Report on Self-Assessment
The church’s self assessment process was facilitated by the Rev. Karen Nell Smith who is experienced in helping churches with their planning and is currently pastor to the Congregational Church of Christ, UCC, North Leominster, MA. The process has included the following events to which all church members and friends were invited:
• A planning session, with 18 participants, to determine major steps
• A questionnaire, completed by 104 people
• Visits to and interviews with eight regional churches identified as “thriving”
• Thirteen small discussion groups in which 98 people participated
• A two-evening visioning and discernment session in which more than 40 people participated each evening
• A final session in which 30 people participated
Reports on all parts of the process are available in paper copies from the church office: the questionnaire, focus groups, reports of church visits, and visioning and discernment events all generated ideas and energy about the future. At the final session, participants identified general themes and lasting ideas as follows:
• Recognizing that we should look beyond attendance at Sunday worship service and consider the success of our church based on the totality of our mission activities
• Expanding, engaging, serving and understanding our wider community
• Opening our doors and letting our own church community, as well as others, know who we are and what we are doing
• Rethinking and renewing our spiritual center
• Always searching for new mission opportunities and shedding activities we are no longer able to support, believing that God is still speaking
• Remaining focused, creative and Christ-centered as we bring our mission statement to life
• Participating, communicating and offering energized education for all
• Taking community leadership on environmental issues
• Seeing our building as an opportunity rather than a burden
The group also considered the following ways that changes in society are causing changes in the way churches function and grow:
1. Newcomers to UCC churches have often NOT been raised Protestant. Many newcomers are Catholic or unchurched.
2. Newcomers approach choosing a church like shopping in a marketplace. They visit several and choose the one that fits their needs best, not necessarily the one that is closest geographically or the one that is the denomination of their parents. 2
3. Many newcomers to church prefer music other than the traditional organ music and classical hymns.
4. People want to be “changed in their hearts” not just confirmed in a faith.
5. Newcomers are looking to be involved in a ministry, not a committee.
6. In 21st century churches, life is changing so quickly that it is more important to live by a vision rather than a strategic plan.
7. The ministry of church is done more by laypeople than by a paid staff.
8. People are looking for a way to be in mission, not focused on giving money to support an institution.
Sources: Kicking Habits, Tom Bandy; Once and Future Church, Loren Mead; The Spectacle of Worship in a Wired World, Tex Sample; and Findings from 2005 FACT study of congregations, Hartford Institute for Religion Research; David Roozen, Carl Dudley (http://fact.hartsem.edu/Press/churchgrowth.htm)
After discussion, participants determined to undertake the following — beginning with the next steps identified below. Subsequently additional actions with specific responsibilities and timetables will be determined and prioritized by the Church Council. All members and friends are encouraged to identify projects in which they would like to be involved. Our cluster system is designed to accommodate special projects and new initiatives, and additional volunteers will be needed for these new tasks. Members of the Church Council will welcome comments and assistance on all parts of our new directions. Please communicate with them. (Church Council comprises Carrie Bail, Sam Humes, Jean Donati, John Craig, Lauren Stevens, Betsy Burris, Anne deGersdorff, Carolyn Behr, Robin Lehleitner, Carl Westerdahl, Jina Ford, Brian Handspicker, and Kevin Jones.)
1. Becoming a gathering place for serving the wider community — Giving witness to the community, like a “city on a hill,” with a focus on gathering to dialogue, educate and learn about wider community concerns, sharing this building, and drawing others in through service and serving; for example, reaching out to children in need, offering services such as tutoring and mentoring
Six-month goals: Clarified focus, organized leadership, and at least one more community-focused program offered
a. Redefine the name of this initiative and clarify its role
b. Establish a group to lead this initiative
c. Communicate with the congregation and key community contacts to gather more information about areas to be addressed; Northern Berkshire Community Coalition can be helpful
d. Invite others into short-term, project-oriented ministries
2. Developing opportunities for growing in our faith — coming together in Sunday morning worship to be unified and centered spiritually; conducting a ministry of education and action engaging all ages by expanding our outreach to students and young adults, revitalizing our Christian education for children and youth, continuing and expanding adult programs; and engaging others through music.
Six-month goals: Shifting from seeing worship as a “religious institution” to “mission and ministry;”
a. Encourage assistance to the Deacons in designing worship
b. Add college and high school students as helpers for Deacons
c. Focus on specific age groups
d. Determine a plan for children’s programs
e. Continue and expand programs such as recent forums
3. Promoting eco-justice — A ministry of environment awareness and action engaging all ages,
involving the building inside and out, offering education and mentoring to youth in the community and
at the College, collaborating with others in the community (CET, Restore), facilitating small group
interaction and dialogue
Six-month goals: Expansion of existing efforts
a. Dialogue with the College and other organizations
b. Educate through forums
c. Evaluate building needs and opportunities
4. Reaching out more intentionally to Williams College (the College) — Engaging students through opportunities such as service projects, environmental programs, and music at the Church; collaborating with college staff and faculty; exploring and developing a deeper relationship with the Center for Developmental Economics to facilitate dialogue with other faiths.
Six-month goals: Engagement of a number of college students, consistent communication with the College and the students, and identified opportunities for involvement other than Sunday morning
a. Begin a grassroots effort with students
b. Initiate an organizational effort relative to building usage
c. Use student orientation (August 31) to offer an invitation to specific, concrete opportunities, projects and services
5. Expanding our welcome and outreach as an “open & affirming” congregation — Doing more for the College and the community in this regard.
6. Enhancing our physical space — So that it is more vibrant and active and reflects what we’re about, the intellectual and spiritual environment that nurtures us.
Six-month goals: A process and plan in place and communicated to the congregation
a. Continue efforts already underway
b. Look at the Sanctuary for incremental change
c. Identify additional opportunities for sharing space
Communicating — sharing with the congregation and the community
a. Create “bill boards” in the church — upstairs and downstairs
b. Create a team and a plan for Public Relations