“re:Vision” – about Vision – It started while having a meeting at a local coffee house where several staff and lay leadership assembled to ponder the metrics of membership and plot a course forward for ministry and mission.  We began with a simple question.  “who is not here?” and that question led to a second question, “Why?”

As we examined the presenting questions of “who and why,” we also examined the context and situation in which we found ourselves, both figuratively and literally. As we sat in the coffee house, we observed folks from all walks of life coming and going, some were simply enjoying the shared company of good friends in conversation and catching up while others assembled to discuss future plans and transact business.  Everyone there for different purposes except the single unifying factor – they were all drinking coffee (or some other coffee house beverage).

AHA – that was it! An ephiany, a sign – we should open a coffee house! We agreed to meet together to pray and discern the next steps forward.  We conducted market research, we read books about “Nones” and studied demographic trends, analyzed in depth demographic projections for the city,  had countless conversations with folks from across the country who were operating successful “coffee house ministries” in a variety of areas and settings,  conducted interviews, developed surveys, canvassed the city with community wide focus groups involving people from all walks of life who were “outside” the walls of the church – all the while writing a business plan, assembling a budget, conducting market analysis of similar business ventures in our surrounding area, searching for the right location on Broad Street (the main street in Rome)for our particular “combination” of business concepts.  (We purposed to have a coffee shop that would offer fair trade responsibily sourced products that were served in a space that was inviting, accessible and available for use by all.)  After months of research, we made the decision to form a strategic business alliance with LAND OF A THOUSAND HILLS COFFEE - because of their proven methodology and experience in operating coffee houses (some associated with congregations) and shared values.  Land of a Thousand Hills slogan is “Drink Coffee Do Good”  Because we knew the start up and build out costs would involve a substantial capital outlay, we wrote a second component into the business plan that incorporated the fair trade, responsibly sourced components in a different segment of business, namely retail goods.

From the initial gathering and two core questions the Staff and Leadership of Rome First began a now 18 month journey.  The continuing journey has included prayer, reflection, reading and study, conversation, interviews, surveys, community wide focus groups involving people from all walks of life who were “outside” the walls of the church.

What we discovered along the way -It’s not about COFFEE!!!– A recurrent theme that arose from our research, conversations, study and prayer is that people like to be connected with other people and that the most common way and means of connecting is around food or beverages.  But, the beverage is not the focus it is merely a common factor.

 We did not open a coffee house on Broad Street, but we opened a series of ongoing conversations that led us to“revisioning” – The important “take-aways” from the vision pathway gatherings led to a vision statement that serves as the “filter” or lenses by which every ministry and missionopportunity is evaluated. -Serving Rome by Loving and Welcoming all as partners in transformation.

Along the way in the vision pathway conversations, as we reviewed the church’s missional history and examined the “DNA” of the congregations culture, we determined that Rome First was at its best when it found a need in the surrounding community, located resources to address /fill that need and then through strategic partnerships and alliances meet the need build a team/structure/entity to sustain the ministry and “give it back” to the community. (Good Neighbor Ministries, The Community Kitchen, The Faith and Deeds Community Free Clinic are just a few of the functioning and ongoing ministries in Rome today that were born out of Rome First’s desire to meet a need and make disciples!)

We knew the Why- “Make Disciples’ -The How became more elusive – The methods/programs/plans/activities all planned opportunities to engage with new people in non-traditional ways in unconventional places.

A significant rediscovery emerged from the conversations and study of the vision/ pathway meetings – disciples are not made by coming to church, disciples are made when Christ followers GO into the World and engage with others.

We are led to follow Christ so that we might lead others to follow Christ. 

It’s all about relationships and in building relationships it is more about listening to others tell their story first and then in the sharing of your own story offer your own faith story or put another way, People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!

After much prayer, diligent study, market research , demographic reviews and analysis of real estate trends on Broad Street, two things were determined - #1 -The economic indicators and business forecast model combined with the “unknowns” in the business plan gave the Broad Street Ministry Initiative Steering Team enoughunanswered questions to cause them to recommend a “suspension” of the project exploration and #2 - a recommendation to the Rome First Governing Board, that a Vision/Pathway Team be established to “identify a clear path forward” for ministry to/with and for folks who were not “us”.

As a part of the Vision/Pathway discernment process, we used several strategies to engage folks in conversations/surveys that gauged their interest in/receptivity to engaging in helping to “fill needs in our community.”

