Planning from abundance, part 3 – assessing what your church is already doing

Over the past couple of weeks I have shared a survey to get to know the gifts of individuals in your church better and some questions to help your congregation reflect on its collective blessings. This noticing is essential for planning out of abundance rather than out of worry. It brings subtle invitations from God to the surface. But to be able to respond to these nudgings, congregations must consider how gifts are already being used. Some that are newly noted will be completely untapped, while others are likely being stretched in unsustainable ways. The assessment below will help your church zoom out to see the current concentration of gifts.

With the help of the church calendar, meeting minutes, and/or newsletters/bulletin announcements, ask each committee to list every ongoing and one-off ministry of the church that comes under its purview.
Categories might include but are not limited to:

  • Worship
  • Christian education/spiritual formation
  • Congregational/pastoral care
  • Welcoming newcomers
  • Outreach to community
  • Service to community
  • Fellowship

Using their lists, ask committees to reflect on the following. Make sure each committee has a scribe.

What gifts does each of these ministries utilize, and in what ways?

  • Person power
  • Time
  • Money
  • Physical space
  • Talents/skills
  • Relationships

Whom does each of these ministries reach?

How long has each ministry been running?

What do we need to celebrate about each ministry?

What are the hoped-for outcomes of these ministries?

What are the actual outcomes?

Thank God for all of the gifts that have been offered to make these ministries happen.

Leaders will gather the lists and responses to reflection questions from the committees, take time to mull them, and then discuss the following:

  • What people or groups are lightly or not at all involved in ministries (participation or leadership)?
  • What gifts are going untapped?
  • Which gifts are being stretched in unsustainable ways?
  • How are we out of balance with how we leverage our gifts and capacities
  • About what are we feeling some excitement?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Planning from abundance part 2 – congregational gifts

After the first Sunday of Easter, the air begins to crackle with transition. Much of that has to do with the season – seminarians are graduating, ordinations are being scheduled, and pastors who accompanied their churches to the empty tomb are now announcing their moves to new places of ministry. These latter changes in particular (hopefully) prompt deep congregational reflection.

It matters greatly how churches frame these conversations. If we start with all that we aren’t and all that we don’t have, it will be incredibly difficult to imagine what is possible and discern what God wants us to do. But if we begin with gifts, we will be encouraged and creative and – most importantly – faithful with what God has given us.

Last week I shared a survey for taking stock of individuals’ gifts. Below are some discussion prompts for a churchwide gathering to unearth the intangible gifts of the congregation as a whole.

Personal connections (Be sure to include all ages in this part of the conversation, adapting the questions as needed to varying developmental levels.)

  • When did I become part of this congregation?
  • What drew me here?
  • What keeps me here?
  • How has God been at work in/around/through me since I joined?
  • When/where do I feel most engaged with church members and/or God?

The communion of saints

  • Who are the saints (dearly departed) of our congregation?
  • How was God at work in/around/through them?
  • What legacies of these saints do we carry forward?
  • How were their values our values?
  • What ministries (formal or informal) did they begin that we carry on?

Congregational history

  • What are the key moments/turning points in our congregation’s history?
    • Pastoral changes
    • Physical plant changes
    • Conflicts
    • New ministries
    • Rapid change in membership numbers
  • How was God at work in these seasons?
  • What did we learn or how did we grow at these critical junctures?
  • Where is additional healing or resolution needed?

Close conversation with a prayer of gratitude for God’s faithfulness or a ritual of celebration. Be sure to collate the accumulated responses from the discussion for further use.

Of course, not all congregational gifts are intangible. Leaders (staff and lay) can brainstorm/record and note responses to the categories below, which are based more on records and spreadsheets.

Financial

  • Giving units
  • Cash on hand
  • Reserves
  • Special funds
  • Endowment

Physical

  • Space currently utilized
  • Space currently not or (under-) utilized
  • Accessibility to people with disabilities (mobility, hearing, sight, etc.)
  • Location
  • Movable items (communion sets, tables/chairs, tools, etc.)

