Analyzing the Realities
Join Todd Forrest, a faculty member in the College of Theology, as he chronicles his journey to revise his church to better serve the community. Read his first entry in this series here.
The first step in our process was to get an honest picture of who we are.
Everyone in my church had an opinion of who and what our church was and should be. However, just like the rip in the carpet, we had blinders on us that robbed us of reality.
In order for this to be an honest process, there had to be a good dose of humility on the part of the pastor, all the leadership and the church. It goes without saying that this was covered in prayer. This process had the potential to divide as much it as it had potential to unite!
Here was our process:
Step 1: Look at the Numbers
We had to look at some basic figures:
- What was the attendance trend over the last five years?
- What was the makeup of our membership?
- How effective are we at guest retention and member retention?
- What are the demographics of our community, and how have they changed in the last five years?
- Does our church reflect the community?
Tough questions to answer, and it required a little homework to gather this. Our discovery was that we had seen growth (good).
Our membership was getting younger (good).
We had literally hundreds of registered guests (good), but had only retained a small percentage of them (growth area).
Our community had closed an elementary school due to lack of students, and our high school was down more than 200 students.
Our church better reflected our community than five years ago, even if the demographic trend of our community was disturbing.
There was a lot more to this as we looked at salvations, baptisms, small group participation, leaders developed, attendance and financial trends and many other qualifiers of healthy growth.
Step 2: Listen to the People
Our next challenge was to hear from the people. Churches are not about numbers—they are about heart. This was our heart check.
We called them Family Meetings. We divided the church into groups that would meet five times over the course of two months. Each group committed to his or her group for the whole process, and a board member oversaw each group. I attended the first and last meetings of each group.
The purpose of the groups was to let everyone talk about their church. Some shared stories of the outpouring of love from our church as they endured trials of life. Others had an ax to grind with a person or the church in general. We listened to both of them.
A basic questionnaire, given to each member, recorded observations on our overall health and health in specific areas. We also performed a modified SWOT analysis. I will share more about this data later, but from the initial overview of the notes taken at these meetings, I saw many had concerns that were unfounded. Ironically, some proposed new ministries in our church that were, in reality, already operating.
I made a note to myself: I needed to communicate who we are and what we are doing more effectively.
Step 3: Clarify Our Identity
Remember, all of this was just to analyze our realities. What I thought about our church and what they thought about our church may have been miles apart. We had to get on the same page before we could do anything.
The last meeting with each group, I responded to some of the issues that needed clarification. Not to defend, but to clarify. It was so important that people felt they had been heard, whether positive or negative.
There were some things stated about the pastor that I just had to take with grace, learn from and move on. I walked them through the vision and values statement and explained each point and word so that we understood who we were.
Then, I asked them in reference to our vision and values, “Is this who we are and who we feel God has called us to be?” Until that question was settled, we could not move forward.
After we spent over two months in this process and many more hours with the board members, we felt we knew who we were, not just who we wanted to be. The consensus we arrived at was that we agreed with the vision, we just needed to realign our processes and practices to more effectively accomplish the vision.
Though this is just a small description of our work, I trust it encourages you to explore the revision process in your church. If you have been there awhile, do this for the sake of being the best you can be as a minister of the Gospel.
I will share the next steps with you in upcoming months.