Rev Richard Impey

An Initial Look at Who we are and What we are likely to do well

 

An Exploration of our Common Mind

 

A Report for Christ Church Lancaster

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Introduction

This report is based on three exercises we did together in May 2018. They were designed to give us a sense of our common or shared mind, which means the assumptions and convictions we share as a local church. Our common mind consists of assumptions and convictions that are shared by the majority of us; it does not necessarily coincide with those of any single member, though most people are happy to go along with them. Our common mind is an indication of who we are together (rather than who we are as individuals) and what we are likely to do well (because we want to do it) as a church.

 

Our common mind is not a fixed thing, though it cannot normally be changed easily and quickly. Like most individuals we need time to change our minds, especially when deep convictions and long held assumptions are involved. For this reason the implications of this report should be regarded as matters for review, which need to be understood and assessed rather than simply acted on as if they were hard facts. Many aspects of life are like that: we look in a mirror to check on our appearance – if our hair is untidy or there is a smudge on our coat we take steps to put it right. And if someone we trust suggests we have acted unkindly, we may want to do what we can to correct it.

 

So these results need to be discussed and assessed before they are acted on! On June 10th we will be able to do more work together, but in the meantime it would be good for as many people as wish to, to reflect on what follows and be prepared to ask questions then.

 

Our Shared Outlook

(We did this exercise together on Sunday 6th May, during the 10.30 morning service.)

 

James Hopewell, an American Theologian suggested in his book Congregation that there were four major outlooks or ways of looking at things adopted by Christians. His suggestion lies at the heart of this exercise.

 

Expressed as points of the compass, (but without any implication that North is colder or South warmer!) to look

 

North

Is to stress the importance of obedience especially to rules and laws found in the Bible, and to legitimate authorities both in church and state. The kind of stories such an outlook favours are those where the ‘goodies’ are vindicated and the ‘baddies’ get their comeuppance!

 

East

Is to value vision and inspiration – as one theologian put it a hundred years ago “Men do not rise because they are bidden, but because they are inspired”. Stories of journeys and adventures with heroes and heroines are preferred.

 

South

values education leading to insight and understanding. We regularly need to understand both rules and authorities as well as visions to discern between the good and the bad to be found in them. Many novels explore such themes and help us understand the complexity of life.

 

 

West

Is to emphasise the practical and ask will it work? And  can we pay for it? Such an outlook may not favour stories or novels at all but prefer manuals and guides about how to do things.

 

Most of us will recognise that each outlook has its strengths and importance, but equally most of us have a preference. This is not usually a ‘pure’ version of North or East etc but a mix of half East half South and so on. This is not necessarily something that we argue for but something we sense about ourselves, that is part of the way we are.

 

Two observations

1 the longer we think about it the harder it often becomes! Just go with your feeling about it

2 one important clue can be the sense that one outlook is definitely NOT you, in which case look in the opposite direction

 

 

Reflections on the result

There is a predominance of outlooks in the bottom half of the diagram, on the South side of the East-West line.

 

This kind of dominance is a typical result: having done this exercise with nearly one hundred different churches I have only once found anything that looked like an even spread in all four quadrants, and only once had all outlooks in only one quadrant. Not that other outlooks are just like yours – the dominant direction varies considerably but there is nearly always a dominance!

 

This is an indication of your common mind. You are the kind of community that will find it easy to welcome people with a similar outlook but those who feel most at home with rules, regulations and a stress on authority will not find you congenial companions. (In God’s economy there are almost certainly other nearby churches for them!)

 

When I do this exercise as part of a ‘Training the New Vicar” (its the parish that actually does the training – I only facilitate it) this is a significant test. Should the vicar prefer an outlook completely opposite to the local church the exercise predicts that they will have some real difficulty in getting on well together. I do not ask the vicar to identify their outlook but sometimes I have had private conversations about the implications, which need not detain us here. The problem with ‘opposites’ is the difficulty of understanding one another – its not a simple matter of disagreeing with each other its a rather deeper inability to understand what the other is assuming or taking for granted.

