Moving Forward in a Liminal Season

We talked a lot last year about the church being in a liminal season.  The word Liminal comes from the Latin word Limen, which means threshold, like the threshold at the bottom of a door.  We all agreed that we, as a church, were in a liminal season.  The book  we were studying, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season describes that “During liminal seasons we stand on both sides of a threshold.  We have one foot rooted in something that is not yet over, whereas the other foot is planted in a thing not yet defined, something not yet ready to begin.” Alexander Graham Bell said that, “When one door closes, another one opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”  But what God is calling us to is undefined at this point, so we find ourselves in this liminal season searching for our path forward. 

A liminal season is not meant to be a comfortable place; it is the weariness and fear of the unknown that spurs us forward to try to define our future, who we are, what we want to be, and how we get there.  I couldn’t agree more with Pastor Rob when he said “the observations fill me with hope and energy and weariness and fear -all at the same time- in nearly equal proportions.  But I do not think for one second that God is done with UMCG or the people called United Methodist.” 

After reviewing the assessment done by Ministry Architects, we formed the Moving Forward Team and began the journey with a Quick Start Summit on July 25th and 26th at the church as an orientation to the UMCG members to the Ministry Architect’s Renovation Process. On the evening of September 9th, all church members were invited to attend the Moving Forward Summit at the church to participate in envisioning the future of our church, gathering their input and ideas on what the mission of the church should be, what our core values are, and what should be our focus and goals for the church for the next two years. 

On September 10th, the Moving Forward Team, staff, and leadership of the church met all day to begin to distill the information from the previous night, resulting in the following documents which will direct our ministries and support the church’s vision:

·   Mission Statement: We illuminate our community with God’s grace as we lovingly accept, listen to, and serve all in the Spirit of Jesus.

·   Values: 

  • Inclusion: We boldly love and accept people for who they are.
  • Welcoming: We invite our community into our home with open arms. 
  • Generosity: We share our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
  • Compassion: We listen and act to bring healing and wholeness.
  • Open-minded: We value respectful dialogue.
  • Serving Others: We transform our community through faithful acts of mercy and justice.

 ·   Three-Year Revolving Goals with One-Year Benchmarks:

  • We have increased the number of unique people engaged in a ministry of UMCG by 50%.
  • We have matched and/or exceeded giving for the expenses of the budget for the financial year 2024.
  • We have created three invitational spiritual enrichment programs for children, youth, and families.
  • We have launched at least 2 small groups for adults who live with/support those dealing with mental health issues (not providing direct care to those with mental health issues).
  • We have established three new relationships with organizations that use UMCG resources for programs that reach children, youth, and families dealing with mental health or other life issues.
  • We have added 3 Stephen Ministers at UMCG.
  • We have partnered with existing agencies to establish relationships to help to support and fund the needs of at least two refugee families.          
  • We have developed and executed a landscaping plan for the church that implements xeriscaping practices and native plantings to reduce water usage and support pollinators, installed a smart irrigation system, and created hardscapes to increase community interaction in our green space. 

Significant progress has been accomplished since we began our journey last year, but much still lies ahead as the Moving Forward Team reviews all aspects of our ministries and discerns how best to live into the Mission and Values we have professed, and to attain the Goals established by our church.

And yet we still exist in this liminal space!  This is a time of change for all of us. We must change and expand our ministries to a new and broader audience, or we will become inconsequential.  While we have established where we want to go, the roadmap of how we get there is still undefined.  I would like to think that the Moving Forward Team will come up with all the right answers, make all the right choices, and communicate and implement all the changes perfectly, but that could be naïve. This is a time for thoughtful experimentation, some of the things we try will work and move us further down our path and some will not.  When they don’t work, we need to understand it quickly and move on.  Everyone’s feedback is critical to this effort, everyone’s opinion matters.

Even some of the successful changes may not be embraced by all in the church, potentially creating tension or conflict within our membership.  This is completely natural, especially during a time of significant change, and if handled well will strengthen our relationships, improve our results, keep us moving forward, and make us a stronger, more cohesive congregation.  The potential for conflict is why we included the Conflict Transformation Skills Workshop as part of the Moving Forward Initiative.  It will help us all understand our personal response to conflict, our strengths and weaknesses, and show us the skills to effectively turn conflict into a positive, constructive experience.  I have been to many workshops on effectively dealing with conflict during my career in business and have always come away with a valuable insight or new skill each time.  I highly recommend that everyone attend! Sign up for the workshop here

I am extremely proud of what the leadership, Moving Forward Team, church staff, and church members have accomplished as part of the Moving Forward initiative!  My equal mixture of hope and energy, weariness and fear have clearly swung to the hope and energy side of the equation, and I see that same hope and energy spreading across the entire church.

My favorite quote from the book referenced above, is by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar: “There’s this sweet spot between the known and the  unknown where all originality happens. And the key is to be able to linger there without panicking.”

We have a great start on our journey!  All we need to be successful is patience, faith and to give ourselves the grace, trust, and support to move forward!


Jim Alderfer