(September 1, 2017)
(New initiatives in blue)

At Annual Conference, the Bishop shared her vision of the Virginia Conference: “To be disciples of Jesus Christ who are life-long learners who influence others to serve.”  Over the next year, we will be learning more about how this vision will shape the work of our district. We will be continuing our work of “coming alongside” local churches and pastors to go deeper and wider: deeper in our discipleship and wider into our communities and connecting new people to faith.  We are working on five levers for doing this:

  • Encouraging clergy peer learning/coaching groups;
  • Implementing processes to help churches go from “good to great;”
  • Planting new faith communities;
  • Making charge conferences more effective; and
  • Helping struggling churches awaken to the possibilities of God’s future for them.

This coming year, we continue to refine our strategy.  What progress have we made so far in our five levers?  What do we have planned for the coming year?

Fostering Clergy Excellence/ Peer Learning

  • Beginning in 2015-16, we invited all clergy to become part of a peer learning group. Research has shown a high correlation between clergy participating in peer learning groups and vital congregations.  We reduced the number of Bi-District clergy meetings to allow more time for pastors to participate in peer learning groups.
  • The recommendations of the Loudoun County Coaching group (formed in 2014) bore fruit with Arcola UMC being yoked with Aldie UMC; and Pleasant Valley UMC beginning a second site. While that second site did not reach critical mass, we learned a lot in the effort.  In addition, Arcola is developing plans for significant expansion at their current site.  More recently, Floris UMC has joined with these two churches to imagine how to reach new people in rapidly growing Loudoun County.
  • Seven (7) pastors continued the Arlington Crescent Group for more effectively connecting with people in their communities along the Metro corridor in inner Arlington County. This area has a high density of “Urban Edge” millennials, who are a “hard to reach” group for traditional churches.
  • Seventeen (17) pastors attended the 3 day Church Leadership Institute in Richmond
  • Over the summer 2017, we prepared pastors for leading change in uncharted territory using six cluster meetings focusing on Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger.
  • For 2017-18, clergy peer learning groups and Bi-District meetings will be using a theme of “Becoming a Spiritually Vital Leader.”

Good to Great Coaching/Healthy Church Initiatives

  • Nine (9) Arlington churches participated in Shift Cluster Coaching (a 13 month intensive coaching process for a team of lay and clergy by invitation of the District Superintendent (DS) for churches desiring to go from “good to great”) in January 2016.
  • A bi-district team developed “Next Level Innovations” (NLI)—a new “good to great” process modeled after what the West Ohio and Missouri Conferences are doing for healthy churches. The team tailored the effort to fit the special circumstances of N. Va. churches.  Our first class of three churches began this new multi-year effort to invest in local church fruitfulness in a much more intensive way in August 2016.  One church has already voted to approve the five innovations coming out of their innovations weekend, and two more will have their weekends this fall.   
  • We have received funding from the Conference Church Development Team for two more cohorts. Three Arlington churches are participating in the second cohort, which begins this fall.  Five churches from other Districts are also part of this cohort.

Planting New Faith Communities

  • Six (6) churches in Arlington are planting new faith communities:
    • Ashburn Korean (began April 2013)
    • Restoration UMC—a satellite of Floris UMC (began July 2014) is reaching new people in Reston VA (where metro development is very active)
    • First Vietnamese American UMC (a mission church) restarted July 2014
    • Pleasant Valley UMC formed a satellite called Impact Church in July 2015 to reach young families with children in their community. After two years of courageous effort, we discontinued this new faith community, which failed to gather a critical mass of people.  We are now exploring a different approach to reach the rapidly growing Loudoun County area.
    • Vine Church began a satellite at Graham Rd UMC in January 2017 to reach a changed neighborhood around GRUMC. While the launch has gone well, we have discovered it is very challenging for a new church start to share a building with an existing congregation.
    • Floris UMC will begin an “online” satellite beginning July 2017.
  • Vine Church is considering a third satellite at the old site of Arlington UMC, perhaps as early as July 2018.
  • On July 1, 2016, the Centreville campus of Korean UMC of Greater Washington (which was founded as a satellite campus a decade ago) became an independent new church start with a new name: Korean UMC of Koinonia.  Young Bong Kim, lead pastor of KUMC, moved to lead this newly independent congregation so that they might become more effective in reaching the large number of Korean families moving into the Centreville area. This relaunch has been highly successful: worship attendance averages roughly 170.
  • The Bi-District Board of Missions (BOM) and District Stewards voted to support an aggressive schedule of additional new church planting because of the rich demographic opportunities we have in N. Virginia.
  • Both BOM and the Conference Church Development Team have approved a parachute drop plant in inner Arlington along the Metro, and we are actively seeking a church planter who can effectively reach this population. A “parachute” drop plant is one in which there is no launch team from a nearby local church.  Kate Floyd was appointed as the planter beginning July 2017.  In addition, several neighboring churches have indicated a willingness to explore partnering with the new church plant.
  • In October 2016, three people were trained to form a “Fresh Expression”—a new way of reaching unchurched people in their community that does not involve setting up a satellite or new church plant. We are particularly interested in cultivating lay leadership for these new ways to reach new people.

