Church Finds Ministry Focus Strengthens Its Mission

April 13, 2018 by Robyn Davis Sekula

From the first day in 2011 that Rev. Jane Jones-Norris took on her new temporary supply pastor role in Bradenton, Florida, she could tell that the church was struggling.

But she saw so much hope and love in the church’s congregation – and a willingness to change. She knew the congregation could be reinvigorated, if only the church could find another place to worship that was less of a burden on the congregation.

The building that had once been the most innovative church in the country – the nation’s first drive-in church, dedicated in 1952 – simply didn’t fit its 21st century needs. Jones-Norris turned to Paul Grier from the Presbyterian Foundation for help. Grier is vice president, Project Regeneration, and leads congregations through a discernment process. In some cases, Project Regeneration leads to selling a church building or physical plant that is beyond the needs of the current congregation – which is exactly what the Bradenton church did. The church changed its name from Whitfield Estates Presbyterian Church to Oak Pointe Church, moving into a renovated building in January 2017.

“They went through a lengthy and at times difficult season of discernment, examining how they can best live into that future,” Grier says. “We helped them organize their thinking. Having someone on the outside who knows the church well, but isn’t in the church on a daily or weekly basis, is helpful because it brings a certain level of objectivity. They are the ones who have done the hard work and the heavy lifting.”

Project Regeneration brought them to selling their property and acquiring a new location closer to their congregation and potential new members. The move has given the congregation the ability to continue growing its mission as it continues to fulfill the call of Christ.

“Churches have a tendency to think that if you don’t have a youth program, you won’t have a future for your congregation, but that’s not true,” Jones-Norris says. “It was important for us to find a focus for our ministry and to build that around our strength. Our ministry and our mission is by and for seniors.”

Since relocating, more members from the senior community have joined the church. The church has also partnered with neighboring churches for programs beyond the scope of what they can do on their own. St. George Episcopal, just a block away, had a food pantry, so the church now supports that food pantry, and the church helps with the neighborhood Vacation Bible School program that serves area children. St. George’s also has a playground, which Oak Pointe does not, and Oak Pointe has some amenities that St. George does not.

The cooperative relationship has helped each church prosper and not duplicate efforts, Jones-Norris says.

The move didn’t come without some grieving. Once the move was made, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The new building is so much easier to get in and out of and folks are finding it much more accommodating to their needs, Jones-Norris says.

“We do have original members in our congregation who were concerned with the stained-glass windows,” Jones-Norris says. “Over the years every window in the building became stained glass. We found an art studio in Kentucky that removed the 12 large story windows plus hundreds of others for re-purposing. One of the story windows is being refurbished to hang in our new sanctuary.”

Grier notes that the congregation’s attitude is what truly shaped this project. “As the membership shrunk, it would have been very easy to be complacent and blame it on others,” Grier says. “But they decided God is not done with this ministry. There are things they are prepared to do and they can do that for a lot of years into the future.”


Presbyterian Foundation Project Regeneration

Summary: Project Regeneration works with congregations struggling with building issues. This can include having a building that is too large for current needs, a building that needs major repairs that the congregation cannot afford or for churches that are considering a merger. The Presbyterian Foundation works with churches in a process of discernment. The Foundation can walk alongside you when you need to transition church assets for a new ministry, to leave a legacy of your congregation’s ministry, or to work with you to determine other creative solutions to be a good steward of the resources that your congregation has been blessed to receive.

Number of congregations assisted: 632

Assistance given: “As simple as a conference call or sometimes helping with a multi-year project that leads to a church sale – and everything in between,” Grier says.

Find out more: Contact Paul Grier, Vice President