Report on the Vibrant Communities Initiative


In January, 2014, St. John United began the journey called Vibrant Communities. With the backing of both of the Baltimore Presbytery and the United Methodist Church Baltimore/ Washington Conference, we engaged consultants from the Conference to analyze, guide, and coach us along our way. Our overarching goal is to reach new people in new ways, because that's what will make and keep us a vibrant congregation.

Our journey began with 72 people taking the online Readiness 360 Survey to assess our energy and readiness in 4 areas: Spiritual Intensity, Missional Alignment, Cultural Openness, and Dynamic Relationships. In addition, the consultants reviewed our self-audit, the 2012 report of the Strategic Taskforce, Missionlnsite data, and conducted interviews and focus groups with 38 people. Their findings and recommendations were presented to the congregation on March 2, 2014. After time to reflect on the report, 70 people attended our church conference on April 7 and approved moving forward to implement the six recommendations:

  • Going deeper spiritually using small groups - Work with Mary Ka to develop a network of small groups

  • Connecting with elementary school children and their families - Build relationship with potential community partners to identify sustainable projects in which SJU can engage and establish process to get people engaged.

  • Identifying and connecting with particular groups in 21044 zip code - Use Missionlnsite data as the basis for identifying which segments to focus on and develop a plan to connect with those segments.

  • Improving our online presence and increasing our visibility in the community   -The Communication Team

  • Improving the Sunday experience - with particular emphasis on the experience of first time guests starting at the curb.

  • Developing out-of-the box ideas for resolving space/building issues

The implementation work began at a Project Kickoff on May 18 when we formed teams to work on the recommendations. The initial Vibrant Communities team of Connie Adamson (chair), Mary Ka Kanahan, Susan Moody, Debbie Parker, Dean Randall, Alvin Thompson, Harriett Tootle, expanded to include Guy Moody, Communication Team lead, and Trena Powell, Sunday Experience team lead. With the process successfully launched, Connie stepped down and Susan assumed the role of chair. Other team leaders are: Mary Ka - small groups, Susan - Know and Be Known in 21044 (covering 2 and 3 above), and Alvin - space/building issues. To date 32 people have participated in the work teams.

The Vibrant Communities model establishes goals that can be achieved in 90 days with teams reporting and celebrating accomplishments with the congregation at the end of each 90 days. We have had reasonable success at setting and meeting goals and hope to get better at it as time goes on. So far, teams have reported to the congregation after worship on September 14, 2014 and January 11, 2015.

Church-wide small-group study with an accompanying sermon series - In the fall of 2014 29 people participated in small group studies of the book An Alter in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor. These groups were a particular blessing in that they provided an opportunity for study to many who were not already involved in regular study groups. Pastor Mary Ka's sermon series supported the book study and gave the full congregation a window into what the small groups were discussing.

Getting to know 21044 - Since many of the people who have recently started attending SJU live close to the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center (WLIFC) and because there is so much new development going on close by, we chose the area within a 15-minute walk of WLIFC as our initial focus. We have used Missionlnsite to learn about the characteristics and preferences of people in this area. To date, we have explored communications, facilities, symbols, and technology preferences of people living in the area. Susan has shared these insights with the SJU Council, Vibrant Communities teams, West Side Story Ministry Group of the Baltimore Presbytery, and Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church.

To prepare us to get out and get to know our neighborhood, we have begun researching the elements of neighborhood, learned about how to conduct a community mapping, and held 1-to-l relational conversation training for 15 people.

Communication Team - At the Project Kickoff, people were ask to completed the phrase "SJU exists to ...". The Communications Team reviewed the 31 responses to this exercise. The team found some common themes emerged around our desire, or even our need, to serve others, especially as it relates to social justice, and to demonstrate God's love in the world. After much work and prayerful consideration, they created a brief statement to serve as a mini-mission statement. This statement - "United in Love, United for Service" - succinctly connotes a sense of who we are called to be. It has been approved by Council and is now ready to be used to help us be known in our neighborhood and throughout Howard County. Moving forward, it will be used along with our church name and logo in various forms of communications, including our bulletin, letterhead, online presence and social media.

Improving the Sunday Experience began with team members observing Sunday mornings at SJU as if they were first-time visitors —from the parking lot through fellowship time. The team developed recommendations based on these observations. After the team reported traffic congestion, particularly on special holidays, the IFC recruited people to direct traffic at the busiest time on Christmas Eve. To help visitors find SJU and feel welcome, the team conducted Greeter training and created an SJU specific welcome center which is staffed each Sunday.

Resolving space/building issues - After the Vibrant Communities presentation on January 11, 2015, members of the Vibrant Communities teams met together to brainstorm ideas for addressing our space needs and identified 2 main themes for further development as alternatives to the previously developed building plan for the corner of the property: (1) build a multi-use facility on the corner portion of the property that would serve both as worship space and to meet a community need such as affordable housing, day use in support of the community, or shared space with mission/aid organizations; (2) renegotiate our worship time, building use, and power base in our current location to then consider our investment in the future and redevelopment of the WLIFC.

Submitted by Susan Moody
Vibrant Communities Lead
January 25, 2015