The Rev. Kelli Sorg’s first appointment two years ago was to Bath UMC, a rural church with Sunday attendance of about 50.
“One of the problems the rural church faces is the tendency to feel isolated,” she said. “Coaching helped this congregation realize that it is part of a larger connection.
Bath is a small church and this has pluses and minuses. The benefit is in knowing each other well and the family-type atmosphere. But small churches are not able to offer as much ministry as larger churches.”
Churches, like individuals, she said, tend to get stuck in a rut, but coaching helped this church discover where they were and to dream about new and different things the church might do.
“Out of the conversation came something different,” she said. “The four steps in the process were discover, dream, design, destiny.”
That something different was a gospel music concert involving all area churches and held at a local amphitheater. About 300 people attended, she said, including bikers on their Harleys.
“We were able to reach out to people who would never come into a church building. What grew out of coaching was the recognition that we were blessed to live in Bath on the river. This past summer, we hosted Dockside Devotions and joined with the Christian and Episcopal churches to do five or 10-minute devotionals, including singing and praying in a local park on the Pamlico River. It made me think of John Wesley going out to preach,” she said.
The impact of coaching has also shown up in the way the church feels about itself, the pastor said. The atmosphere has changed.
“There is no more feeling helpless, older and small. Before coaching, none of this was possible. The pastor was the one to have the vision, but we are now in partnership between pastor and congregation,” she said. “I grew up in that kind of church and it is exciting for me to be a different kind of pastor and help others make that change.”
The ministry is a second career for Sorg, 46. Her first career was in public relations and public television where she won an Emmy Award for her work at Kentucky Educational Television.
“But the Lord had other plans for me,” she said. “I was raised a Baptist and was told that God did not call women into the ministry. But my Southern Baptist grandmother has supported me every step of the way. My grandfather still struggles with it, but they both believe in my call.
“Coaching gets tossed around a lot,” Sorg said, “it can mean anything from teaching to counseling or therapy, but the coaching we are doing in the conference has an outcome that is lifelong, fruitful ministry, not just for me or one congregation but for all of us.
“What is so wonderful is when a question comes up, the people in the church stop and think about discerning what God is calling us to do.”
By Flo Johnston. Flo is a Durham-based religion writer who has a weekly column called “Faith in Focus” in The Durham News and The Chapel Hill News, community newspapers of The News&Observer. She can be reached at email@example.com or 919-489-7251.