As we turn our faces toward Thanksgiving, here is a post I wrote a few months ago for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship blog about tuning in to abundance so that we can notice and respond to God’s invitations.
After taking stock of the full range of gifts in your church and community, it’s time to move from inventory and celebration to getting curious about everything your congregation has noticed and experienced. Invite the congregation to gather around tables for storytelling. Sharing a meal together provides a great reason for people to come and fuels the conversational energy. Set the vibe by bringing the visual gifts display and the accompanying responses into the meeting space, and get people excited by explaining how their participation will contribute to movement into the church’s next season of ministry.
Include the following in the congregational conversation:
Worship together. Invite the congregation, as an offering to God, to name aloud responses to the following. Have someone write them down as they are voiced. Be sure that people of all ages are included in this offering.
- Skills and stories of individuals encountered in the community
- Personal experiences in the community
- Observations about the community, especially what surprised, delighted, and challenged
Distribute the information compiled from studying the demographics and naming local leaders, and gather around tables to discuss the following questions. Ensure there is a facilitator and a scribe for each conversation group. It is important to have someone who is prepared to keep the conversation on track and ensure all the voices are heard.
- Who are our neighbors?
- How is God at work in/around/through our neighbors?
- Where might we join in that good work?
- What are the challenges in our community?
- Who is affected by them?
- Who is already doing good work around them? How might we support them?
Close with prayers of thanks for your neighbors and for wisdom and faithfulness in using your gifts. Be sure to collate the accumulated responses after the gathering.
Next week’s post will take the noticing and curiosity to beginning to put ministry initiatives on paper.
Planning for ministry initiatives is incomplete without considering context. Just as individuals are part of a larger congregation, churches are part of larger communities. Often this look at the surrounding neighborhood is focused on needs, on ways that the people around us can be recipients of our care. While Jesus urges us to respond to serious lack and systemic injustice, it’s important to notice the gifts and stories of our neighbors as well. Then we can build relationships and find out where we fit in our community’s ecosystem, not just rush in with well-meaning but wrong-headed (and sometimes destructive) “fixes.”
Considering context first involves knowing who your neighbor is. Here are some ways to identify the people who live and work around you:
Conduct a demographic study. Check with the judicatory or denomination to find out if it has contracted with a demographic service. If not, contact your local chamber of commerce or search online for demographic information. Look for age, gender, race, ethnicity, age, family composition, population concentrations, economic levels, education levels, and any other available statistics. Put the demographics of the community with the demographics of the church side-by-side. What do you notice?
Learn who the local leaders are. Brainstorm (as a team or by a mini-survey to the congregation) or look online for the following:
- Local government officials
- School principals/superintendents/deans/presidents
- Chief emergency responders
- Business owners
- Directors of organizations/agencies/associations
- Clergy of other congregations
- Other influencers
Collate the above information and pray for the people in your neighborhood.
Considering context doesn’t end with information-gathering, however. It also involves interacting with your neighbors. Below are some ways to go about that. (Note that the first three suggestions below are particularly family-friendly.)
Go into the neighborhood. Create a scavenger hunt to encourage church members to go into nearby businesses, particularly ones they might not normally patronize. (Be sure to contact businesses ahead of time to let them know about the purpose and date(s) of the scavenger hunt and to get their permission.) For example, go into the home insurance office and get a business card. Go into the comic book shop and take a picture with the life-size cardboard cutout of Spiderman. Go into the local diner and order a slice of its famous cherry cobbler. At each location, introduce yourself to at least one employee. Make note of the people you meet and your experiences going into the businesses.
Take a prayer walk or drive. Give church members a map of a fairly small walking or driving radius. Go in groups or families, praying for the people and places along the route. Afterward, talk about what surprised, delighted, and challenged you along the way.
Lower the barriers for church members to volunteer. Create a list of local service agencies or opportunities as well as conversation prompts for interacting with people. (Where is your favorite place in the neighborhood? What is something that makes you smile? What are you good at?) Go in groups or families to volunteer. Make an effort to talk with the people – particularly the “clients” – in that place. Afterward, talk about what surprised, delighted, and challenged you.
Encourage church members to attend a city council meeting, community forum, and/or a school board meeting. Listen for the good that is going on as well as the needs being expressed.
Invite community representatives to a panel discussion at your church. Ask them what they love about their jobs and the community. Encourage them to share where they see neighborhood gifts, both individual and collective. Get them to tell about good things happening in the community, challenges they observe, and places that the church can join in either.
Next week I’ll share some ways to process the information your church gleans and the experiences congregation members have in the community.
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?
- What are the key moments/turning points in our congregation’s history?
- Pastoral changes
- Physical plant changes
- 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.
- Giving units
- Cash on hand
- Special funds
- Space currently utilized
- Space currently not or (under-) utilized
- Accessibility to people with disabilities (mobility, hearing, sight, etc.)
- Movable items (communion sets, tables/chairs, tools, etc.)
Relational (congregational level)
- Name recognition
- Community partners
- Denominational partners
- Global partners
- 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.