Renewal Overview (in sequence):
- A commitment to create a process for congregational renewal using Word and Sacrament ministry as the foundation. If you are unclear as to what that means find out before you start. (Hints found under Commitment paragraph)
- Self-assessment using tools and analysis. (Examples are provided to enable the users to develop a specific assessment for their congregation.)
- Develop and commit to a plan tailored for your congregation.
- Implement the plan
- Report on progress at regular intervals, both in printed form and verbal form after services, Voters’ Assembly, etc. Don’t be afraid to repeat the information to make sure the important facts are getting communicated and frequently updated.
Commitment for renewal starts with the Council and Elders/Deacons agreeing to move forward, followed by the Voters’ Assembly approval and buy in. The pastor assumes the role of spiritual coach and advisor. Once the Voters Assembly has approved going forward then as soon as possible start education classes on Word and Sacrament topics for the leadership and the congregation. See Smalcald Articles III/VIII/9-10.
Once approved a series of educational efforts centered on Word and Sacrament is started for the entire congregation. It is important that the majority of the congregation understand and accept the foundation aspects of Word and Sacrament ministry upon which all else is built. See Congregational Renewal Figure1.
Commitment to see the renewal plan to the end is vital to its success! A strong lay leader should head up the overall renewal effort. Perhaps an outside consultant should be considered.
This starts with a series of questions designed to identify strengths and weaknesses in each area which in turn is assigned to an existing board or a new Ad Hoc committee. It may be helpful to obtain outside consulting help doing the assessment to be sure all corners of the congregation are highlighted. Here are some examples:
What is the spiritual health of the congregation? Develop factors and facts during your review. Is the pastor actively involved and supervising all aspects of teaching in the congregation? Are the adult instructors well trained and using orthodox materials that enhance the understanding of the Lutheran faith and the Lutheran confessions? Have they been publicly commissioned for their tasks?
What is the financial health of the congregation? Review financial records, reports, trends, etc. Can everyone in leadership read and understand the significance of the reports? Encourage tithing and a good understanding between tithing and sacrificial giving. Consult a copy of the Lay Persons Guide to Good Church Government for guidance on financial management and budgeting.
What is the administrative health of the congregation? Review and determine if the Constitution and Bylaws, written policies, etc. are up to date. Can our written and verbal communications be improved? Does the website need updating and refreshing more often? Does it publicly reflect the values and confession of our church? Consult a copy of the Lay Persons Guide to Good Church Government for guidance on policy.
What are the demographics of the congregation compared to the community demographics? How could that affect our reasonable expectations? What steps can be taken to improve the demographics of your church?
What is the Christian education health of the congregation? Do a review of Bible classes, Sunday school, VBS, day school, etc. What are the trends and why? Are the adult Bible classes presented at different levels to serve the new Christian and to challenge the better informed? Is the Sunday school using approved materials coming from a Lutheran source? The same question to be asked for VBS, Day School, etc. What is the average attendance of children and adults in the education hour as compared with Divine Services? How many leaders are regular in their attendance in Bible classes? What is keeping people from attending? How are you advertising the topics being covered in all the classes to the congregation on a routine basis? How are people encouraged to start attending? Do you have a beginners Bible class where new (or current) Christians can learn how to use a study Bible and find their way around in it?
How do we routinely communicate with our own members and the community? What is the frequency and quality of our newsletter? Is our website up to date and easy to navigate? Does the website have all the pertinent information a potential visitor would be looking to find? How many different “user groups” are you reaching or should be trying to reach? Does the local community know your website even exists?
Continue on until you have assessed all areas of the congregation’s health in the above manner.
Develop a congregational plan
Once the self-assessment period is completed begin an analysis of the data to identify strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed. Some of these will be internal and some external.
Example: Our internal demographics show a lower percentage of young adults in church than in the community. The obvious response is this is the lack of evangelism connection in this age group. What we do about it is the key. Doing “Lutheran light” services, or going the non-denominational approach is not the answer.
Example: Oregon has a higher percentage of children being raised by grandparents than the national average, so consult the latest census data for your city. In Oregon’s case senior activities might need to address the impact on their child care and rearing responsibilities instead of assuming they don’t have any. Perhaps some sort of child care needs to be provided to free them up for a senior activity. Check out this and similar demographic factors in your area.
Example: Our catechist classes continue while attempting to include more and more of the congregation in them. Multiple adult and youth classes could well be needed, especially the adults where Bible knowledge can have wide extremes. Do we need to have a multi-layered set of classes so the new Christians start on less meaty topics such as how to use a study Bible, Lutheranism 101, etc.
Example: Our youth leave us after high school never to return so how do we fix that? This is a many faceted issue, but one that needs to be addressed. Start with, “How do we treat our youth in terms of assimilating them into the congregation once they are confirmed?” Are we really teaching them how to be Lutheran, or some other religion? What faith building activities do we offer and encourage them to partake while in high school? Do they understand they can participate in boards and committees of the church as non-voting members?
Example: Apathy is alive and well in a number of member families and this condition needs to be addressed in our plan. Apathy is a learned condition so how should we counter it? A large number of Sunday service only members is not a good sign,indicating that this needs to be addressed. Consult a copy of the Lay Persons Guide to Good Church Government for guidance dealing with apathy and related issues.
Example: The school has insufficient volunteers, etc. How different is our curriculum from the public schools, what are we offering that is unique and better? Have we looked into offering a classical education model?
Do we need to change some of the culture in our congregation? Follow this link for information on this topic. http://churchmatterssolutions.org/outreach/changing-culture-info/
Need help in solving a problem? Use this link for a guide to problem solving. http://churchmatterssolutions.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/PROBLEM-SOLVING-101Outline.pdf
Implement the Renewal Plan
Design a plan for the congregation consisting of sections and subsections (milestones) for each area. The final plan should be supplied to each member of the congregation, confirmed or not, and people assigned to the various components of the plan to provide people-power to work the plan to a successful conclusion. One trend should be an increase of the loyalty of the members of the congregation and living the reason why your church exists. See the trend line in Figure 1, Congregational Renewal.
A member of the church council should be appointed to monitor the plan implementation and report its progress to the Voters’ Assembly. The group would also so recommend any needed adjustments in the plan for Voters approval. Progress in making the milestones needs to be reported in the church newsletter.
LC-MS now has a new program for congregations titled as re:Vitality to assist church leadership in their efforts to revitalize their congregations. Three modules are now available for congregations to use at no cost.
The first module is a Self-Assessment tool for leadership to assess the vitality of your congregation through an on-line process. The results are confidential and only come back to your congregation.
The third module is Shepherding the Strays and is just now in Feb doing its final field testing, but is available. This module is also conducted by a facilitator on a Friday evening and Saturday morning. More modules to come, I think.
Note that these modules are for church leadership and in conjunction the remainder of the congregation would be preparing to take the Every One His Witness training, noted above.
For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or Rev. Mark Wood, Director of Revitalization at email@example.com.