We live in a changing world. We have church websites, instant access to information via the Internet, smart phones, text messaging, Facebook, the ability to easily project words and images as we do Christian education and as we worship. The list goes on and on. We also have the ability via demographic services to know who lives where and important details about their lifestyles.
Attitudes toward the church have changed in our culture too. Indeed, the world around us is changing, and our churches need to consider what that means for ministry.
In response to that need, the Church Development Team of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area spent two years developing a presbytery-wide initiative to help congregations realize their potential for ministry in our modern context, and to prepare them for renewed ministry by being open to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit. Among the planned-for outcomes were these:
- Healthier and stronger congregations prepared for ministry now and in the future
- Leaders and members of congregations understanding their context for ministry
- Churches open to change and to exploring new ways of being church
- Congregations approaching ministry with a theology of God’s abundant gifts and not a theology of scarcity
- Congregations better prepared to think and act missionally, and able to equip members of their faith communities to meet challenges creatively and adaptively.
At the same as the initiative was being developed, the Presbytery began living out its strategic vision of fearlessly following the Holy Spirit into a changing world. Naming the initiative became easy. It would become Ministry in a Changing World.
The initiative consists of two components. The first is a one-day annual conference for all churches in the Presbytery. The initial conference was held in 2012 and featured Kevin Ford, author of Transforming Church and coauthor of The Leadership Triangle, and Rex Miller, author of The Millennium Matrix. The second conference in 2013 was led by church consultant and leadership coach Tom Bandy. The theme was “Thriving Church in a Changing World,” and among the topics were “Religious Curiosity and Spiritual Yearning Today” and “Program Relevance in an Age of Exploding Diversity.” A third conference will be held in 2014. These conferences provide opportunities for many churches to understand what it means to do ministry in a changing world.
The second component involves Cohorts of three to four churches each. These churches, all of whom volunteer to be a part of the initiative, go through a transformative process led by our consultant, TAG, and clergy and lay persons from our presbytery who are trained as coaches. Thus far, eleven churches have completed a process, and in 2014 other churches will engage in a process that has the following elements
- An Orientation
- Three ten-hour retreats that cover
- Identity: Core Values; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis; Target Audience; and a Mission Statement
- Strategic Areas of Focus
- Project Planning Basics
- Next Steps
Each church, with assistance from its coach, then carries out its self-developed plan for transformative action.
This Cohort process works well. Consider these comments from participants:
- For us, this initiative is not a quick fix for crisis but an ongoing effort that will steadily build into truly profound and lasting transformation.
- We are a very small church, and eight more people getting seriously involved matters. We were able to spend extended time together, develop a team sensibility, and nurture a care for what our church is and can be. It was wonderful to share ideas and engage in serious conversation with fellow church members. Too frequently church members think a church is taking care of itself—it can’t and doesn’t.
- Through the three retreats we learned about our own strengths and developed a mission statement and calling that reinvigorated the lay leadership of our congregation. We are finding ways to focus new energy on both internal health and on community outreach to fulfill our mission in Jesus Christ. New congregational leaders and leadership patterns have emerged and blossomed.
- Most helpful was getting clear about our mission and core values and then referring back to them again as we worked to determine our goals. This clarity has transferred to all of the work that we do now as a congregation: stewardship, mission, education, worship.
- Ministry in a Changing World has forced us to take the time to ask some tough questions about who we used to be as a community of faith, who we are now, and who we feel God is calling us to be. We had become masters of technical fixes – painstakingly tweaking the way things have always been done, hoping for better results, but not getting them. Through listening to one another and our congregation, we are digging deeper to figure out how we can strengthen faith formation and spiritual growth, connect our faith with service, and follow the “great commission” to make disciples.
- Too often we tend to get bogged down in the minutia of church work during regular Session meetings instead of looking at the big picture. This process has provided us with the opportunity to develop and work toward specific objectives that will help us achieve our vision, all while staying true to our church’s unique mission and values.
Transformation is hard work, but, as can be seen from the comments, it is worth the time and commitment. Some churches see immediate results from such a process and others take much longer to see results. From a presbytery standpoint, it is important to know the capacity of your presbytery because this involves a large investment of financial and social capital. In the latter regard, staff and volunteer time by committee members and coaches is essential. It also takes time to get churches in a presbytery to commit to a transformative process. Hard work it may be, but in the end it is all about helping churches do faithful ministry in an ever-changing world.
Newell Krogmann serves part-time in a church development staff capacity for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, PC(USA), a presbytery with churches in eastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. He is a graduate of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.