Focus First Q&A With Steering Committee Member Jim Whitton

By November 1, 2017

Focus First_web_300Jim WhittonMeet Jim Whitton. Jim is an attorney by profession. He has practiced law for almost 38 years and has been with the firm of Brackett & Ellis for more than 27 years. He has served on most of our church committees, including stints as chair of the Board of Trustees and the Staff Parish Relations Committee. Here’s what Jim had to say about serving on the Focus First steering committee and his role in this process:

Q: What excites you most about the Focus First process?

I really didn’t take this on as something that’s exciting. I feel like it’s a mission or a task I’ve been asked to perform, and it’s my job to perform it. And if we achieve a good result that benefits our church,  that’s when I’ll get excited. Right now, I’m just doing what I’ve been asked to do and doing what I can to help us get that good result.

Q: We’ve completed surveys in the past. How is this one different?

How I want this survey to be different, and what I told the group the first time we met, is that we need to gather information from the bottom up. In other words, get information from our church members in a way that doesn’t suggest answers. We’re doing everything we can to get objective feedback.

Another difference is that we’re a small group of eight people tasked with  gathering and processing information. We’re not a strategic planning committee. The actual planning will be done by a far bigger group than us. That group will analyze the information we gather. Our goal is to get 1,000 people to answer the questionnaire, and 200 people to participate in the Focus Groups. Our group is called the “steering committee,” but our objective is not to steer the outcome in any way. We’re simply gathering and processing information. A “Leadership Summit,” which will be an expanded Board of Stewards, will take that information and distill it into a few recommended paths for the church to take. The Church Council will then decide whether any or all of those recommendations will be followed.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge to this process?

When I’ve been involved in these kinds of exercises in the past, we spent time working on things like mission statements, goals, measurements, etc. We would often get to the end of the process, print all those things up, put them in a binder, and place it on a shelf, never to be considered again. I don’t want that to happen this time.

Q: What do you think is our biggest opportunity?

I think our biggest opportunity through this process is to find out  what the congregation thinks is important for the church’s future, get buy-in from the congregation on whatever plan is adopted in the spring, and then do it.

Q: What do you most want people to know about Focus First?

How important it is for them to participate. Please take the survey. Please participate in a Focus Group.

If we get a small response on the survey and Focus Groups, we may not have enough information to do anything meaningful; we might not have enough information to do anything at all.

So help us get the word out there. Our goal is to “steer” this away from the standard strategic-planning-as-usual process. This is different. This is deeper. I don’t know what the current count is, but I know that well over 100 people have participated in Focus Groups. I’ve participated in one and I’ve facilitated three. As a facilitator, I’ve observed the participants having a great time listening to each other’s stories about their lives in the church. Who knew a Focus Group could be entertaining and educational? I hope those who have participated will encourage their friends to participate.

Q: What personal and professional experiences do you have that will help you serve this steering committee?

I don’t know why I was asked to join this group. I guess you need to ask Lance. I’ve never thought of myself as a strategic thinking person. Being a lawyer, I’m typically focused on solving a problem.  I suppose the upside is that I don’t have any preconceived notions of how this “should” go.

Q: How long have you been a First Church member?

Debbie and I joined the church more than 37 years ago in 1980.

Q: Since you joined the church, what have you and your family been part of?

Between us, I think we’ve been on most of the committees the church has. Debbie and I have been in the Koinonia Sunday School class since when we joined the church. Our daughters, Lauren and Sarah, grew up in the children’s program, the youth program, and in the Youth and Generations Choirs. Debbie is active in her UMW Circle and she has sung in the choir for more than 20 years. And now we’re blessed that Lauren and Clark, and their children, Whit and Eva, are following that same path. I love the fact that I now get to sit with the family in the 11:00 am service (except for Debbie who’s in the choir).

Q: What are you most proud of about our church?

While most people would probably say, “the church’s mission work” and its importance can’t be overstated, I think I’m most proud of the fact that the church is still here. How many big, downtown churches still thrive, or even exist? We’re still here and I think we’re continuing to thrive. There’s a common perception that it’s not like the “good old days” here, but I disagree. People forget that we used to have only two services on Sunday mornings; we now have six services! If everyone attending those six services were put back into the 9:30 and 11:00 am services, it would look like the “good old days.” It’s hard to be all things to all people, but we do offer a lot of different things and we’re still trying new things. How many big, mainline churches would launch and support a service like The Gathering? How many big, mainline churches would tweak their 11:00 am service (their “main event”) to make it more inviting to children? These are great things! When I look around and take it all in, I think we’re right in the middle of some very good days.

Q: What is your highest hope for the future of our Church?

That we continue surviving, thriving, and serving Downtown Fort Worth. So many large, downtown churches are just shells of what they used to be. We’re not, and I hope we never are.


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