This is the first in a series of Q&A interviews with our six-member Focus First steering committee tasked with gathering and organizing the feedback provided by our congregation via the survey and Focus Groups brought to us by our consultant, Susan Beaumont.
The Steering committee includes:
Chair Jim Whitton, Nancy Tully, Patricia Healy, Haley Manulik, Robert Holman, Samantha Morgan, Danica Knight, Dr. Tim Bruster, and Staff Liaison Lance Marshall.
We’ll hear from each of them in this series with their own reflections on the Focus First process as well as their individual experiences in providing the organizational work designed to help fold in-depth congregational feedback into a true churchwide plan for growth and development of our exciting future in our growing Downtown Fort Worth community.
Meet Danica Knight (if you don’t know her already). Danica, by profession, is a researcher with Texas Christian University and chair of our Board of Stewards. She has served on many of our church committees including Church Council and many lay leadership initiatives in which she has actively demonstrated her passion for helping people connect deeply and personally with the programs and ministries of our church. Here’s what Danica had to say about serving on the Focus First steering committee and her role in this process:
Q: What excites you most about the Focus First process?
A: Rather than relying on a small number of people to make decisions for our church, we’re trying to involve everyone! We’re using data — from national and local databases, church attendance records, survey responses, and focus groups — to shape decisions. Soliciting information from as many people as possible makes the Focus First committee’s job much harder because we have so much to decipher, but in the end it will mean better decisions for our church’s future.
Q: We’ve completed surveys in the past. How is this one different?
Our past surveys have asked basic questions like “how satisfied are you with ___ ministry,” and we’ve used the congregations’ answers to change things like our worship options and our use of electronic communication. This time we’re trying to get at the essence of who we are as a church and who God is calling us to be. We don’t just want to know what you like or dislike about the church — we want to know how what you do here impacts you spiritually or how it shapes your connections with others. We also want to know what areas people feel need to be strengthened and whether we should tackle things “someday” or “now.” When we analyze the data, we might find that only small “tweaks” are needed here and there. Or we might find that a larger, more fundamental shift is needed.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge to this process?
To me, the biggest challenge is getting people to participate in the survey and focus groups. I know there are so many demands on everyone’s time, but we really need everyone’s perspective — otherwise, we might draw the wrong conclusions. If we only hear from folks who are highly engaged and satisfied, then we won’t truly understand the perspectives of those who need or want more from their church. And if we only hear from folks who are unhappy, we’ll miss seeing the ways in which our church profoundly impacts lives in positive ways. Hearing from everyone — active, inactive, youth, adults — is critical.
Q: What do you think is our biggest opportunity?
The biggest opportunity in my mind are the Focus Group meetings. This is where we’ll truly get details about how participating in this church has shaped people (the survey can’t really get at this very well). We’re using an innovative system for eliciting information in positive, productive ways. People will be encouraged to answer questions and share their experiences in small groups rather than in a large meeting, and the ideas and information will be documented and reviewed by the Focus First committee. This is so exciting to me because some of the most creative ideas for how to shape our church’s future will likely come from these Focus Groups!
Q: What do you most want people to know about Focus First?
The Focus First committee is made up of regular people, each of whom has a vested interest in the future of our church. I think it’s safe to say that none of us feel personally qualified to make decisions for our church congregation. But with God’s help, we feel empowered to make sense of what we learn and help our church prayerfully discern where to go next!
Q: What personal and professional experiences do you have that will help you serve this steering committee?
It may not come as a surprise based on my nerdy answers to the previous questions, but I’m a Research Scientist by day. My job at TCU over the past 25 years has been to try and understand substance abuse issues — what factors contribute to personal recovery, what treatment elements and interventions are effective, how organizational factors help or hinder treatment success, and how best to identify individuals with problems and get them the help they need. The strategies we’re using as part of Focus First are the very things we use in social science research. While surveys aren’t the absolute best way to learn something (observing behavior is much more reliable), they’re terrific tools for gaining a general understanding of issues. Focus Groups provide much better nuanced detail, but they’re a bear to code (and yes, our team will be doing a LOT of coding!).
When Lance called to ask if I’d consider serving on the Focus First committee and described what we’d be doing, I laughed and thought to myself, “OK, God, this convergence between my career and what my faith community is asking me to do can’t just be a coincidence!” So here I am!
Q: How long have you been a First Church member?
Kevin and I joined in 1997 — our kids were 4 and 2!
Q: Since you joined the church, what have you and your family been part of?
Oh my. Teaching Children’s Sunday School, VBS teacher, VBS co-chair (with my “hero” Susan Linguist! — our theme was “Hero Quest”), Board of Stewards, UMC C2/Eve Circle/Rachel Circle, confirmation leader (with my co-driver Caren Walker — our theme was “Driven by Faith”), youth small group leader, children’s council, youth council, church council, “Great Garage Sale” (again with Caren Walker!), youth mission trips, celebrated the life of my dad, Bible study groups, church council again, Board of Stewards chair . . . (oh . . . and this list doesn’t include my “extended family involvement” . . . Shirley Kalling is my mom!)
Q: What are you most proud of about our church?
We are “do-ers.” We see a need in our community and we fill that need. Sometimes our “community” is the broader Fort Worth area, sometimes it’s the people here within our church. We’re a huge congregation, and while that can mean we don’t know each other well, it also means that when we join together and pool our resources for a common purpose, we can do great things!
Q: What is your highest hope for the future of our church?
My highest hope is that our church can be a place where personal transformation happens. Where people can feel safe, feel they’re welcomed, find their place to “fit in,” and be valued for their unique gifts and perspectives.