 

(It will always be the case that national and diocesan initiatives will not be enthusiastically responded to by some parishes because it does not reflect their own range of outlooks. Because there are all kinds of outlooks in different parishes this will always happen, whatever the initiative, its just that different parishes will feel its not really their thing!)

 

But I do often say that the happiest outlook for a vicar is just to one side or the other of the dominant outlook: if the vicar’s outlook is exactly the same there is a real danger of complacency and mutual satisfaction which is not healthy!

 

You may come to other conclusions in your discussions with each other.

 

Our Purposes as a Local Church

People come to church, and belong to churches, for a whole variety of reasons. Most people have a number of reasons rather than just one. In this exploration of the purposes we have here at Christ Church we shall ask ourselves (the dozen who took part in this exercise) first to say what they feel is the present mix of purposes at Christ Church, and then second, to say what they would like or prefer the mix or balance to be.

 

In order to do this we identify four major purposes for local churches based largely on an interpretation of the Lord’s summary of the Law (in Matthew 22. 37-40) about Loving God and Loving our neighbour. This can be illustrated in two dimensions – the vertical to represent love for God and the horizontal to represent love for  our neighbours.

 

 

If we use W to stand for Worship, our love for God, this will be an essential part of every Christian purpose. Love for the neighbour with us in the Church involves being part of a Fellowship of mutual support and encouragement, W+F. Love for the neighbour we come across in our daily lives – who may or may not be a fellow Christian – is represented by Service to those in (all kinds of different) need, W+S. And then there are the neighbours we are unlikely to meet face to face who suffer from natural disasters, injustices and war – our love for them can be expressed in terms of Campaigning for a better world, W+C. There is a fourth major purpose which does not fit this neat scheme: the people who come to join in Worship but who emphatically do not wish or do not have the freedom to join in anything else. This may be because they are carers who cannot be away for long, or people whose lives are so busy with family responsibilities or work that they cannot be involved in fellowship, service or campaigning: these we represent as Just W. This does not mean that they make worship more of a priority than the others do, simply that they do not want to be involved in the other three ways.

 

Everyone was invited to distribute ten votes between these four main purposes to indicate first what they thought the balance of purposes is in Christ Church at the moment, and then second, to indicate their own preference.

 

When the votes had been collected but before they were counted the following was offered as a way of interpreting the results:

 

Possible Tensions

For both sets there are three broad possibilities

1 One purpose dominates, receiving more than half the votes, a 50+ church

2 Two purposes receive approximately equal votes, a 40:40 church

3 Three purposes receive approximately equal votes, a 30:30:30 church

 

A 50+ church usually functions happily with the three ‘lesser’ purposes functioning as minority concerns – which does not mean unimportant – alongside the dominant one.

 

A 40:40 church is likely to experience a tension between the two purposes vying for attention and support. Often this tension is not difficult to manage, but it can easily be upset by, for example, a new vicar who supports one much more than the other with the result that one feels vindicated while the other feels neglected.

 

A 30:30:30 church is different again – it finds making a decision in favour of any purpose difficult because none has sufficient support: 30 in favour and 60-70 against, mainly because they are lukewarm or indifferent. Similarly, turnout for an event for one of the purposes (it does not matter which) is likely to attract only a third of the membership, something that people, especially vicars, who have come from a 50+ church find so disappointing that they can abandon the effort and nothing significant gets done.

 

Pressure for Change

Any significant difference between the first and second votes – between our estimate of the present position and the balance we would prefer – will indicate a pressure for change in that some purposes will have less support and others more. This pressure will be a useful indication of what we might focus on in any planned development.

 

The results were then counted.

The present position

            Just W             W+F                W+S                W+C

            35                    45                    33                    17

 

Our preference

            13                    41                    41                    23

 

 

One the next page these results are displayed as pie charts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Present balance of

purposes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our preference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interpreting the result

These results are not the easiest to interpret! (This is often the case)

There are several reasons for this

One is that those present are only a modest proportion of the congregation: it is hard to estimate how significant this is, because those present are still representative of the congregation.

Another is that although the chart for the present situation is not strictly a 50+ the Worship plus Fellowship clearly has a lead over Just W and W+S who have the same percentage.

