“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Reflection on Mutual Ministry Reviews and Small Church Vitality

I am in the process of preparing for our annual Mutual Ministry Review. This process includes the vestry (governing board of the parish), the clergy (priest and deacon) and all other lay leaders of the parish (music director, parish admin, etc.). The idea is that each of us spends some time reflecting on the work we have done over the last year in our various ministries. We take into consideration the goals we set last year at our MMR and how well we lived into them, what our challenges were, and what were our successes.

Each of us individually, will offer a reflection on ourselves and the ministry we have led. We also take into consideration any challenges or joys we have experienced in our personal lives (birth of a child, loss of a family member, etc), and how that influenced the ministry. The rest of the group will have the opportunity to respond in order to both support the ministry this person has done and honor it, even in and with the various challenges the person may have faced.

The Mutual Ministry Review Process is not an invitation to criticize one another or the clergy. The hope is we are able to be honest in our self reflection, supported in a safe group, where we are held accountable in love. The idea is further create self motivated leaders invested in the ministries of the parish. This is further emphasized by the mutuality of the review. It is not about members of the parish reviewing the clergy as an employer would review an employee. Rather it is a model that encourages all the leaders of the congregation to work as a team creating, implementing, assessing, and reviewing the ministries of the parish. We have a second meeting in July where we set our goals for the year to come. These goals will define what the parish will emphasize in its life over the year to come. The will form the foundation for the Mutual Ministry Review next year.

A large portion of my self review will be looking at vitality in a small congregation. What causes this vitality and what does it look like? And it what ways is our congregation showing signs of vitality and in what ways are we not?

Over the years I have spent a great deal of time reading books (Kennon Callahan's various Twelve Keys series, Diana Butler Bass, various Alban Institute selections on church size, growth, health, vitality etc.) and attending workshops on church growth. I have implemented new language into our parish life on the themes of Mission and Ministry. I have worked to help us find our passion.

A recent article in the Alban Institute Magazine, CONGREGATIONS, addresses vitality in small congregations. (See Spring 2007, "A Saving Remnant Vitality in Small Congregations" by Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook). Listed are twelve signs of vitality in small congregations:

1. A generosity of spirit is grounded in a theology of abundance. (Even as small congregations live with limited resources they find a way to be abundant).

2. There is an openness to creativity and new experience: new people, new ideas, the arts.

3. The congregation has a commitment to the ministry of every baptized person: the ministry of every member counts and is received through baptism rather than confirmation or ordination.

4. There is extensive emphasis on hospitality and keeping the doors open to the community: people in the community know they can come to the congregation for help.

5. Members are immersed in prayer and worship.

6. Formation for all is a key value, with an emphasis on small groups for study and nurture.

7. Intergenerational participation occurs in all aspects of community life.

8. members experience reconciliation and healing of the disjointed parts of their lives.

9. Share leadership and decision making occur at all levels.

10. The congregation has a focus on Christ's mission in the world and a commitment to social justice through outreach and service.

11. The church seeks ecumenical and interfaith partnerships, celebrates its denominational identity in an expansive sense, and is open to those beyond traditional boundaries.

12. The congregation practices ecological consciousness through the care of resources, stewardship, and the environment.
(Compiled by Frederica Harris Thompsett and Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, Pastoral Excellence Project, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

Now I am always somewhat sceptical of lists like these. But this one is included in an article that states the ways congregations are vital is as varied as there are congregations. So. These are just some ways, some signs.

Another important fact in the article states that "half of the congregations in the United States have fewer than 100 regularly participating adults...and a full quarter of congregations have fewer than 50..." (pg 28).

So. If being small is the norm for many churches in this country then it seems to me we need to find ways to be creative in our smallness. Either that or we close our doors and all move to a big church. Actually though I wonder about this BIG mentality, as if bigger is better. It seems we often think this way. And loads of churches place all their emphasis on "growing." But for years I have been talking about growth in faith, ministry, and spirituality, as being important not size. No one wants to feel like he or she is welcome in a church just because the church needs warm bodies to fill the pews or more pocket books to pay the bills. People come to church looking for community. They want a community that has vitality and offers folks a way to make meaning out their lives, to make a difference in the world.

I also know that a lot of folks just want to come to church on Sunday, have a nice worship experience and go home.

Therein, perhaps, lies the tension.

What I'm discovering is that newcomers in the church are more ready and willing to jump in and get involved than the "old timers." So, in part, for a church to gain momentum in its vitality, it takes a certain number of newcomers who are invested in the mission and ministry of the parish, before the congregation begins to look and feel and act vibrant. Someone has suggested that this happens once the newcomers equal about 25% of the congregation.

Somewhere in all of this is where I am going with my self-reflection. In what ways have I, as leader of this parish, been invested in shaping and forming newcomers and guiding them into the mission and ministry of the parish? And to what degree have I helped the parish grow in its sense of mission and ministry? And, of course, to what degree have I personally been invested and grown in the ministries of this parish?

So. Now I wonder. What do you all do to reflect on your various ministries, lay or ordained, as individuals, or as communities?