Internal Growth of POVUCC



When people speak of growth in the church, they often cite the number of members as the primary measure of church growth. In this article, I want to discuss how our church grows in other ways and how Pastor Mary Sue and consultant Mary Scifres have guided us with their wisdom and experience to become the church we are today.


I want to single out the many opportunities for our church members to grow and develop while they are members of our church.  Traditionally we thought of a church as a place where we could hear a good sermon and then return to our homes until the next Sunday. However churches have evolved since those days and now one comes to a church because it can be a place of learning and development.  

When I speak to many new members and ask them what attracted them to our church, they often remark that we are a small congregation and marvel at the many opportunities there are for them to learn and develop.  Many of these opportunities are the result of the great work we began four years ago, under the guidance of consultant Mary Scifres, when we clarified God’s vision for our church to extend God’s extravagant welcome to all and set strategic goals to feed our spirit, feed our neighbor, and feed the world.

It is no accident that we work consistently to extend God’s extravagant welcome to all.  This means our church includes people of all ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, income backgrounds, careers, and spiritual backgrounds.   That we have a large population of elders who experienced the Japanese internment distinguishes us from the many churches of San Diego.  Where else in the world do you find a community like ours?

 To create this environment took hard work and an exchange of ideas and philosophies that led to the merger of an Anglo church with a Japanese American church.  How we preserve this legacy while welcoming others is a puzzle that many other churches are unable to solve.  POVUCC is indeed a sort of utopia of members from different backgrounds who are willing to work together.

Even so, the church seemed to experience a sense of overall fatigue last year.  Many members cited exhaustion tending to the multiple duties of the church. Your leaders realized outside help might be needed and remembering Consultant Mary Scifres’ previous advice that we needed to focus our ministry for the greatest impact, we turned again to Mary to help us further focus our efforts and update our strategic plan.

When Mary arrived, she reminded us to celebrate the incredible progress we have made in these last three years, but again advised us to focus our efforts. With her help, we consciously

·       cut back on our mission events,

·       decreased the number of people required to serve on committees, and

·       asked members what makes their heart sing

Mary Scifres reminded our own beloved Pastor Mary Sue to do the same so that both she and we can discover renewed energy and enthusiasm for ministry. Moderator Nancy Shimamoto says this about Mary’s guidance, “From a personal point of view, I find myself thinking more strategically, from the big picture down to the tiniest details. And, I'm learning not to sweat ALL of the details.”

As Pastor Mary Sue leads us with inspiring sermons and wise spiritual guidance, helping us welcome many new friends into our congregation with openness and inclusion, and we focus our ministry efforts, we have been able to achieve a shift in tone.  Now, many members are newly energized, eager to volunteer and excited about participating. 

            On a pragmatic note, our Consultant works closely with Pastor Mary Sue and the Boards on sabbatical planning, staff priorities, and strategic oversight. Most of Mary’s priorities and work flow is set monthly with Pastor Mary Sue and the Moderator team of Past, Current & Future Moderators (self-named the “Mod Squad”), last fall supporting our work on the annual stewardship campaign and nominating process.

Mary Scifres has worked closely with our Board of Christian Education to re-vision our education staffing, most recently helping both Christian Education and Personnel recognize that we need additional time and clarity to define the staffing purpose and goals for our new Director of Faith Formation position.

For the upcoming sabbatical, Mary Scifres is helping Pastor Mary Sue, church leaders and, eventually, the congregation to be open to growth, change, and dynamic situations. She said, "the best sabbatical is one which grows our lay people." We leaders are challenged to ensure this experience has a lasting impression on us, by taking on and owning tasks that we can do, and by sharing this opportunity with our congregation.

            Always we on the Mod Squad ask ourselves, “How do we maintain our church so that it is a thriving, energetic community that serves God given that our society is changing and evolving?” The church is a very complex community, serving a quickly changing world.  Our consultant Mary Scifres has a much broader perspective than most of us have.  She has looked at many, many churches with some characteristics similar to ours and she has watched some churches grow and others collapse. She is trained specifically to help churches adapt and grow to address the needs of the world around us.

There are many published articles that suggest that churches will become extinct within 25 years.  There is no winning formula from the past-- It is important to realize that whatever past formula worked may not work now.   POVUCC is on the frontier-  we are truly pioneers, breaking new ground on what a church should be in this changing world.  We are inventing, creating new initiatives based on what we see in society and what we see with the members of our church.

 I maintain that as long as our church is learning and developing, we have a great chance to serve God well.  For this reason, we need a consultant like Mary Scifres with this broader perspective, alongside our inspiring Pastor Mary Sue Brookshire, to lead us forward in this ever-changing 21st century.

Jim Lin

Past Moderator