Relational (congregational level)

  • Name recognition
  • Reputation
  • Community partners
  • Denominational partners
  • Global partners

Leadership

  • Staff
  • Recognized lay leaders
  • Informal lay leaders/influencers

As with the intangible gifts, be sure to give thanks for these more measurable blessings as you record them.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Planning from abundance, part 1 – individual gifts

In many congregational visioning and planning processes, discussion is centered on the church’s needs and members’ personal preferences. These foci are largely the results of internal and external (e.g., denominational) pressures to grow and the desire to be the most attractive “product” for potential newcomers. They are also the key ingredients for lopsided community relationships and wide-ranging expectations that are impossible to meet, leading to discouragement or outright conflict when they are not satisfied.

Over the past year I have been developing an approach to planning that is grounded in an ongoing exploration of gifts, both of the congregation and community. This process is not intended to be a denial of the very real needs that our church members and neighbors face but a means of starting to address them out of possibility, strength, and sustainability. It is intended to re-focus the individual and collective gaze from buying into a manufactured narrative of scarcity to noticing the often-overlooked workings of God all around us, honoring gifts from God in each person, and inviting ever closer a reign of God characterized by hospitality, connectedness, and abundance.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing elements of this planning process. To kick off this series, I offer to you a survey that answers the question, “Who are the people in my congregation?” The prompts are designed to get beyond Sunday morning small talk, digging deeper into each survey-taker’s engagement with the church, gifts, networks, aspirations, and spiritual journey.

Survey pre-work

Plan well for survey distribution. The survey will have the highest rate of completion if it is handed out and worked on during some sort of extended gathering time (Sunday School, congregational meeting, etc.). Everyone who is able to communicate should take at least part 2. Helpers can read the questions, adapting them as needed, and record the responses for those who don’t read or write well. Be sure to mail, email, or make the survey available online for those who are unable to fill it out in person.

As part of an invitation to take the survey, communicate some key information for transparency and trust-building. State clearly the overall purpose(s) of the information-gathering, which information will be collected anonymously and which will have names attached, and who will collect and collate the information.

See the people survey

Part 1 – Demographic survey – anonymous

  • Age
  • Gender identity
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Family composition (e.g, number of adults and children in the home)
  • Distance from residence to church

Part 2 – Individual gifts survey – named (detachable for submitting separately from demographics)

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Length of membership at this church
  • Church leadership roles held (past and present)
  • What are the three things about our church that you love most?
  • Relationship-related questions
    • Where do/did you go to school?
    • Where do/did you work?
    • Where do you volunteer in the community?
    • What clubs, organizations, or professional networks do you belong to?
    • What businesses in the community do you frequent?
  • Gift-related questions
    • What skills or talents do you use in your work (paid or volunteer)?
    • What do you make/create?
    • What do you most enjoy doing?
    • What do others tell you that you do well?
  • Aspiration-related questions
    • What community issues do you care most about?
    • What would you do if you had unlimited resources, including time?
  • Faith-related questions
    • When you feel closest to God, what are you doing or where are you?
    • When you feel most distant from God, what are you doing or where are you?
    • What would you most like to learn related to the Bible, your faith, or church life?

Survey post-work

Collect and collate the survey results. Offer a prayer of thanks for people’s gifts and their willingness to share about them.

Next week’s post will focus on taking stock of the congregation’s collective gifts.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.

Getting in the flow

[Note: a version of this post originally appeared at Searching for the Called.]

In the field of positive psychology, focus is placed not on the diagnosis and treatment of maladies but on creating the conditions for human flourishing. A key aspect of thriving is engagement, when we are so into what we are doing that everything else fades into the background while we are doing it. The flow model developed by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi says that for a person to be deeply engaged in an activity, her skill level must be in relative balance with the challenge of the task. If her skill availability is high while the difficulty of the task is low, she will quickly get bored. If the challenge outweighs her talents, her anxiety ratchets up.