Making Conferencing more Effective

  • The District has been working on making District and Charge Conferences a more effective means to getting people “charged up” about the mission of the church: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  In 2015, I met individually with pastors to encourage them to join peer groups and to make charge conferences a more meaningful interaction with their lay leadership.  We made some progress.
  • In 2016, I met with groups of pastors to share my vision of how we can transform conferencing from a dull business meeting into an engaging opportunity to encourage vitality in local churches. As a result, charge conferences engaged the laity in a much more active discussion of how they live into “Thy Will Be Done.” 
  • The Bishop’s theme for 2017 is “A New Thing” based on Isaiah 43:19: “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  The theme for 2017 charge conferences will be “Give Me Jesus,” to follow the Bishop’s focus on discipleship.
  • I am planning to use cluster charge conferences in 2018 for two reasons, first, I am planning a renewal leave in the summer/early fall of 2018 and second, cluster charge conferences enable churches to encourage and inspire one another on our journey towards going deeper and wider. Other districts have gone to this model with good success, and I will be learning from them.

Help Plateaued/Declining Churches

  • Five (5) churches engaged in the Discovering the Possibilities Workshop and follow-on coaching
  • Graham Rd voted to become a legacy church and to turn over their facility to Vine Church to form a new faith community at the same site. Vine Church made improvements and modifications to the facility on their own.
  • Several other churches are taking significant steps towards revitalization.
  • Chesterbrook UMC (which had declined to 12-15 in worship) worked with the District to create future options. They decided to accept a proposal from Vision of Peace, the English-language ministry of Korean UMC of Greater Washington to join them.  On June 5, 2016, 97 members of KUMC joined Chesterbrook and a new leadership team was elected.  They are now averaging roughly 90 in worship and are served by a Korean American pastor.
  • The West African congregation of Arlington UMC moved to Lincolnia UMC in the Alexandria District in the spring of 2014 (Arlington UMC closed in 2015). They joined with the existing congregation (which had long had both Caucasian and Sierra Leonean members). This newly combined congregation is now thriving under the leadership of Rev. Raymond Max Jones:  in 2016, they were one of the fastest growing Alexandria District churches, both in average worship attendance and professions of faith.
  • In a strategy developed by the Loudoun County coaching group, Aldie UMC was moved into the Arlington District on July 1, 2017 and yoked with Arcola UMC (which has grown from about 12 in worship to 300). Aldie has been energized by having a full time local pastor (Rick Dawson) dedicated to them, and now is building an addition to their classroom and fellowship hall space to serve the growing population of children and youth now coming to the church.  There is tremendous population growth east of Aldie.

In addition, we continue to invest in our leaders and our churches around church revitalization:

Lay Leadership Development

  • Forty (40) Arlington Churches sent people to Bi-District Training Day (5 more than in 2016). Four hundred ninety eight (498) people from both districts attended. However, only one third of the total attendance is from the Arlington District.  I encourage Arlington District laity to take advantage of this excellent training opportunity.
  • We have installed enhanced technology in our bi-district conference room so that we can offer additional training for church revitalization, including videotaping training that we offer, and making it available for downloading by local churches. Our first training, “Third Thursdays” will focus on communication skills for local churches-including bulletins, websites, and social media.
  • In 2017-18, we are offering three lay leader spiritual formation opportunities on weeknights, using the same trainers as the Bi-District clergy meeting.
  • In 2017-18, there will be three different events designed to help local churches prepare for the Way Forward Commission.
  • In the coming year, we are exploring new ideas for how to take our leadership training to the “next level.”

How to Connect with Your Community Training/Individual Consultations (lay & clergy)

  • Ten (10) Arlington District Churches attended “Reach New People” in Nov. 2013
  • In-house version “How to Connect with Your Community” was offered 4 times with a 22 Arlington Churches participating.
  • Our “secret worshipers” discovered that a number of our churches could connect with their communities better by improving worship. To this end, we offered two programs:
    • “Brave Pastor”: in which the pastor videotapes him or herself leading worship and designs a self-improvement plan. Thirteen pastors have participated so far.
    • Four (4) churches participated in a one day workshop on “How to Connect with Your Community Through Worship.”
  • In 2017, 3 Arlington Churches participated in another round of “How to Connect-Basic” and 5 in the “Deeper Dive” version.
  • Eleven Arlington churches received individual consultations/training, reaching 69 persons.

All said, we connected with all our churches through these revitalization efforts.  I am greatly encouraged by the response of the District to our new focus and approach.

Cathy Abbott
District Superintendent