In our community and public surveys there was an emerging and recurrent theme,  -the need for affordable childcare.  The issue of affordable childcare is a contributing underlying factor for the crisis in Foster Care for Floyd County and the city of Rome.  On any given day last year on average, over 400 children needed Foster Care Homes in Floyd County.  The crisis in Floyd County has several contributing  factors that combined create an environment that puts families at risk  and limits the opportunities  to succeed.  Among those contributing factors- high unemployment rate, scarcity ofliving wage jobs, lack of skilled labor pool, and affordable childcare.  The last factor seemed out of place!  The church may not be able to create jobs or help to drive the economic engine necessary to attract and retain businesses to Rome Floyd County, but we can most assuredly address and correct the issue of affordable Childcare.

The North Rome UMC was closed by vote of the Annual Conference in 2016.  The responsibility of handling the disposition of closed or abandoned properties falls to the District Union or District Trustees.  The “standard operating procedure” for the handling of closed or abandoned church property is, historically, to sell the property.  With the closing of the North Rome church, there is no United Methodist presence in the area.  Rather than abandon ministry in the area by settling for selling the property, The One Board of Rome First wrote a proposal to the District Union requesting consideration for a “re-visioning” of the facility and a new community-based approach to ministry in the North Rome community. 

Here is what we know - #1- In Rome there is a need for affordable childcare.

#2-A facility sits empty in an underserved area in our city.

#3 -People who have the resources, know-how, and abilities to address the issue of affordable childcare want to create a solution.

The need can be met by combining existing resources with an infusion of additional resources from across the city that represent private/public partnerships of congregations, businesses, faith-based service organizations and individuals who can start, sustain, operate and replicate a model for affordable childcare. 

The proposal written to the ROCA District Trustees from the One Board (Governing Board) of Rome first asked for the opportunity to serve as the leasing agents for the now vacant an unused property and facilities.  Rome First will seek tenants (other worshipping congregations) who are seeking worship and community space and connect them to the resource of space and facility in North Rome.  Secondly Rome First will seek to connect small businesses and non-profit groups in the community who are seeking available space and lease space in another portion of the vacant facilities. (These two groups of tenants/lessees will provide the capital necessary to begin the renovation/repurposing of the ground level space in the education building that will ultimately become the childcare center.

We have meetings scheduled with the two largest employers in the city, in the hopes that they will lend their support for the project.  Our initial demographic studies indicate that many of their respective employees would benefit from the availability of affordable childcare and that individuals who are underemployed or unemployed would have an increased opportunity for employment, advancement and a higher household income if affordable childcare was available.

When the “Church leaves the building” what do you do with the building?  The story of a church going outside the comfort and safety of the Sanctuary to experience the exciting and dangerous journey of Faith. Why? Because Jesus invited the first disciples with a simple invitation, “follow me”!

It started as an idea for a coffee shop and a responsibly sourced retail shop on Broad Street.  But, that didn’t come to pass exactly as envisioned.

What we realized was, we really wanted to continue to be faithful to what we are called to do, make disciples, and to make disciples today you can’t stay in the building and expect that people will come to where you are.  We knew there was an empty building that was abandoned in North Rome because the North Rome church had been closed by action of the Annual Conference last year and said, That’s an asset! It’s available.  There are people in Rome who have needs and those needs include affordable childcare.  There is a need and there is one resource to meet the need!  Another resource we claimed was the know-how, the ability, the business acumen and the tools possessed by not only in the Rome First congregation but in the community.  So together we sought to form strategic partnerships and private/public alliances that would make the reality of affordable childcare come to be in North Rome.  And our purpose is to be able to replicate that model throughout Rome and wherever there is a need for affordable childcare. 

So, the journey to get to here startedby asking two simple questions, “Who’s not here?” and “Why?” Asking those two questions, led us to look around and say “How can we be faithful followers of Christ as we follow Christ’s lead to lead others to follow Christ, all in non-traditional and unconventional ways?”

This much we know, First people have to know how much you care before they care how much you know.  And in demonstrating care by providing, excellent, affordable, high-quality childcare, we hope to be able to share in real and tangible ways the Love of Christ!

Do we expect the opening of one childcare center, that offers affordable childcare for up to 75 children ages 6 weeks to 4 Years of age for extended operating hours of 6 AM to 9 PM, will bring people to worship at Rome First?  Maybe not, but God’s Love will be made real! So, you may ask, “What’s in it for Rome First?”  We expect God’s Love to be shared using humble followers to lead the way, to find, create, develop, implement, and replicate new and innovative solutions to problems/needs in our midst – and in that God will be Glorified, God’s Love will be made real and will dwell with God’s people in real, tangible, and meaningful ways! – The church, being the church, and doing church in new ways! Not just having “church”!

Stay tuned and look for ways to help make the dream of affordable childcare become a reality right here in Rome, GA!


Robert ><>