Hope UMC Generates Hope
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg
Recipient of a One Matters Award, Montana congregation nurtures members while embracing surrounding community.
“Every day,” said the Rev. Angie Dornisch, “I read articles about how the church is ‘dying’ and how membership is down everywhere, and I think the last three years at this church proves that there's hope. There's hope for the future of the church and I'm inspired every day by this congregation I get to serve.”
In her third year at Hope United Methodist Church in Billings, Montana (Mountain Sky Annual Conference), Dornisch previously was the associate pastor of Applewood Valley United Methodist Church in Golden, Colorado.
With 220 members, Hope UMC is primarily an older, white, suburban congregation. “Working to become a Reconciling Ministry congregation,” Dornisch said, “we are ‘moderate’ but leaning toward ‘progressive.’”
Hope UMC was one of five United Methodist congregations that received the One Matters Award from Discipleship Ministries in 2021. The award recognizes churches that increase the numbers of baptisms and professions of faith, with a renewed focus on discipleship.
"There's hope for the future of the church and I'm inspired every day by this congregation I get to serve."
Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hope UMC flourished. In 2020 and 2021, eighteen new members joined the congregation. “So far, in 2022, we've had seven new members join,” the pastor said. “We had one baptism in 2020, two baptisms in 2021, and three baptisms scheduled for 2022. We did not have confirmation in 2020 or 2021, but we will have two young people confirmed in May 2022.”
Dornisch attributes the upswing to several factors.
“When I first came to Hope,” she recalled, “the congregation expressed a desire to grow, but they were unsure how to make that happen. Over the last three years, we've begun new ministries and strengthened existing ones. We've resurrected our youth group and children's Sunday school programs, and I make sure to be very hands-on in those two areas.
“We've spent a lot of time focusing on the importance of hospitality and done several training sessions for greeters and ushers. We've focused on community outreach, and we're always looking for new ways to support the surrounding community. We have done fall festivals, trunk-or-treats, pictures with Santa, community movie nights, food-bank drives and vacation Bible schools, and all of these have been well attended by families outside of our church.”
During the pandemic, the congregation invested in its online ministry and went from no livestreaming capability in 2019 to an average of 60 views on Sunday mornings via its YouTube channel.
“The congregation is passionate and hardworking,” Dornisch said. “I think that combined with my fresh ideas and creativity we've been able to experience tremendous success.”
The church offers a full menu of opportunities for all ages. Children's church school meets every Sunday afternoon, drawing about ten kindergarteners through fifth-graders. Discipleship breakfasts average seven men on Mondays and ten women every Tuesday. A weekly Bible study for adults happens every Wednesday morning. During Lent, Advent and the summer, Hope UMC offers an evening Bible study on Thursday evenings. Gathering every third Saturday of the month, the United Methodist Women group includes about twenty women.
When Dornisch came to Hope UMC in 2019, she launched a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group that meets every Tuesday for fellowship and Bible study. About ten mothers and fifteen children participate every week.
“Everyone leaves feeling more connected and refreshed,” the pastor said. “Trained volunteers provide child care and programming for toddlers downstairs, while I lead activities and a time of discussion for the moms upstairs.”
The youth group is blossoming, too.
“Youth group is every Wednesday night,” Dornisch said, “and our youth ministry is in collaboration with other Billings United Methodist churches. We meet with the middle-schoolers from 5:30 to 6:30 P.M. on Wednesdays and with the high schoolers, 7 to 9 P.M. We took nine of our high school students to Denver on a weeklong mission trip in July 2021, and that was a wonderful experience.”
Collaboration with other area United Methodist congregations extends beyond the youth. In 2020, the five Billings UMCs did a combined online worship service during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Every summer, they do VBS together.
“The revival of the children and youth programs,” Dornisch said, “has brought a lot of joy and excitement to the congregation. In 2021, we began a new ministry to provide care for our congregants who are hospitalized, homebound or in assisted living. We trained nine congregants from Hope to be a part of this visitation team ministry, and they help me visit folks every week.”
In autumn 2019, Hope formed a mission committee that has served thousands of people through food, clothing and school supply drives, as well as a prison ministry, the Family Promise Program for families experiencing housing insecurity and a free store.
Welcoming the stranger is part of Hope UMC’s DNA.
“We are very intentional about welcoming newcomers and visitors, whether it be folks who are joining one of our programs or attending worship on Sundays,” Dornisch said. “We've done worship series on the importance of hospitality [and] had brainstorming sessions and discussion times to process how we can be more welcoming. We are in the midst of making our congregation a Reconciling Ministry, too, and have a task force that is passionate about welcoming everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, faith history, socioeconomic status, or physical and mental ability. This is an exciting new step in our church.”
But the congregation doesn’t stop there. “It's one thing to be friendly to newcomers and visitors when they attend something at the church,” the pastor said, “but it's a completely different thing to keep in touch with those people after they've left.” They follow up with phone calls, cards and get-togethers.
“Our community outreach has definitely affected our membership numbers and worship attendance,” Dornisch said. “The people we've gotten to know through our outreach events and new programming are worshipping with us in person or online, and several have joined the congregation. Many people come to our events saying, ‘I didn't even realize Hope UMC was here before this event.’ It's been important to get our church out into the community.”
Hope UMC recently paid off the church mortgage with a successful capital campaign. “This means,” Dornisch said, “we no longer have a monthly payment of $5,000 to the building and can use those funds for other things like additional community-outreach events, a choir director, and a youth and children's ministry director.
“We are so excited to see what comes next at Hope UMC.”