THE FUTURE STORY // CONNECTED AND IN MISSION
Response questions located at the bottom of this page.
The future story of Decatur First United Methodist is a church whose people are in relationship with God, in relationship with each other, and in relationship with the Decatur community. Decatur First is a family where each person feels empowered to use his or her God-given gifts toward the task of building holy community and boldly spreading the transformative love of Jesus. As a church, we are commissioned to engage the vibrant, growing, and diverse city that surrounds us. By 2025, our church and our community are inseparable. We are in Decatur; we are part of Decatur; we are connected to Decatur. We are a beacon of God’s hope and grace.
In 2025, Decatur First is a place of radical inclusion. We celebrate and give thanks that we are each uniquely blessed. Each person in connection with this church is a beautiful, individual child of God, with assets matched by no other. This is, as we understand it, the Body of Christ. Some may sing, some may teach, some may clean, some may cook—but all move in harmony as God’s hands and feet in the community.
We also know Decatur. We have taken the time to learn what Decatur is—its needs, its concerns, its joys, and its passions. And we are out in it, using our gifts to build relationships of Christian love within our community. The congregation is empowered to go forth and serve in whatever ways God calls it—in the name of, and with the blessing of, Decatur First United Methodist Church.
Something New, Bold, & Almighty // 2015
Decatur First in 2015 was a congregation out of touch with itself and with the community around it. Our attendance and giving had plateaued for a decade. Our buildings were not well adapted to our needs and strained our finances. Our collective worship was stilted and divided. We lacked a common purpose.
This was all the more unsettling because the area around us boomed with life, a mecca for young professionals and families who were engaged in their community. Decatur was rife with festivals and block parties. But for the most part, this palpable sense of community did not involve the church. The people of Decatur had nothing against religion; church simply did not meet their needs for relationship and community.
God called us to respond to this Decatur, the Decatur of the 21st Century. Beginning with the discernment process of 2015, we embraced our mission to go out into the Decatur area, develop relationships, and spread the love of Christ. We knew that God was leading us toward something new, bold, and almighty. We were called to dream big.
First Steps // 2016–2019
We had our mission. But we knew that before we could connect in Christian love with our community, we had to connect in Christian love with each other. Too frequently, we walked the halls and attended worship with people who felt like strangers. Many of belonged to a Sunday school class or participated in choir or drama, but this created a plethora of little identities—a group here, a group there. But who was Decatur First? What was our common identity? Before we could embrace the area around us, we had to repair our own home. If we built a church of unconditional love, fearless faith, and abundant joy, Decatur would join us. That was the promise.
We started with a series of deliberate exercises designed to build relationships and bring the congregation together. We spent a few worship services mixed up in random groups. Different Sunday school classes gathered for dinners over several months. Adults were encouraged to spend a Sunday engaged in youth and children’s activities. We had more “triplet” gatherings, in which congregants met for discussion, prayer, and study. What developed was a palpable sense of community within our walls. Each person began to recognize his or her brothers and sisters in Christ within the church. We celebrated the amazing story of each person. And we realized that God had brought us together for a purpose.
Then we looked within to discover and celebrate the tremendous gifts that God had given each of us. We were amazed how talented this congregation turned out to be. We had dancers, gardeners, storytellers, writers, builders, teachers . . . and the list went on. Everyone had gifts! We uncovered a bountiful set of tools within us. And we set about to catalog them, creating a database of talents and appointing a staff liaison to connect members with shared interests and to help develop community outreach projects.
Seeing ourselves as children of abundant gifts was more than an organizational exercise. It was a practice of spiritual formation, developed through a deliberate process of prayer, teaching, fellowship, and study—time-honored tools of Christian discipleship. In small groups, in the pulpit, and in the halls, we made a practice of embracing the radical love of God to reveal the sacred worth of each individual among us.
For far too many years, our church lived with an attitude of scarcity. We saw declining giving, declining attendance, and an increasing indifference to church in the broader world. And we lamented. How could we continue with less? How could we maintain our facilities and our programs? It seemed that nothing we had was enough, yet everything we had was a burden.
But where we saw scarcity, God saw abundance. God called us to recognize the great riches we had been given, and we began to give thanks. It was then that we turned to reimagining how the pillars of our church life would support our new mission to the Decatur community.