What does the flow model reveal to you about your work? Specifically:

When are you deeply engaged in ministry? At these moments you are most likely living into your God-given calling.

When are you bored? Though you might have developed some reliable skills to carry out these less scintillating tasks, you are not building on your innate strengths.

When are you anxious? There is such a thing as a healthy stretch, which is a challenge that fosters our personal or professional growth. When we are overextended, however, we can start to believe that we are frauds and worry that we will fail those who rely on us.

Take a look at your responses to the above questions. What are the percentages of time spent on engaging, boring, and anxiety-producing tasks? Everyone has some tasks that fall into the latter two categories – that’s part of work life (and adulting in general, for that matter). But if those aspects are disproportionately large, it’s time to look at ways to revamp your job description. What dull or stressful assignments can be eliminated or shrunk if they’re less essential or redistributed to others who can do them better and with more enthusiasm if they are truly important? Your personnel committee or pastoral relations committee might be able to help you assess this.

If there’s not much that can be changed, then it’s time to consider whether your position is still a good fit for you. If not, what might a great fit look like? Your gifts are too valuable not to be fully engaged.

Photo by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash.

The value of boundaries

[Note: this post originally appeared on Searching for the Called.]

As a minister with standing in my region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I am required to attend boundary training at least every ten years. This is important work, not just because abuse by clergy is (sadly) in the news so much these days. It’s also essential because the emphasis in these conversations shifts. For example, we spent much more time discussing preaching in this iteration of the training than in my last go-round. That’s because the political climate is such that pastors have to check their motivations and their theology every week so that the pulpit doesn’t become, well, the bully pulpit.

The increased attention to preaching was not the only new piece for me, however. The training materials lifted out that boundaries aid ministers’ work; they allow pastors to recover from the emotional, spiritual, and sometimes even physical demands of their roles so that they can come back to lead another day. That seems obvious enough. For the first time, however, I heard that boundaries themselves actually are the work.

I bristled at that statement initially. Surely ministers are not being encouraged to walk around wrapped in caution tape! But the materials clarified that we are constantly crossing boundaries – anytime we step over the threshold into a homebound member’s home or a hospital room, get buzzed into a school to eat lunch with a youth, hear the intimate details of a parishioner’s hurt, embolden our leadership in the midst of conflict, share a bit about our lives to let others know they are not alone, or enter the pulpit to preach. It is the minister’s job, though, to acknowledge those boundaries, to be clear on why we are or are not pushing through them, and to ensure that those reasons are to help the people in our care grow closer to God.

At the same time, spiritual leaders are called to help others recognize the boundaries they have set up between themselves and God and between themselves and their fellow humans so that they can remove these obstacles. Clergy do this through preaching and prayer, teaching and serving the community alongside church members.

Boundaries, then, are in fact the heart of ministry, recognizing and then either holding to or tearing them down. The hoped-for end is the same, regardless: to see and celebrate the image of God in all people and to remember that rootedness in relationship to God is essential for us all.

May we thus be aware of boundaries, sometimes using and other times obliterating them to promote connection and wholeness.

Photo by André Bandarra on Unsplash.

Networking that doesn’t feel icky

The last semester of seminary was an anxious time for me. Every day I felt more unemployable as my classmates were appointed or called to their post-graduation churches. Meanwhile, I went on interview after interview, breaking the top two or three several times before hearing the “no” that every minister in a search process dreads.

A big factor in my failed searches was that I didn’t know a lot of people. I was a name on a page, with too little experience to make search teams want to find out more about me. One reason for my small network was that I simply had not met a lot of people. I had only recently found my way to the progressive Baptist world, which was where I wanted to serve, yet as a Candler student most of my friends and professors were United Methodist. But there was also the side of me that rejected networking as I understood it: schmoozing and getting ahead based on the connections I had, not the work I had done or the skills I possessed.

