The Gathering of Leaders conference focused on what it means to be a Misional church. Much of the initial conversation is now old news for those of us who have been doing church for a number of years, but later on the conversation deepened. We began with the typical questions a church must ask of itself: "Who are you?" and "Where are you going?" and, "What do I/we need to put aside in order to be who it is that God intends for me/us to be and to go where God intends for me/us to go?"
I have found that churches may look at these questions but many do not take the time to consider them and answer them with depth and insight. To do this a parish needs to understand how to pray and discern corporately as well as individually. As clergy and lay leaders our role in this process is to build trust with the congregation and discerning group from which the discerning work can take place. The leadership needs to also take care of all pressing needs - whatever those may be. A common phrase used in this conference to guide clergy in new calls, "Don't move it, dust it." In other words don't change too much, just clean it up a bit.
The next thing we discussed was the need to build a common language. Church folk often presume that people new to the church know the language, or that they should know it. How can we be intentional to make sure our language is clear: narthex, sanctuary, Lord's Prayer - traditional or contemporary (You mean there are two versions?), and so on.
Ultimately we decided that the Missional process requires intentionality. It matters less what that is specifically, rather it matters that a church have an intentional process for articulating and living into its mission. What is the character/nature of the parish? Help people know who the church is, what the church "does" and how each person can be a part of it. I think that is the most critical - "how can I be a part of this?" No secret entrance process, clear ways in. Give new members parish mentors then move that new member into becoming the mentor for the next new member and so on. Create professional formation, don't be lazy or haphazard, tell the parish story, the Christian story, and teach a common vocabulary.
Regarding new members: for those of us familiar with church - spend some time thinking through what it is/was like to be new to church, what it's like to be unchurched or dechurched. Ponder what it takes to
1. physically go into a church
2. what might a person expect from the church
3. why would a person go to church
4. will the person understand the language used, verbally and written
5. is there helpful signage
6. what "hoops" does a person have to go through to become part of the congregation - to find folks in common and join areas of interest
Lastly, we consider how the Twelve Step Program is effective in addressing the above questions: It has a clear mission, process for entering, process for mentoring, process for getting involved, and offers a real hope for transformation and new life. Some concluded from this Gathering that looking into the methodology of Twelve Step Programs is critical to forming an understanding of how we in the church might help church become more "user-friendly"...
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