But more significant is the shape of your preference which is clearly a 40:40 shape with a possible tension between W+F and W+S.

 

Observations

The present situation is not obviously problematic or hiding tensions due to the balance of purposes.

The preference you have indicated reveals far and away the most common direction for pressure for change – away from Just W (but not in your case from W+F) in favour of W+S and W+C.

 

Words of caution – almost every church wants to draw the Just W folk into fellowship, service or campaigning. This is understandable when it often seems that we haven’t got all the people we need to do the things we want to do, but Just Worshippers can easily be put off and stop coming at all! A simple conversation  to test whether they would like to be involved in anything else, without putting pressure on them and making it clear that they are always welcome whatever, may be wise. But after all such people usually make few demands on us – we are worshipping together anyway – and can frequently be an ‘investment’ in the sense that when their situation changes they may be glad to join in much more with a church where they already feel at home.

 

Our preference does however indicate the direction in which change and development is likely to be welcome, but there can be concealed snags. One is that we can often find ourselves wishing for things that we are unwilling or unable to do ourselves: we have to be realistic – we cannot do everything we would like to do. Hanging onto unrealistic hopes and goals is a short highway to despondency and a debilitating sense of failure.

 

A further exercise – for which we are unlikely to have time unfortunately – is to think carefully about how all the things we presently do contribute in different ways to these four purposes. Many events serve more than one purpose: the breakfast for Christian Aid will provide Fellowship as well as money for the kind of campaigning work Christian Aid does. And so on. Here is a simple format you could use to help with that kind of thinking-

 

Activity Just W W+F W+S W+C
Christian Aid

Breakfast

  Yes   Yes
         
         
         

 

 

Simply list church activities and put a tick or other mark in the columns that seem relevant: I have included the Christian Aid Breakfast as an example

 

 

Sermon

In the sermon I took up the theme of Unity from the Gospel Reading (John 17, especially verse 11)

 

There are various ways of understanding what unity means: the simplest is to assume it is all about agreeing with one another so that everyone thinks and feels alike and there are no rows. It may be the simplest but it is very limiting! People do have genuine disagreements about important things, whatever we might naively think about an ideal world!

 

But complete agreement is not the only way people can be one in Jesus’s sense. It is quite possible, indeed often highly desirable for people maturely to agree to differ. We can say to each other “I’m glad that you are doing your thing, which isn’t mine; and I hope you can be glad I’m doing my thing which I know isn’t yours”. In such ways we can be supportive of one another without having to be actively engaged in things that are not priorities for us. (This is an important aspect of the way God has given us different gifts for building up the church.) The community of the church – us together – can and should do much more than any one member can do on their own, or even with a bit of help!

 

One of the limitations of the ‘simple’ view of unity is that we do not know what to do when serious disagreements do arise. Because we think they should not happen we make no provision for dealing with them when they do! (What often happens is that people who disagree at all seriously are made to feel troublemakers, ‘upsetting the apple cart’, so that they leave the church with those who remain being glad to see the back of them).

 

A long time ago I had some Canadian Christian friends who were Mennonites, a Christian tradition formed at the Reformation of the sixteenth century, part of what is called the Anabaptists. They are relatively unknown in England because they originated in eastern Europe and have remained for the most part German speaking, but they are widespread in America and Canada. They have a quite progressive approach to disagreements in the church – they take it for granted that they will occur! But instead of being resigned to this, every Mennonite church, so I understand, has a reconciliation committee to deal with the problem. (It cannot be left to the vicar to sort these things out because the vicar is frequently involved in the disagreement!)

 

Living with disagreements is part of understanding the place of tensions in any family, church or wider community. Tensions that are not understood or faced are usually destructive of unity, but when they are faced and recognised they can in fact become very constructive – not always, but often. My enthusiasm may need to be held in check by someone else’s realism, my lethargy may need to be overcome with the help of another’s encouragement. Together we can do things which are most unlikely to happen if left to just me!

 

You together, you-in-the-plural, (not you-one -at-a-time) will need to learn how to be united with Christ and one another with all your differences (from Christ as well as each other), which involves shared thought and discussion and hard work.

