Plymouth Church Overview
The work of the Transition Task Force and discussions within the Church Council, along with input and deliberation by the congregation, have provided a clear view of the state of our church today. The picture is a good one. We are healthy, growing, and better positioned to do God’s work than we have been in a long time. We are confident that in partnership with our new Senior Minister, we will develop and realize a robust vision of what some have called “a new urban church for the new urban family.”
Plymouth has a rich historical legacy; a growing membership; improving financials; a beautiful, multifaceted campus; steady leadership; and a warm and welcoming community. We are not without challenges, but have come a long way since our last Senior Minister search in 2003. At that time, after an almost 30-year span of interim and short-term Senior Ministers, Plymouth found its footing again. With the calling of Rev. Dr. David C. Fisher, Plymouth began a rebirth that continues today.
Dr. Fisher brought his considerable preaching abilities to Plymouth’s pulpit and his wealth of leadership talents to our congregation. In loving us, he helped us grow in our love for God, our world, and one another.
After years of flat membership and attendance prior to 2004, our attendance has grown by over 150% to about 240 and member rolls have grown 45% over the past 10 years to about 400 and we have grown in more ways than numbers alone can indicate. Members and the leadership have stepped up to the task of putting our house in order. We have completed thoughtful, prayerful, and deliberate processes to structure ourselves as a more efficient and effective organization, to be better and mindful stewards of our resources (from our endowments to our facilities), and to build our community and our faith.
As a human institution, Plymouth also has its share of challenges. The Church Council has begun a process to discern, develop, define, and communicate a clear vision of God’s will for our church. We are hopeful that this process will offer clarity and direction, help guide our decisions, provide us with evaluation criteria as we move forward together, and most importantly, prepare us to be led by and work with our next Senior Minister to build on this vision.
Stewardship, as a percentage of our largely upwardly mobile membership, is not where it should be. For example, annual giving by our membership provides only around 12% of our total operating expenses. Our Christian Spiritual Development Ministry is doing a commendable job developing and delivering classes for our adult members; however, filling those classes continues to be a challenge. Our facilities, while lovely and expansive by New York City standards, are aging. They are a true blessing, and yet they also present us with logistical, financial, and even theological hurdles to overcome.
Our membership is growing. Members come from a wide range of backgrounds and are in varied places in their faith journeys. Our sense is that many of today’s new members are attracted more by spiritual need than social habit. Still, they come, and as those members become increasingly engaged, keeping the various groups focused on a central, core mission with Christ at the head will likely continue to be a challenge. We hope our next Senior Minister will help us keep our collective talents aligned toward a unified vision and mission even as we continue to grow with a spectrum of perspectives.
Our Sunday morning worship during the program year (Sept-May) service attendance averages over 240. In 2013 Easter brought in over 600 people and Christmas Eve over 500. Our sanctuary, though, has the capacity to seat 1,400 (and Henry Ward Beecher used to pack in twice that number). The good news is that attendance and membership numbers have been rising over the last 10 years. We have had particular success in attracting families who want a Christian upbringing for their children.
Plymouth is also blessed with a wonderful music ministry. Our Sunday worship benefits from professional soloists in the adult choir. There are also four children’s choirs and a tone chime choir, with a combined total of 80 choristers.
The growth of our Sunday school, with a current average of 75 children each Sunday, is certainly a bright spot. There are 11 teenagers in our current Confirmation class. We need to continue to build our youth ministry in an effort to support our children’s growth as Christians and keep them engaged within the congregation as they grow older.
In addition to our successful Sunday school ministry, Plymouth maintains a self-sufficient preschool that has operated in the Brooklyn Heights community for 21 years. Plymouth Church School is a highly successful and sought-after preschool with a great reputation in the community. Beyond providing revenue for the church, it functions as a form of outreach, bringing new members to the church each year without requiring overt or explicit overtures from the church itself. The relationship between the school and the church is certainly symbiotic, yet in some ways it is also a distant one. Church leadership is working to strengthen that relationship and improve communications between the two organizations and their respective communities.
Even with these challenges, we are optimistic about the future of Plymouth Church as a vessel of God’s shalom and are working proactively to position ourselves to deliver on our potential. For example, our growth brought the realization that our legacy committee structure was becoming a crutch and creating bottlenecks. To address that, we recently undertook a review and revision of our organizational structure and bylaws. The resulting changes focus us in Ministry Teams instead of committees. We have an active small groups ministry. Our Christian Help Ministry has increased the rigor and Christian focus of distributions made from our endowment funds. For example, we have an active partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Plymouth also sponsors a homeless shelter for four weeks each year, and have worked very closely with the Mission School of Hope in the Cameroon.
This ministry-focused structure is designed to be more agile, but it requires lay ministry leaders to be more entrepreneurial (with support from our administrative and ministerial staffs). To that end, the Church Council, with member support, has worked hard to raise the quality and professional caliber of Plymouth’s non-ministerial staff. We now have a first-rate administrative team with the knowledge, experience, and passion to properly support our Senior Minister and our ministries and God’s work through Plymouth.
Thankfully, we are wonderfully blessed with our current Interim Senior Minister; the Rev. Alvin Bunis and Plymouth have a truly unique relationship. Rev. Bunis is both a long-term Plymouth member and a “homegrown” man of the cloth. His ordination coincided with Plymouth’s growth and our resulting need for an Assistant Minister. Having served as Assistant Minister for 3 years under the mentorship of Dr. Fisher, Rev. Bunis was the clear choice to lead us through the interim time of preparation for our next Senior Minister. Such a seamless transition following the retirement of a well-loved and successful leader has allowed us to remain focused on the work of God without the gnashing of teeth that often follows a minister’s departure. We are mindful of the grace bestowed upon us as a result this gift.
Architecturally, Plymouth Church is a registered National Historic Landmark. View Church History. We recently completed a comprehensive and professional assessment of our buildings and facilities. While resulting in a daunting list of projects, many of these having become necessary due to years of deferred maintenance, this assessment also provided us with a clear, prioritized road map for how to proceed and where to focus our resources, and we are moving ahead with repairs and upgrades. The 2013 hiring of a full-time and capable Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds was another positive and essential component of our facility’s stewardship. Ten years ago, a successful capital campaign facilitated the restoration of our sanctuary with new carpeting and fresh paint. Still to be resolved are additional locations for dedicated Sunday school space and the development of underused and unused space within our campus.
Plymouth Church is located in Brooklyn Heights, an urban neighborhood that includes many professionals who work in Manhattan. We are also adjacent to the DUMBO neighborhood and other burgeoning neighborhoods full of professionals raising families whose residents trend younger than those of Brooklyn Heights. Plymouth is accessible by a 20-minute subway ride from the residential neighborhoods in downtown Manhattan, where there are few churches. As a result, almost every Sunday we have people visiting Plymouth doing church shopping.
After years in Manhattan’s shadow, Brooklyn has come into its own as a place to live. With a cultural renewal around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, an incredible foodie culture with the corresponding exciting restaurants, thriving artists’ communities, increased real estate development, and active entrepreneurial zones, Brooklyn has become a magnet. This, of course, means a larger population to serve within our local community, including many “unchurched” young adults and young families. We believe there is a strong place to be won here by a kind of Christianity that is neither trendy nor pushy, but sturdy and inclusive.
Plymouth Church is looking for a new Senior Minister who can both deepen our faith and lead us through the kind of growth that will best utilize Plymouth’s gifts for God’s work in the world. He or she will need vision, strong preaching talents, and leadership ability and must be comfortable in an urban environment. For the right person, Plymouth could be a huge opportunity, and we’re looking for a minister who is eager and equipped for the challenge.