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About Grace United Methodist Church

A Future with Hope Summary Report and Recommendations

 
INTRODUCTION 
Grace UMC is a church with a long history.  Over a hundred years, Methodists have worshiped, studied, and served from the corner of Heights and 13th.  Ministry has taken many forms.  At times Grace was a large program church and at times a small neighborhood gathering.  The current congregation generally falls into two groups: long-time members connected by blood or long relationship to a small number of family groups or growing families who joined within the last ten years.  The pandemic was difficult and set off a period of discernment about the church's future.  As we explored a possible adoption merger, a team was formed to evaluate options and report back to the congregation.  What follows are the recommendations of the Future with Hope team.  If adopted by Church Council, these will become Grace's roadmap for the next two years. 
 
IDENTITY AND VISION 
Present State 
Presently, Grace is a small family church.  Relationships are central, and the friendly welcome of the congregation has helped people find a home at Grace.  However, the growth of the congregation stagnated before the pandemic, and the community shrunk over the past two years. Grace has not had a clear sense of identity or defined path for growing disciples.  Without these, it has been difficult to make important decisions. 
 
Recommendations 
As part of their work, Future with Hope has worked on core values for Grace.  These were refined by the team and presented to the congregation through committee meetings and town halls. They propose the following be officially adopted as the guiding principles for the congregation. 
 
Mission: Grace exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. 
 
Values: Family by Choice, Neighbors by Call, Legacy for the Future 
 
Family by Choice 
By design, our community is intimate, supportive, and intergenerational. One image of perfection is the people of God feasting with Jesus at the heavenly banquet. It is a large family meal where young, old, and in-between both contribute to the community and are fed by it. It is a table where those who are hungry can rest and be refreshed. It is a space where we are not afraid to be vulnerable, have difficult conversations, and learn from one another. 
  • We are committed to one another  
  • We are a support system for each other's needs  
  • We hold each other accountable  
  • We contribute to the table  
  • We value having people of all ages and backgrounds together 
Neighbors by Call 
The Message translates John 1:14 as "God put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood." That incarnational call echoes in stories of both the Old and New Testaments. It reminds us that a central part of our discipleship is attending to our neighbors' physical and spiritual needs and cultivating deep relationships with the community in which we dwell. We are committed to one another  
  • We provide tangible support to neighbors in need  
  • We partner with our neighbors at every opportunity 
  • The needs of our neighborhood are a driving force in our ministry decisions  
  • We seek to be a comfortable place for people to engage in conversation and build relationships regardless of their current faith.  
Legacy for the Future 
Grace UMC is a congregation with a long story. It has grown and changed with the Heights neighborhood for over a century. The wisdom gained on that journey is a gift we can offer to the present and the future. In a world of competition and individualism, we remember what it means to care for one another and rise together. In a world of production and consumption, we remember what it is to know you are enough. In a world of constant demands, we remember the importance of holy rest. 
  • We connect the past of the church to the needs of the future  
  • We leverage our physical assets to make a better future for our church and community  
  • We invest in ministry of which we will never reap the benefits  
  • We share what our faith has to say about issues of social concern 
 
First Steps 
These values are already a part of Grace's culture when we are at our best.  But some work of renewal is needed after the stress of the last few years.  First, the guiding principles need to be officially adopted by Church Council.  Following this, a team should be formed to conduct a ministry audit.  They will evaluate how well our present programs align to these guiding principles, how well we help people at each stage of discipleship, and what changes need to be made to improve our ministry. 
 
Along with this, Grace should invest in rebranding and reintroduction ourselves to the neighborhood. This will include a new logo, updated website, improving church informational pieces, and planning at least three neighborhood outreach events in 2022.  It is recommended the church begin universally using the name Grace in the Heights [a United Methodist Community]. 
 
To help us better live into our values, they should be incorporated into meeting devotions, worship, planning conversations, and member classes. 
 
 
FINANCES 
Present State 
Grace's finances have improved greatly over the past six months.  While plate and pledge giving are still lower than pre-pandemic levels, increased revenue from the day school and renting space on our property have put us on firmer footing.  The staff continues to streamline our expenses, and the second PPP loan is being deployed.  We anticipate this loan will be forgiven just like the first.
 
Recommendations 
To continue our financial recovery, we recommend evaluating our present debt and reserve accounts, simplifying our accounting practices to make income and expenses more transparent, maintaining diversified income, and rebuilding our reserves.  Leveraging our building and location is crucial to future financial security.   
 
First Steps 
Before the end of the year, we should sign a new loan agreement with TMF to lower the interest rate on our outstanding balance.  Consult with TMF about the cost and value of a new endowment fund vs. the current Cambridge and Rundell funds.  Consolidate the 2022 Budget into a single document, reduce the number of active checking accounts, and end the practice of "Right Pocket" "Left Pocket" accounting (see appendix A).
 
In 2022 we need to develop and adopt financial policies for pledged and non-pledged giving, building use, planned giving, and school income and expenses.  We should conduct an outside audit, as we have not done one in recent memory.  We should work with TMF to offer end-of-life planning and asset management workshops for members and the community.  We should develop a repayment schedule to rebuild our endowed funds.  And finally, consult necessary accountants and/or lawyers about the necessary procedures and implications of renting space to nonprofit and for-profit entities. 
 
