by Carolyn Kitto
There is a movement of the Spirit across the churches in the western world, in particular. It is a movement re-calling the church to rediscover its part in continuing Christ’s mission in the world. It is a movement which says, we can plan a future which is different from the past where we assumed that Christianised cultures and the values of our society would support the church and its practices.
It has been expressed in a number of ways: Missional church, Evangelising church, and Fresh Expressions church. It was expressed by Pope John Paul II for the Catholic part of the family in this way, “Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelization, one that is new in its ardour, new in its methods, and new in its means of expression.” (address to Bishops of Latin America, Haiti, 1983).
These elements, identified by the Pope, are instructional for us Protestants and form important elements in any planning exercise.
Invite people to express their passions and plan around those elements. Questions like,
- How do you have deep fun?
- Who do you enjoy spending time with?
- What are you good at?
- What stirs your emotions?
lead to expressing the passions God has placed in us. Planning around what God is stirring in us, our strengths, gifts and passions, energises a new ardour in our communities. Help people find other people in the church with similar passions. Help them express the gifts that they have not revealed before. Allow them to disagree, passionately but politely if necessary. Most importantly help people think of possibilities and not problems. Problems belong to past experiences, and when we focus on the possibilities of the future, these problems either disappear or are overcome.
I used to say to churches that they need to move from being maintenance churches to being mission churches. When I came back to those churches a year or so later, I would mostly find a church that was tireder and busier. I came to realise that it was rather arrogant of me to even suggest that they were in maintenance mode. I also came to realise that churches don’t think of themselves as being in maintenance: they actually believe themselves to be in mission.
The context in which we are doing this mission has changed. We once lived in a culture where we could rely on attractional programs and inherited faith to bring people to church. The cultural change has been so drastic that we need to shift from doing mission as we used to do it, to doing mission in a new cultural context. I now talk to churches about shifting from doing mission to being mission churches. That is to shift from doing mission in ways that worked in the past, to doing mission in ways that will work in the future. This is where the new method and the new thinking is required.
For example, in the 80s and 90s, a huge number of resources and programs were written about being a welcoming church. (Don’t get me wrong, I am in favour of churches being welcoming). These arrived on the scene as the church was realising that its numbers were declining and church members were ageing. The difficulty with most of these programs was that they assumed that people would come to your church in the first place. They assumed that the highly attractive programs you were putting on, or the spiritual stirring in the lives of people in the community, or the lack of other things to do at the time when church was on, or desire to be a part of a church, would somehow bring people to church. In our new context these things rarely, if ever, work. In our new context we need to be inviting churches.
Peter Block in his book, Community: the Structure of Belonging (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco 2009), talks about the process of inversion being important in helping communities create a future distinct from the past. An example of an inversion is, ‘The audience creates the performance’, or ‘The subordinate creates the boss’. Inversions challenge conventional expressions and open the possibilities of a new future. What if in our planning for worship we decided that, ‘the congregation preaches the sermon’. In many African churches they do. The congregation behaves in such a manner as to draw the sermon out of the preacher. The preacher and the sermon depend on the congregation preaching the sermon with them.
I was once working with a church who had struggled with how they could engage their local community. Their buildings were on the edge of the shopping centre. They wanted to be a church for the community. In the planning process we created an inversion, ‘The church is the community’. This provided the turn around that created possibilities for a different future. When everything that was the community and was desired by the community was the church—that made the difference. Look for the inversion which will reorient a distinct future for your church.
Who should be involved in the planning?
Involve whoever you want to be involved in doing the actions arising out of the plan. Engage the whole congregation and the whole congregation will come to an ownership. In churches where a small group plans on behalf of the whole church, not only do they end up needing to invest time and energy in convincing the church, but they end up doing all the work.
Use good group conversation processes such as, The World Café <www.theworldcafe.com>, or The Art of Hosting <www.artofhosting.org>, to draw out everyone’s contribution. Use small groups or pairs as the basis of the conversation and then bring their wisdom and suggestions to the whole group.
How long should the plan before?
The length of the plan depends on the stability and transient factors in the community you are a part of. In highly mobile communities, your plan may only be for 18 months and reviewed, improved and added to every 6 months. In most communities, a 3 year plan, which is reviewed, improved and added to every year, is appropriate.
When in the year should we plan?
When working on a 3 year planning cycle, it is usually best to plan in the last 1/3 of a year for the next year. Make your planning process a dynamic one. In each planning day,
- review the previous year
- in the light of that review
- add the new third year, and
- put in place SMART (Specific Measureable Achievable Realistic Timelined) goals for the new first year.
In your review, value the things that didn’t work and the mistakes that were made (this is different to problem solving). A group’s creativity is more likely to expand when mistakes are valued as learning opportunities.
Where should we hold our planning?
Choose a venue which is relaxed and comfortable and allows people to be flexible in shifting to and from small groups to the larger group. This may not be your church building. You may want to use another church’s building, or a community building. If you are planning for fresh engagement in your community, what better place could there be to meet, than amongst that community?
Who should lead it?
There is certainly value in an external person facilitating the planning process and a planning day. They can help all members of the church to be engaged and bring outside wisdom and objective perspectives. But the planning can be run by a skilled person or team from the church. Often it is good to use the external facilitator every 3 years or so and when you are wishing to go in major new directions.
How much time should we invest in the planning?
A church is more likely to act itself into the future, than think or plan itself into the future. Invest just enough time to get to action. If people invest too much energy in the planning—analysing changes in the community, shifts in attitudes, and models of church, and conducting surveys to get everyone’s opinion—people will be exhausted before they get to do anything. The best plans are developed over a 3 to 6 week period, ending with a planning day and celebration of the plan, and can fit on 1 piece of paper. Once you have embedded a planning cycle into your church life, you will find planning becomes easier and takes less time.
Plan with prayer
The process of planning our future is, in the end, a spiritual discernment process which must be wrapped with prayer. I write this on the day of the anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero 30 years ago. His words give us a firm foundation for what we are on about.
This is what we are about:
We plant the seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it well.
It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way;
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
Archbishop Oscar Romero
Article first appeared in Australian Leadership