In time I realized that “networking” is one of those words that needs to be re-claimed, like evangelism. Good, healthy networking is not about ladder-climbing. It’s about showing interest in other people and their work. It’s about learning from and sharing wisdom with others. It’s about, in short, understanding our interdependence and strengthening relationships such that both parties can more fully inhabit their personhood and their call.

Putting on a Murphy Brown suit and making it rain business cards won’t accomplish those ends. But in his WorkLife podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently offered up ways to network that do build genuine bonds:

Build your skills. As you learn, you not only increase your range and expertise, you meet people in the areas where those skills are needed, some of whom are regularly contacted by organizations looking for those talents. So in the world of ministry, seek out parachurch trainings about how to be a head of staff or mediate conflict or navigate the interim time between settled pastors. Attend continuing education events offered by seminaries. Get coached. Go to denominational gatherings that offer practical workshops.

Give help. Want to learn how to do something new and show your willingness to be a team player? Offer to pitch in. Take on a project at the middle judicatory level. Mentor a new minister. Offer your expertise in a consultant-type role. Lead a retreat. Tread with intentionality, though, making sure you aren’t just accumulating tasks that no one else wants or that others expect women to do.

Ask for advice. Not everyone loves to be asked for help. That can, at times, feel like a burden. But who doesn’t like to be asked for their wisdom? Contact someone who is doing something you’d like to do and ask a few brief questions about how that person got there. If you want to serve a big-steeple church, reach out to a large-church pastor you admire. The same goes if you’re feeling called to be a CPE supervisor, judicatory or denominational leader, or any other role. The veteran will feel recognized for work well done, and you will gain knowledge and plant your name in that person’s memory.

The key in all of these types of network is to be sincere in your interactions. Truly be interested, and you will likely be amazed at the doors that will open for you.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash.

The joy of “barre-lesque” dancing

The only exercise I have ever truly enjoyed – aside from basketball, and even that included a lot of running I truly abhorred – is barre. In barre I have built my strength through small movements and isometric holds. Thanks to these classes I was in the best physical and mental shape of my adult life before I took maternity leave, and I am currently in the process of getting back to that state.

At the studio where I exercise, there is an instructor who is a former professional dancer. She has started developing and offering occasional classes with a dance flair. Before Christmas she led a Nutcracker workshop that combined ballet and barre. And recently she choreographed a barre-lesque (think burlesque) routine that she taught a group of about ten very uncertain women.

I am not a dancer. I have very little physical grace. (That’s what I like about barre – small movements don’t advertise my clumsiness!) But I wanted to try barre-lesque. My comfort zone was a blip in my rearview mirror, but I had so much fun. And here’s why: the instructor kept urging us to flip our hair and put more pop into our hips. She sincerely told us we were doing great. She encouraged us to enjoy our bodies. Her enthusiasm allowed us to relax, try new ways of moving, and cheer one another on.

The whole experience was not just body positive but celebratory of sensuality. My first thought afterward was, “I would like to bring every woman recovering from purity culture to this class.” Twenty-plus years later I am still dealing with the emotional and spiritual baggage that came with my church’s participation in True Love Waits, in which teens were shamed and scared into abstinence. It worked in my case, but at a great cost. Until my family moved during college, I had my TLW pledge card taped above my bedroom light switch. It reminded me to be totally confused about how God had wonderfully created me yet made me a temptress who could ruin not just my life, but the lives of anyone I let too near my body. Until my wedding day, that is, on which I was magically supposed to figure out (and enjoy) how my plumbing worked so that I could perpetuate humankind.

But barre-lesque let me inhabit and take delight in my body. For me. For no other reason than that it was joyful, and I believe we were made for joy. It was a whole-self celebration – body, mind, and soul. It was then that I more fully realized how I could not compartmentalize my physical, mental, and spiritual health.

If you haven’t yet, my hope for you is that you can find something that helps you embrace your fearfully-made fierceness. After all, God looks at your complete package and smiles, saying, “You are good, and you are loved.”

Creative Commons image “Backwards” by Quinn Dombrowski is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.