CHURCH STRUCTURE 
Present State 
Presently, Grace exists as a stand-alone congregation governed under the traditional multi-committee structure proscribed by the United Methodist Book of Discipline. As part of our ministry, we are the chartering organization for two scout troops and offer services as a food pantry and a Dayschool. Our present structure requires a large number of volunteers and meetings to focus on administration.  Simultaneously, lay leaders may not have an accurate picture of the scope and structure of the organization. 
 
Recommendations 
Future with Hope recommends that Grace continue as a stand-alone congregation.  However, we should move to a Single-board governance model and communicate a new mental model of our ministry (see appendix B). As an outgrowth of our Neighbors by Call value, we should take on a partner-whenever-possible approach to new ministries and evaluate potential partnership for existing efforts.  A concerted effort should be made to put financial, personnel, and other policies in writing. 
  
First Steps 
First, develop bylaws for a Single-board, nominate leaders to fill the new positions, and hold a called Church conference to adopt the new structure.  Between now and the end of the year, communicate the Future with Hope results and recommendations to the congregation.  In 2022 appoint teams to develop needed policies for the church. 
 
PROGRAM MINISTRIES 
Present State 
Post-pandemic, worship has resumed and is the central activity of the church.  The Day school has reopened. Limited opportunities for discipleship growth have restarted for Adults and children and a few traditional fellowship and outreach activities.  The congregation's evangelism, hospitality, incorporation, and youth ministries are underdeveloped. 
 
Recommendations 
In addition, welcoming back lapsed members, Grace needs to focus on "front door" opportunities-- events and activities specifically designed to connect with people outside the church and encourage them to become more involved with Grace.  An explicit Discipleship Pathway would help current members and new guests both understand the ministries of Grace and find what will help them grow as a disciple.  This should include a plan for welcoming guests to worship and helping people join the church. As a neighborhood church, it is unrealistic to imagine Grace can fund and staff every area of ministry on our own.  Partnerships should be considered and developed wherever possible. 
  
First Steps 
Conduct a ministry audit of present offerings at Grace and develop a Discipleship Pathway either in-house or as part of a collab group.  Evaluate partnerships for youth ministry and the food pantry.  Hold an annual calendaring retreat with staff and lay leaders to align activities with our guiding principles, goals for the year, and discipleship needs. 
 
STAFFING  
Present State 
Grace effectively has three sets of staff: the Day school staff, program ministry staff, and crossover staff, who serve both.  The Day school has two directors and both part-time and full-time teachers.  There are three part-time program staff: two for worship and one for family ministries.  A full-time pastor, business administrator, and facilities manager work across all areas.  Good consideration has been given to fair compensation for the Day school; however, a lack of transparency for teacher salaries inhibits the development of a sustainable pay system.  There are no formal goals or plans for growing staff capacity, compensation, or plan for future needs.  Part of our administration is outsourced, and that relationship has occasionally caused financial headaches. 
 
Recommendations 
To continue developing its children's ministry and restart youth ministry, a greater investment must be made in Family Ministries.   A plan should be developed to encourage staff continuing education, define the conditions necessary for the cost of living and merit raises and set goals for how we scale the staff as the congregation grows.  We should change providers for our payroll administration. 
 
First Steps  
Increase Family Ministry director hours for 2022. Develop a system of staff goal setting and evaluation. Evaluate current Day school pay and create a predictable and sustainable pay scale.  Create a clear organizational chart for staff responsibilities and accountability.  Develop a staffing plan tied to attendance and financial growth markers. 
 
BUILDING 
Present State 
Grace inhabits four buildings ranging in age from 50 to 100 years old (age of food pantry unknown).  Our Day school occupies the largest swath of space.  The remaining space is divided between worship, tenants, and storage, with a limited space given to administration and meeting space.  Great strides have been made in the last year to catch up on deferred maintenance, utilize our space as an asset, and make better use of our resources. 
 
Recommendations 
Grace's greatest fiscal asset is its building and location.  We must be good stewards of these resources.  A master plan was developed in 2017 for an eight-million-dollar renovation and building campaign.  The whole of the plan is no longer practical or suited to the developing needs of the church. However, many pieces of it remain useful and should be pursued as resources allow.  The use of space for storage and administration should be minimized, and as many rooms as possible made available for discipleship use and rental income. 
 
First Steps 
The upstairs of the Day school is both under renovated and under-utilized.  Scouts and external groups should be moved to a more appropriate meeting space; storage should be right-sized so that ministries have what they need without holding onto unused items for long periods.  The small rooms should be reclaimed as offices for non-clergy staff, and the present rec room converted to a staff breakroom for both ministry and Day school staff.  The pastor's office should move to the present main office, so it remains accessible for people with mobility challenges. The current breakroom can then be better used as a large meeting room.  Available assets should be invested in updating the Sanctuary cosmetics and technology. The current master plan should be evaluated and reworked into manageable priorities. 
 
Next Steps 
Church Council received this report on October 27.  They are disseminating it to the congregation and welcome comment.  The church will vote on November 21 to accept or reject the recommendations.  More details about the vote process will be available the first week of November.  If accepted, these recommendations will become the roadmap for our life together over the next two years. 
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Houston, TX 77008
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