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Loaves and Fishes

Transformational Communities Network

Universal City UMC

Since incorporating some of the practices and tools learned through Transformational Communities Network (TCN) Trainings, Rev. Cynthia Engstrom, pastor of Universal City United Methodist Church, is seeing a renewed energy activate the congregation. Members are saying, “There is a spark! There’s a buzz!”

Sara Holland, coordinator for Universal City’s TCN team, appreciates that the TCN approach of building on what you have and making small, incremental changes that will lead to a ripple effects of deeper community engagement and connection.

Building upon a pre-COVID Wednesday night supper, the Universal City TCN team launched Summer Suppers. The old Wednesday night suppers catered to church members. It had a modest attendance of 25 people. It had a structure that required reservations and fee for dinner. Opportunities to work in the kitchen were restricted to a handful of volunteers who had performed this function for years.

The TCN team sparked the imagination of the church by asking how can we adapt this inward focused dinner to become a time that welcomes the community? How can we re-energize the congregation and invite more people to participate through their acts of service?

The Summer Suppers has taken off with over 100 people in attendance. Families from the community are attending. The local firefighters are attending. The staff from the local library are attending and helping to invite others. New volunteers are serving with a sense of excitement. New connections are being made. No reservations are needed. No fee is required.

Holland said that there was some angst within the church as these changes were being discussed. Where would the money come from? How would the program break even? Holland said that she and the TCN team invited the congregation to embrace the changes with a “loaves and fishes” vision.

Rev. Engstrom says, “The reshaped Wednesday dinners were an experiment. The experiment has turned into a regular event that is reminding the congregation how to believe in possibility. It is changing every conversation we are having, even at Governance Board. I recommend TCN to all churches everywhere!”

Holland says that the Summer Suppers has also had a ripple effect into the community. Strangers at the grocery store are recognizing the Summer Supper t-shirts and striking up conversations with church members. More neighborhood youth are finding their way to the church campus, even if just to sneak a soda.

Rev. Engstrom and Holland agree, “We see all of this as an opportunity!” Where the church once saw scarcity, they now see and trust in God’s abundance. “God just keeps handing us opportunities to connect with our community,” says Rev. Engstrom.

What’s next? Through the new connections made, the Universal City TCN team sees an opportunity for the church to provide a community art studio. The team is just at the beginning of repurposing an existing church space for the community’s use.

Once again, this TCN team is building on what the church already has and making small, incremental changes that will open up more and more opportunities for ministry and connection to the community.

If you’d like to hear directly from Sara Holland, please watch this 5-minute video talking about the Summer Suppers.

If you’d like to learn more about how your church could get involved with the Transformational Communities Network, please contact Abel Vega at

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