Published on Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The United Methodist Publishing House: Listening & Learning

Nashville, October 2018 - The United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) has launched an intensive project to gather insights about effective ministries in congregations across The United Methodist Church. At a recent learning event for staff executives, a local pastor, an associate clergy member, and an elder spent several hours along with their district superintendent painting a vivid picture of congregations and their ministries. Representing local churches ranging in size from 8 in Sunday worship to 425 members, the pastors described evangelistic outreach, vibrant worship, cross-congregational collaboration, working on community issues such as health care, drug addiction, education, and hunger, and creative ways for people to engage in life-changing Bible study.

One longtime pastor shared 18 pages detailing his extensive reading of dozens of books covering religion, sociology, and leadership categories—demonstrating a lifelong quest for continuous learning. Another heaped praise on a list of laity who generously offer leadership in servant ministries, Christian education, and worship, naming attributes that are so essential to the vitality of their congregation.

A local pastor with a three-point charge also highlighted the roles of lay leadership as he darts to three worship services each Sunday. He explained how he augments his ministry by working in the public schools and as an Army Reserves Chaplain. He told of serving two churches with no running water and the experience, after recently being married, of moving into a parsonage that hadn’t been used as a home in five years and has no grounded electrical plugs.

The district superintendent described the importance of visiting all 113 charges in her 11-county district every year to make incarnate the vision that connectionalism means being present with each other in supportive and loving relationships. She confidently but gently emphasized how she accepts every possible opportunity to preach because for many of the churches under her care, her presence would be the first time a woman had delivered a sermon from the pulpit.

“It is this kind of down-to-earth practicality, and daily challenges and joys of ministry with real people in all types of communities, that we earnestly strive to hold clearly in mind as we offer resources they will gladly choose, use, and value,” said Rev. Brian K. Milford, President and Publisher.

“We are exploring alternate ways to organize and present content in print, through visual, audio, and digital formats, and in other ways that people say work for them in dramatically varied settings,” noted Marj Pon, Editor of Church School Publications.

Another executive, Karen Samuel, Executive Director of Human Resources, spoke about the need to recruit and cultivate staff who have direct experience in urban, rural, smaller, and large church settings. “We seek out skilled staff members who bring insights and empathy that enable UMPH to serve congregations in vastly different settings in terms of culture, racial make-up, economic conditions, geography, and styles of church life,” she said.

UMPH is engaged in a year-long systematic research project to check and clarify what each segment of church leaders needs most for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Abingdon Press and Cokesbury, the two arms of The United Methodist Publishing House ministry, are collaborating to strengthen audience relationships and deepen their understandings of customer needs by employing interviews, focus groups, customer surveys, and a 60-member advisory panel of leaders representing various geographical areas and types of customers. This work is being carefully coordinated in order to answer: “What do people want most? What promises should UMPH make, and how will we test to assure we are keeping those promises? “

“We are working in a very intentional and rigorous way,” said Audrey Kidd, UMPH’s Chief Revenue and Customer Experience Officer, “to understand the different needs of all we serve and provide the kind of help they truly value for worship, forming disciples, serving people in crisis, and working to make communities safer, healthier, and more caring and just.” 

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Author: Amy Smith

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