Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Next Steps

The "Next Steps" event at Synod drew representatives from all the presbyteries of the Synod of the Sun for a couple of days of discussing the events of General Assembly and anticipated responses from our churches. The four of us from New Covenant were guilty of coveting our neighbor's Presbytery Building: the Presbyterian Center in Dallas is a gleaming, well-equipped new building which is a far cry from our poor-but-proud center in Houston with the duct-taped carpet.

Nothing of note transpired in the discussions. Predictably, there were calls for more "listening to each other", as if listening and understanding the deeply held division of viewpoint would somehow restore unity.

Tuesday morning I met with the "Outside the Box" small group. Members of that group expressed frustration that the structure of the GA does not provide for ways to address the continuing decline of the denomination. I did have a chance to float an idea that I've been kicking around with El Jefe and it got some traction. What if we put together a group of 10 pastors with a demonstrated track record of growing churches and making disciples and asked them to put together recommendations about how the denomination could support and enable its churches to focus on making disciples--by re-allocating resources, changing denominational priorities and staffing patterns, and changing denominational structures? I don't know who should serve on such a group, but I'm sure there are ways to find out.

One of the small groups was "Separation Without Division." That group reported that they believed that separation without division describes the situation in the denomination today. That has huge implications, but it is impossible to specifically project what those implications are at this point.

I try to stay positive when I post about the PCUSA, but I'm not feeling very positive after this meeting. I don't think anyone else did either.


Presbyterian Gal said...

"separation without division", that just makes me sad. How do we live in Christian relationship with each other if we are separated?

Your idea sounds really exciting!

Anonymous said...

'separate without division' can also be called 'disaffiliate in place'. A lot of churches do that anyway...ususally on their own...sort of an attitude of 'We'll go to presbytery meetings, debate, vote, get beaten, go home, pay our per capita, focus on proclaiming the gospel through our congregations and in our communities and politely decline any further involvement with said presbytery'. Since this GA, this sort of 'non-action action' may solidify and become more organized across the PCUSA thus leading to the possibility of the two synod model that's been floated the past two GA's.

And it would be sad...

Agree your idea is a good one...


DennisS said...

You have a lot of pastors in your Presbytery, so maybe 10 is a good number. In my mind that's probably a few more than necessary in most places. Yet, if proposed, the number may grow, as quite a few would probably like to be included.

It might work best to send a note to the pastors with the strong track record and get their thoughts individually. Better yet, visit them personally, and tell them the reason for your visit (so they are prepared). I think you will find quite a few ideas - many of them quite similar.

In regard to chosing such pastors, I would look at the percentage of new members added over the past few years. Don't look at the net membership numbers, but only on the positive side (sometimes Session can remove lots of folks from the rolls).

Congregations ought to be adding 4% to 7% to their active membership in an average year (before deletions). This is a range I came up with a couple years ago after significant hours of research and statistical analysis of PCUSA congregations. This range tends to indicate a healthy congregation, at least maintaining, and likely growing.

I believe their is a relationship between the capacity of leadership and the growth of a congregation. And so, if a congregation is adding members at a rate larger than 7%, then the leadership capacity in that congregation (not just of pastoral staff) is quite capable of communicating with and caring for a much larger number of people than currently present.

Regardless the size of the congregation, the leaders (could include secretaries and other staff) of fast growing congregations have significant capabilities.

Look at increases in attendance for the past few years, and percentage of increase in membership (before deletions). Then find out who the leaders are of those congregations - and seek them out!

We have fewer congregations here, in much smaller contexts, but to give you an idea - in the state of KS there are only 4 congregations which reported an increase in attendance for each of the past 3 years. There are 8 congregations that reported a net increase in membership in each of those most recent 3 years.

One thing of note: congregations in a context of large population growth have a much higher likelihood of reporting growth. In such circumstances pay attention to the number of adult baptisms as an indicator of leadership capable of effecting a climate of change.

Alan Trafford said...

Hope you don't mind, but I linked your comments on the Synod gathering to a little news digest blog I do for my elders.
Sadly, I have to agree that 'separation without division' is where we have been for some time; we may be moving to the next phase, especially if fidelity/chastity falls, and if the changes to the AI's are not successfully challenged at the next GA.
Alan Trafford (presbuteros.blogspot.com)

Quotidian Grace said...

Denniss--Thanks for the good suggestions. My idea is that this would be a group put together from across the country not just one presbytery.

Alan--of course you can link the post. Thanks for letting me know.

Anonymous said...

William Vanderbloemen had a good track record as a "church growth" pastor, and I hear he isn't doing anything nowadays. :-)

Christine said...

Why only pastors? Should only they be given credit for a church's growth? In my congregation lay leaderships is responsible for congregational growth at least as much as the pastors are.

Quotidian Grace said...

Good point, Christine. I think its easier to identify pastors on a national level than lay leaders in congregations. Hopefully they would bring the insights of the leaders of their congregations into the conversation.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Christine on this one. We need input from all leaders of the church. IMO, some of our current problems are a result of a trend toward the hierarchical church model as well as an over-supply of folks more interested in church administration than in telling our story and living our faith. So maintaining the structure has become at least as important as proclamation of the Word. And why is addition of members a sign of a "successful" church? Why not participation in mission? Number of ministers raised in the congregation? Number of former members who have moved away/gone to college/whatever who continue to be involved in the greater church? I know all these things are much harder to measure but may be much more indicative of "success." If we use membership or attendance numbers to measure success, then Joel Osteen should be the first one you'd call for this group!

Quotidian Grace said...

I just threw an idea out there in a brain-storming session and welcome the criticism of it.

I would be happy to see the definition of success in making disciples expanded to include any and all of the categories you suggest. I would agree that attendance in worship and participation in mission are better measures than membership only.

Lydia said...

Coming late to this discussion, but this idea is "thinking forward and out of the box" that could help us as a denomination to refocus on the mission of the church -- living the Great Commission.

Great idea about having both clergy and laity involved! Here's another . . . if this were to come to fruition what if all congregations were invited to participate.

By using new technology, presbyteries could set up viewing groups. These viewing groups could even send in questions to the actual discussion . . . inviting a wider conversation, perhaps helping us catch a common vision and to realize that we are not in this along -- the Holy Spirit is there as well as those who God has called to be part of this part of Christ‘s Church.

It may also open the door in presbyteries for on-going conversations among churches about how we are to respond faithfully to the Great Commission and what this looks like in the 21st Century. Maybe this would open the door to living out our convental relationships.

And maybe it could provide an avenue for the presbyteries to be more responsive in supporting local congregations as we fulfill our call to grow the Kingdom.

Thanks for sparking conversation!

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing;
That's how it is with God's love,
Once you've experienced it,
You spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

God bless,


Lydia said...

One more thought . . .

This is a really great idea!

Perhaps it needs to be passed on to our new Moderator, Bruce Reyes Chow as it seems right up his alley and since he doesn't have anything to do . . . (LOL)

No, really this sounds as if it would fit in really well with the new initiative "Grow the Church Deep and Wide;" perhaps, Bruce could get it to them and give a nudge to move it forward.

Thanks for starting a spark by sharing this idea!

God bless,