“If we stay on the road we are on, we will surely get where we are going”
What road is your congregation on? Some parishes have a keen sense of mission, as well as the imagination, people and financial resources to continue to live into this mission in an ongoing vital way. Others struggle with resources and a sense of mission. Still others have a keen sense of mission but are always coming up just a bit short with the resources to live into that mission. Some of our parishes show a steady decline over the past 5 years; others manage to “hold their own”. The reality is that we are in a new age, and parishes and worshiping communities are being called to be far more intentional and imaginative in finding pathways to vitality.
The first step, however, is looking honestly at what IS – the only way we can act faithfully and with any effect is to face reality. We cannot address the challenges that face us if we cannot do this. In 2017, the Executive staff began conversations with Dave Robinson, Canon for Congregational Development in the Diocese of Toronto, the largest diocese in North America. Through their strategic work to strengthen their diocese and support congregations with appropriate resources and direction, they developed a resourcing grid, which proved useful for self-evaluation: The Diocese of Toronto developed very comprehensive spreadsheets with information for each parish based on:
- Average pledge
- Total pledges
- Annual income
- Congregational efforts in which they had participated in an effort to walk toward health and vitality.
Together they addressed the kinds of questions that each “quadrant” raises for a parish:
- Does this parish have resources but is stuck?
- Is this a parish that has a great sense of mission and ministry but they always come up short on financial resources?
- Is this congregation sustainable or unsustainable? That is, does it have the resources of people, finances and imagination, as well as a viable mission in its ministry context?
- Is this a parish that simply needs the encouragement to go from “strength to strength?”
In other words, for every parish: what are the trends? In other words, is there a pattern of long-term steady decline? Is this a parish that has adapted to changing times and needs? Are there the resources - financial, people, imagination - to reverse these trends?
At our Diocesan Council retreat in February 2018, we formally adopted this model as an approach to exploring our own diocesan health. We followed many of the recommendations that the Diocese of Toronto found successful.
A working group was created to move forward with this work: Janet Young, John Cheek, Mac Murray, Frank Minasian, and Heather Blais, with Pam Mott and Steve Abdow as consulting staff members. Several things have been happening in parallel:
The group developed an interview tool to begin to engage parishes in conversation
see interview questions attached
). To date, 8 congregations have been interviewed. Questions were evaluated and adapted between the first and second round of interviews – we completely assume that this will continue to emerge and change as we continue on in this process.
We began to identify and develop resources for the needs that emerged in each “quadrant.” As a result of this exploration:
- Two people have been trained in Natural Church Development (NCD). NCD consists of a survey done in a parish to identify its strengths and challenges in meeting the qualities of a healthy church. Coaching conversations follow the survey to identify specific actions to find deeper health. See attached information.
- Several people have been trained as coaches –to respond to an NCD survey, or coach in following up on Leadership Day, or a particular challenge they are facing. Coaches are not mentors or consultants; they will help a vestry or a couple of leaders to identify what challenges they have and what specific actions they can take. These coaches will meet quarterly for support, continued education, and sharing of resources. In addition, because of a grant in which we are participating, three of our clergy will take the full training to be certified as coaches. We hope this will be an excellent resource to put “into the water” of our diocese. It will have wide application in assisting and supporting parishes of all sizes and strengths to explore ways forward.
- Recently, we offered full scholarship to the College for Congregational Development (CCD) to parishes that have a sense of mission and need to take the next step to parish health and vitality. Three teams of 3 from 3 parishes will be attending CCD in Rochester, NY. They have committed to attending 4 weekends a year for 2 years. An additional parish team will attend a week in the summer for two summers. Pam Mott will be attending the weekends to get a sense for the program.
- On May 11, we are having a Small Church Summit: A Day of Options , led by consultants, to help small parishes explore the realities of their situation, and support them in making good decisions – hopefully toward a vital future either in their current form, or in partnership with another parish…or…?
- Finally, as a result of our February 2019 Diocesan Council Retreat, we realized that we already have many resources and imaginative ministries in our Diocese. We will be encouraging all parishes to identify an aspect of their life and ministry that is vital and would be good to share with other congregations, and encourage other parishes to take pilgrimages/field trips to these places of vitality by way of “seeding” imagination, ministry and deeper relationship.
This will be an ongoing process of discernment and the uncovering of resources!
Some questions for you!
- As you look realistically at your parish? Which “quadrant” best describes your situation? In what ways is it challenging to face this realistically?
- What resources do you need to walk into deeper health?
- What commitment and energy does your parish have to do this?
- Where do you need to be inspired?
- What resources might be useful for you in your parish? Natural Church Development (see attached information)? A coach? (see attached information)? Attending the Small Church Summit? (register here)? Gathering a team to attend the College for Congregational Development?
How can you benefit from a deep look at your congregational life, and the resources that are available to walk into the future?
The Congregational Assessment Team
Janet Young, Chair Heather Blais Pam Mott
John Cheek Frank Minasian Mac Murray