Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reversing the Decline

Reversing the Decline
A Three Pronged Approach to Revitalization in the Church

Here is an outline of my current project. I have been invited to give the keynote address at the Diocesan Convention in Montana and then tour the Diocese go give power point presentations on the following material. The Bishop of Montana, Frank Brookhart has encouraged me to write this up. Given my experience in smaller congregations in the Episcopal Church during these past 41 years, I thought it made sense to share a conceptual framework for revitalization in the local congregation. Here is an outline of the work I am doing. I am more than half way through the project, which will be a cross between a book and a manual for church leadership. 

There are lots of book out on church growth out there. What I hope to do in all this is to participate in the conversation I believe the church needs to have as we consider the challenges facing us. 

But, what I believe is this; we must begin to think about reversing the decline we are in. Frankly, I believe we have been all too passive in accepting decline as if it were inevitable. I do not think this is necessarily so. There is also a great burst of energy "out there" within the Episcopal Church in particular and within the Progressive and Emerging Church in general for a new optimism. 

To reverse the decline we are currently experiencing, I believe we need to take stock of and strategize on how we might mobilize the local congregation around three general areas of community life.

I Community Ministry: 
Organizing the church's life around the needs of real human beings for justice and healing.
One on One conversations with communities leaders. How to organize and conduct those conversations.
Research and Demographics. The critical importance of doing your homework.
Identifying Issues: The act of identifying the issue(s) the congregation will organize its life around.
Networking: Identifying allies and those who will challenge the congregation's values.
Action Plan: Identifying what the congregation will do about any particular action.
Evaluation and making Community Ministry a continuing loop of a congregation's lead mission.

II. A Membership Drive. 
This is often called a Stewardship Drive in the Episcopal Church but I am using a word here "membership" as the "marketing" side of Stewardship. In the same way that NPR and PBS run membership drives, so too the church needs to "market" itself to the world and community it finds itself in.
Thus it builds a five step Membership Development Program as follows
1. Visibility. Every congregation needs to increase its visibility.
2. Greeting. Greeting skills need to be sharpened.
3. Orientation. Congregations need to help orient newcomers to the life of the church
4. Incorporation. The membership team needs to figure out when and how to "pop" the question of formal membership.
5. Apostolic Call. The job is not done when you have a pledge card. Only when each and every member of the congregation has the opportunity to participate in the church's ministry does our work have any sense of completeness.
Ongoing then the Membership Team will continue to "manage" the membership roster on a regular basis; no less than once a month.

III. Storytelling.
The third part of each presentation will be about the importance of sharing our faith through story. We will consider the importance of small groups; from Adult forums, group spiritual direction, reading groups all the way to altar guilds and choirs and how each group provides and opportunity to tell the story of Jesus and his love for us. The spirituality of a congregation becomes part of the ultimate appeal of a church.

The essence of mission and revitalization involves this and much more. But this conceptual framework provides a beginning.

Here then is the general outline of what I hope to present to the Diocese of Montana and within my new book. Please do let me know what you think.
Fr Paul


Chuck Riffee said...

I agree. The Episcopal Church has so much hope, beauty and joy to offer in a time in which, not just main line churches, but our country is in a state of decline. The Episcopal Church, more than any I have experienced, celebrates God's presence, in the Eucharist and in our lives, whatever our station, or state of affairs. That makes us vitally relevant to all issues facing humanity.

Anonymous said...

These are excellent points and need to be shared in all of our dioceses. I'm sending this to our Rector- along with the Vestry they are addressing these issues. Acknowledging the challenges is a first step.

Ken said...

Well said. I am so tired of people excusing the church by suggesting our future is in 10 member house churches! Maybe that was right in the first century but I doubt many house churches ever built a hospital!