire weekend and one immediate outcome was a NEW ministry team birthed during the weekend. The “Mega-Awesome” Young Adult Ministry of HUMC!
The outcomes were 10 Common Ground themes that formed the basis of their strategic plan. They are: Multiple opportunities for young adults, Providing new and responsive ways to meet family needs, Providing missions and outreach locally, regionally and globally, Expanded, revitalized small groups, Expanded adult Sunday school, Church-wide intergenerational lecture series and Social gatherings, and Sports and Physical Wellness. They declared that HUMC will have safe areas and opportunities available for sports activities for physical wellness for all ages, “Sports-proof” fellowship hall, and classrooms to workout rooms when not in use. These commitments are now embedded in everything they do.
How Future Search Can Help Your Congregation:
Future Search has helped members of many faith-based communities act together on issues they care about regardless of differing opinions, role, status, gender, culture or ethnic background. Future Search gives voice to every constituency group in the congregation. Not surprisingly, this cuts down on resistance to change and unleashes the energy of those involved. For example, at a congregational Future Search, you might find yourself sitting in a circle with a member of the clergy, a lay person, a youth group member, a congregant concerned about social outreach, non-affiliated members of the community or members of the regional congregational board. Full participation builds deep buy-in for the actions the group decides to take.
Some of the ways Future Search has been used to help congregations:
- Building unity of vision and deepening commitment to the mission
- Easing transitions in the size and scope of a congregation
- Changing demographics in a local community
- Creating alliances/ consolidations between congregations
- Bringing in new leadership at all levels
- Increasing the involvement of individual members in community activities
- Building stronger relationships with surrounding communities / organizations
- Re-vitalizing fund raising
- Expanding facilities and programs
- Searching for a new minister
Five Conservative Jewish Synagogues, Philadelphia, PA, USA
The Northeast Philadelphia Consortium of Jewish Synagogues in Northeast Philadelphia, whose memberships were declining due to demographic changes, used Future Search to discover their common future. They made plans for the development of shared services for everything from worship to purchasing. In addition, plans included the exploration of consolidation among several of the synagogues.
United Methodist Church at Absecon, Absecon, New Jersey, USA
This congregation used Future Search to develop a l0 year vision. They hoped to grow from a mid-sized village church to a large community of faith, serving their broader region. The results of their Future Search have been impressive: Annual giving has nearly tripled in 6 years ($300,000 increase/annual rev.); a 2.6 million dollar building expansion has been completed; worship attendance has increased over 50% to an average of 350 weekly; several new staff positions have been added; and an endowment fund has been established. The congregation plans regular Future Searches to cast its vision every 5 – 10 years.
Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Philadelphia, PA, USA
The Congregation used Future Search as part of a year-long process to engage everyone in its 1,000 member community in planning for the future of the church. They took action on church structure, conflict management, outreach activities, spiritual concerns, facility improvements and other topics. Two years later, after a change of a senior minister, the church continues to work on this agenda.