Worship: To have the spiritual fortitude to undertake the great project God had for us, we knew that our worship had to connect us, shape us, teach us, and sustain us. We came to recognize that the hour that we spend in the worship of God together is the most important hour of the week. We longed for opportunities to testify to the work of the Holy Spirit—through prayer, song, confession, and communion. We prayerfully considered every element of our worship with an eye toward creating an experience that not only uplifted the flock but also created a warm welcome for those new to our congregation. We examined styles of worship, different meeting times, and how to bridge the gaps among our three communities that worshipped separately.
Facilities: We reimagined our facilities. We had a tremendous amount of space, but it was not organized well for a church preparing for a 21st - century mission into Decatur. Our facilities did not foster relationship building, nor did they connect us physically to the area around us. After much prayer and deliberation, we made some changes.
We rethought our worship spaces. The sanctuary spoke to an era when the central act of the church was a sermon delivered during one Sunday morning worship service. But we needed to meet different needs. So we retrofitted both the sanctuary and the chapel to create places of warmer, closer fellowship that welcomed multiple styles of worship.
We also created easily accessible spaces for gathering—as small groups, as a church, and as a community. We operated under the principle that all space within the church is shared space and must serve more than one purpose. We created a fellowship hall that naturally draws people in from worship and our times of Christian education. We reconfigured our front lawn and our entranceways as community gathering spaces—physical gateways between the area around us and our church building. We also reimagined our gym as well as our spaces for youth and children, so that they became inviting centers for building relationships.
Christian Education: We realized that our Christian education was difficult to take advantage of and mired in routine. We saw the need for more flexibility and responsiveness to the world around us. And we responded. We held seminars on the Christian response to war and violence, classes on the intersection of faith and politics, and small groups devoted to the often unspoken difficulties faced by parents of young children—to name a few examples. We tailored educational opportunities to unique concerns of particular groups, such as youth and college-aged students.
We also advertised these opportunities outside the church, and they became vibrant touchstones for new connections with the people of the Decatur area. And we did not hold these just on Sundays. As with worship, we taught and learned whenever and wherever the Spirit moved.
Leadership: To support our mission focus, the role of the clergy and staff evolved. They began to focus their energies on empowering the laity to be in mission and ministry. The clergy and staff became not the people who do the ministry of the church, but rather the team that facilitates the ministry of the church. We envisioned a clergy and staff that are hands-on, nimble, and creative—moving and adapting in ministry as Decatur First moves and adapts within the community.
We also streamlined our lay leadership structure. We implemented a new Church Council to govern church operations, a change that limited bureaucratic slowdown and enabled us to move quickly in mission. And as an added bonus, the pared-down structure made lay leaders more visible and accessible.
Our Mission // 2019-2024
Once our house was in order and we had a plan in place, we turned our full focus outward. And our efforts really took off! We made it a point to find out how our gifts could serve the Decatur community. That meant getting out into the Decatur community. We went to festivals, schools, coffee shops, bars, our neighborhoods, colleges, retirement homes. Mostly we listened—to people’s stories, to what they could offer, to what they would like to see in their community.
One by one, mission teams began to form. Sometimes they sprang up as an extension of existing small groups; sometimes a particular person in the congregation realized she had a spiritual gift to share with the world, and sought out others with complementary gifts. It was a bottom-up phenomenon, and it was clearly led by the Spirit that was connecting and motivating us. It didn’t all happen at once. It took a couple of years and some trial and error to see how we could make this work. But just as we had made connections within our church walls, we built real relationships between the people of Decatur and the people of Decatur First United Methodist.
These connections take many forms. They are the group of Decatur First women gathering each week with a group of refugees to bake bread. They are the single-parents support group that grew out of a youth basketball league. They are the volunteers supporting a produce market in a south DeKalb food desert. They are the youth handing out free hot dogs on the Fourth of July, the retired teachers offering tutoring during the week, and the children’s choir singing in the square.
We are careful not to call our missions to Decatur “service” projects. Sure, we know that Jesus calls us to be servants. But our goal is not simply to give to Decatur. We want to be in mission with Decatur—and through Decatur to the world. We understand ourselves to be part of this community, and we are as invested in those outside Decatur First we are with those within. So we partner with them to use our combined gifts to meet the needs of Decatur and beyond, bringing the love and light of Christ wherever we go.
In 2025, Decatur First is thriving. We have a sense of purpose, and we are confident that God has blessed the work of this congregation. Our participation and giving are strong, and they continue to increase. The bonds that our congregation has forged within the Decatur community are too numerous to count and too fruitful to name. We are a church in mission, and we know that we will continue to be the hands and feet of God in Decatur and beyond.