Blue graphic; text reads "part one of an interview with First UMC's Jon Horton on the ZENTX experience"

Midland’s First United Methodist Church (First UMC) really emphasizes community-building. When the trustees at First UMC approached ZENTX about making several updates to the church’s interior environment, we discovered that as different as the planned updates were, they shared a goal of helping people connect with each other. The updates would serve all stages of the church’s life as a group — its future, its present, and even its past.

What did that mean in practice? Well, the church wanted to reach out and get information to first-time visitors more effectively. It also wanted to encourage fellowship between current members on Sunday mornings. And it wanted to provide a better guide to the ways it honored its past members.

It’s an eclectic list, but we were able to come up with solutions for each one. One of the trustees graciously explained the projects for our recent video, but there was no way to fit it all in the video — or in one blog post, either.

So this week, you’ll hear about the welcome center and the coffee serving station, and in two weeks we’ll have the second half of our interview, about the touchscreen kiosks. Enjoy!

Could you introduce yourself and explain your role at First United Methodist?

My name is Jon Horton, spelled J-O-N not J-O-H-N. I am the chairman of the board of trustees; I’ve been on the trustees committee for 35 years, on and off. Our board of trustees oversees not only our entire church building but also two parsonages, so it’s a sizable job. Part of the reason why I wanted to be on the trustees, to be involved with the buildings, is because my background is in building trades. I do custom cabinet work and furniture for people on a commission.  And so it was a very good fit and I really enjoy it. 

In terms of being a member here, I first came to this church in 1965. So I’ve been here a long time.  I met my wife here; [we] went to youth group together and [raised] our family here.  I was a teacher in Midland for 34 years.

Portrait of Jon Horton, chairman of First United Methodist Church's board of trustees
Jon Horton, chairman of First UMC’s board of trustees

Why did First UMC want (or need) a welcome center?

The initial thought was to come up with some kind of an area that we can designate to welcome people that are either members or non-members.  At the time all we had was a cafe table, and it really wasn’t what we were looking for. 

At the same point in time, our coffee serving area which used to be downstairs in our fellowship hall — [we realized] younger people [didn’t] have the chance to go downstairs because the coffee fellowship time was in between services, so [the coffee] was gone by the time those people arrived for second service. So the trustees decided, “okay, we’ll move that up[stairs] into our parlor.” 

There were a lot of different issues; once again we made do.  The table and tablecloths that we had weren’t really conducive, and so that’s why the welcome center was actually combined with the coffee serving area, to try to make this area a little bit more usable.

The coffee serving center's cabinets with coffeepots sitting on top

How exactly were you guys hoping these projects would address those problems?

The goal of getting a more formalized welcome center was to try to do something more than just have a cafe table — they’re not very large.  This designates this area in the parlor as a welcome center.  It is referred to every Sunday by the pastor who happens to be giving the message that day. So there are a lot of people that come through here.

Visitors can come to the welcome center and get information about our church. [We] also give them a gift, I believe, of a coffee cup with “First United Methodist ” on there, and there’s always at least one person, sometimes two, that are at the welcome center to answer any questions that a visitor might have. 

This is a very large church and believe it or not people get lost in here. So they can provide directions. If you have a younger couple that come in with a small family, a young family, the people at the welcome center can direct them to where their kids can go for Sunday School, for example. 

The lighted area, I call it the monitor, has things that are going on weekly and some bigger events — we just finished with a winter retreat up at Lake Louise — and so people can get some information as it scrolls.  It’s quite an advancement, I’ll say, from the cafe table, and really gets across the point of what we feel a welcome center should be like.

The welcome center, showing table and decorative backdrop

How have people responded to having the welcome center there now?

The welcome center itself — everything as far as the cabinet work and everything that was done at the welcome center — is one hundred percent well-received.  Everybody likes it. 

The one congested area is our coffee serving center; we have a lot of people coming out of first service. [But] it seems to move people through faster.

It also combines that aspect with people being able to meet and talk with one another in here, people come and get their coffee or their water, and then we’ve got some tables down our office hallway so the overflow can go down there if people want to continue the conversation.

What was the experience of working with ZENTX like?

[Well,] we had a question regarding the material that was going to be used on the doors of the coffee serving center, because it was going to be a metal laminate and it was our feeling that that was too much. And so [the people at ZENTX] were very good to work with in terms of saying, “okay, we will see if there’s a cost difference and let you know about that.”

They were very good about understanding that [some prior projects ZENTX had done for us] were of a certain color and this [project] could not be that way, it had to be a different color.  So they said, “Hey, if you can get the stain color that you like, bring it on over and we’ll take care of it” — which is what I did. So it was a very good experience. Very much so.

Want to see more photos of the projects Jon’s talking about? Check out the portfolio page about First UMC.