Welcome to our summer series, “Interview with a Pastor.” This series will highlight some of the pastors and churches in Project Thrive as we journey together toward the final year of the Thriving Congregations Initiative. We are grateful for the pastors as they lead their churches toward a thriving, hopeful future!
The Rev. John Hill is senior pastor at Crievewood United Methodist Church. Crievewood sits in the Crieve Hall neighborhood of Nashville near the Ellington Agricultural Center. Their worship services are moderately traditional in style with a music leader and piano. Crievewood has used its time in Project Thrive to focus on the core identity of the church and its mission as they strive to be an integral part of their neighborhood. Folks in South Nashville may know CUMC as the host site for Farmin’ in the Hall.
The goal of Project Thrive is to help our churches thrive in their context. In your opinion, you believe your church is thriving and in what ways?
Like most churches, I think that we are thriving in some respects and simply surviving in others. Despite a decrease in attendance and participation following the pandemic, there is a positive and hopeful spirit in the church. We have lost some members but are gaining new ones. We are seeing renewed activity with our younger children and their families. Youth group continues to remain strong, although the makeup has shifted from largely older high school youth to middle schoolers and early high school. The church has embraced the Project Thrive process and has adopted a new mission statement and set of values that guide our ministry and are incorporated into our structure through leadership positions and the budget. Our childcare continues to be a thriving ministry in the community as well as the farmer’s market that happens on our campus. We are nearing completion of an uplift to our Fellowship Hall and are beginning to look at other ways to improve and update our facility, including the sanctuary.
Has your definition of thriving changed through this process? If so, how?
I’m not sure that I have a definition of thriving. I guess if I had to pin it down, I would define thriving as successfully and faithfully living out our calling as a church. Since we have clarified our calling as a church as “Community Happens Here” then our definition of thriving has changed. Our values tell us that community means that everyone has “a place to belong, a place to be loved, a place to engage, a place to serve, and a place to grow.” These five values are the lens through which we can measure or identify whether or not community is happening and thus whether or not the church is thriving.
Do you think the nature of your church either has changed or will change in the future?
I don’t know about the nature of the church…that feels somewhat immutable. But I do think the church and some of its qualities and characteristics are changing. We have redesigned our staff structure, our formal leadership structure, and our budget. I was appointed as the senior pastor of the church near the beginning of the Project Thrive process, so it’s difficult for me to judge how much the culture of the church has changed, but I believe that it has. I think there is more of an open and hopeful spirit, a willingness to experiment, and a clarity of purpose and identity.
What has been a valuable lesson you have learned as your church has participated in this process?
I have been reminded of the power of letting laypeople take ownership and provide discernment for the direction of the church. Had it just been me or just been staff, I don’t think we would have arrived at the same place. I am grateful for the time and heart put into the process by our Project Thrive Team. Their thoughtfulness, creativity, and faithfulness has amazed me throughout the process.
What part of the process has been most helpful?
The entire process has been helpful, especially as someone newly appointed to the church in the middle of a pandemic. It has helped me get to know the congregation while also reshaping it after a time of upheaval and disorientation. I have greatly appreciated creating mission and values statements and how they can guide all of our work and ministry together. I also think that having our coach stick with us through the implementation process is a huge asset that is often lacking during similar processes that I have seen or experienced.
What do you want to celebrate?
I want to celebrate God at work in our congregation! We are a work in progress, and God is faithful. There is a positive spirit and energy in our church. I’m excited about the three initiatives we have identified through Project Thrive and to see where God continues to lead and be at work.