From risk to opportunities: Part three of a three part series
From risk to opportunities: Part one of a three part series

From risk to opportunities: Part two of a three part series

by Ty Welles and Canon Andrew Gerns
   
    Last month we outlined the mission and findings of the newly re-formed Committee on Congregational Renewal in the Diocese of Bethlehem.  This month we will address a proposed process for moving into congregational renewal.

I.  PRAYER
    The most important part of turning risk into opportunity is to create a context of prayer.  What will set this process apart from typical secular management style will be prayerful listening to God for direction.  We want to place the seriousness of the time and tasks ahead within the framework of prayer. We suggest that a context of prayer be established as follows:
•    The preparation of a prayer that can be used at services of worship, for private prayer, and by prayer groups.
•    A day of guided prayer, meditation and reflection for all clergy.
•    A diocesan-wide meeting to begin the process with prayer and invocation of the Holy Spirit.
•    Establishment of a prayer group in every congregation to pray for the renewal and transformation of each congregation of the Diocese.      

II.  CONGREGATIONAL DISCERNMENT
    We suggest that congregations engage in a process of discernment that focuses on their strengths, or what they do well, rather than on their weaknesses. When the starting point is the recognition of the abundance of God’s gifts and talents, the congregation can find new and positive energy to break out of the negative cycles of dependency and inaction. One way to engage in congregational discernment is through ‘asset mapping,’ the process or reviewing the positive assets of the congregation. This provides clear data and relational opportunities and unleashes the creative imagination to what can be by asking three crucial questions:
  • Who are we?
  • What has God called us to do or be?
  • Who is my neighbor?

III.  STRATEGIC PLANNING
    We suggest that each congregation be involved in strategic planning which has goals, objectives, and benchmarks.   This is a structured process to allow both data and feelings to surface to explore identity and purpose, and to bring together the past and a vision of the future to see the options for the present. 
This is group conversation in which the members of the group tell their stories of the history of the congregation and their life within it.  In this conversation they reveal the values of the community and those moments when God’s call to mission was clear to them.  The conversation will uncover what is important and relevant, not only by rehearsing the past, but beginning to evoke the future, inspiring them to hear what “God calls us to be or to do.”

    There is a need to have a common diocesan strategic planning instrument for this process that would reap a common baseline of information and data, as well as be systemic and unify the diocesan effort.

IV.  PARTNERSHIPS

    The next stage is to identify and link to strategic partners.  The discernment process will have identified those organizations and groups within the wider community which share the same values and similar missions.  How can a “strategic” partnership or alliance be forged with them so that the shared mission can be achieved?  Strategic partnerships might be with other Episcopal congregations in your area. For example, this may the opportunity to exercise a ministry of hospitality, when your facilities can be a great gift to the community to house a needed outreach program.

V.  MUTUAL MINISTRY
    The Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer states:
“Q.    Through whom does the Church carry out its mission”?
“A.    The Church carries out is mission through the ministry of all its members.”
    Mission requires leadership, and that leadership is both lay and ordained.  Mutual ministry is unified leadership where lay and clergy each supports and complements the other.  Mutual ministry is seeing that the well-being of the whole community is a common effort of all members of the Christian community, and not just the ordained clergy.

    The key to mutual ministry is to embrace the concept that the goal is sacramental leadership, nurturing both the outer and inner self.  It is the realization that one’s life is a gift from God that is shared with the world.  Mutual ministry brings together the sacramental leadership of both laity and clergy as one. 

VI. COVENANTING
    The Catechism concerning the Baptismal Covenant states:
“Q.    What is the New Covenant?
 A.    The New Covenant is the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.” 
    This process of congregational renewal – prayer, discernment, strategic planning, partnerships and mutual ministry – are particularly significant for us now as we enter the twenty-first century.  In this time of change and transition, it behooves us to look for the ways that God engages us in renewal and transformation as a congregation and a diocese.  Grounding our work in the Baptismal Covenant affirms that God is always at work in our lives and communities. 

    This process of assuming the presence and action of God requires a commitment by all parties to be faithful partners in all the phases.  Just as we renew our baptismal vows at certain, specified liturgical times, it is strongly suggested that there be a “commissioning/covenanting” service for both the leadership and the congregations.

VII.  REVIEW & EVALUATION
    After you have prayed, collected the data, had many meetings, listened to people’s personal and institutional stories, entered into partnerships and renewed your covenant, it is important to enter the “so what?” phase – the time for review and evaluation.  This is the process of prioritization; lifting up implications for current programs; suggesting new approaches and dropping unsuccessful ones; identifying the gaps; and lifting up potential leadership. This creates an important document for future planning, setting of benchmarks, and the regular periodic evaluation of progress. The review and evaluation will enable measurement of the long-term effectiveness of congregational mission by asking questions such as:
  • Is the program consistent with the congregational mission;
  • Is it is consonant with the anticipated response to internal and external changes;
  • Has it created an advantage, or just maintained the status quo;
  • Has it been feasible and not overtaxed available resources nor created unsolvable problems?

     The third article in this series on Congregational Renewal will address the implications that the adoption of this program and process will have on both the diocese and the congregations within the diocese.  And it will detail the specific steps that we as congregations and as a diocese need to take to move from Risk to Opportunities through congregational renewal.

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