 

The Importance of Size

Adapting a study originating in America I suggest that there are important differences between local churches which relate directly to the number of people actively involved, in short, to their size. These different sizes I label Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large – just like pullovers! (The America labels are Family, Pastoral, Program and Corporate, and their sizes are generally larger.) One of the important features of size is the way in which different size churches are organised (or organise themselves). This means that growth from one size to another (or a reduction in size) is not at all a straightforward matter. It is somewhat akin to growing up from childhood to becoming an adult – we grow out of our clothes but also leave behind dependency on our parents as well as childish attitudes and concerns.

 

It is not easy – nor is it really necessary – to be precise about the size of church membership. We already have several candidates like the Electoral Roll and the Usual Sunday Attendance, but an estimate of the number of people actively or regularly involved might be different again. Most churches will be able to identify with one of the sizes (or with an in-between size). They are

 

Small                           Medium                       Large              Extra-Large

            less than 30                  50 – 120                       180+                500+

 

You will have noticed the ‘gaps’ which are deliberate: they are the transition or in-between sizes which usually involve organisational challenges. In brief, a church in transition is becoming too large to be organised in the way that is natural to the smaller size, but not yet large enough to be able to sustain the pattern of organisation natural to the larger size.

 

I suspect that most people have an awareness of these differences, but it is not often brought to to the top of our minds. We divided into small groups to work on a set of questions related to ‘smaller’ and ‘larger’ (we do not need to work it out for all sizes!) The answers have been brought together in a Table on the next page.

 

 

 

Table of Contrasts comparing the way different size churches organise themselves

 

Question Smaller Churches Larger Churches
What are the advantages of these different sizes? Personal, intimate, greater percentage involved

Easier for inclusion – having a role/position

People know each other

 

Intimate

Lots of things happening

 

Isolated position, difficult to find a place

More people to do things and more variety

Reach more people

What are their natural limitations? People, money

 

 

Social restrictions, reduced age scope, pressure for contribution

Can easily fall out

Less outreach, less people to share

Invisibility, greater potential for pastoral needs not being met and for falling out

Difficult to find place to contribute or participate

Less personal

Impersonal

What do ordinary members tend to expect from these size churches? To know and be known

 

Personal connection, sense of belonging

Well organised Services

Constant access to clergy

Quality of worship and leading. Competence

More activities

 

Well organised Services

Leadership

What are the expectations placed on clergy in these sized churches? Expected to do pretty much everything

Pastoral personal visible

“Front of House” – always available

To be always accessible

Providing a structure, providing authority

Organise, co-ordinate

Flexibility, ability to delegate

 

Vision

What expectations are placed on other leaders? Time and effort

 

Multitask

May not be ‘other leaders’ – you’re it!

Professional skills

Wider groups expected to take responsibility

Good managers, energetic, visionary

To share the work

How do people best communicate within these churches? Conversation

Directly, word of mouth

In person, visits

Online

Need more structure, e.g. pew sheets

Email, Facebook, texts

How and what do these size churches communicate to outsiders? Noticeboard, Word of mouth, events/services

Issue of friendliness and inclusivity

By notices, pew sheet, word of mouth

Courses, events, house groups

Maybe by website etc A place to hide

Email etc provide services

Where does day to day administration happen and who does it? Vicar at vicarage

Whoever is there

Volunteers, vicarage, PCC

Administrator at Office

Named people

PCC vicarage volunteers

 

 

 

There were no answers to the question Any other contrasts?

Some questions to reflect on as you read this table: do you agree with all these observations? Are there important things you would like to add? Do this table help you sense how these contrasts make it difficult to move from smaller to larger? Do you feel that you have a definite preference for one size? What does this say about the slogan ‘Going for growth’?

 

Our Experience

‘Going for growth’ can be difficult for many local churches for a number of reasons. A major one is habit, in the sense of what we have got used to, which can soon become what seems right and normal. But another is lack of experience: no one, or hardly any one, has any experience of belonging to a larger church so none of us ‘know how it works’ from first hand experience. We don’t know ‘how to do it’ and we sense the loss of familiar things more than the arrival of new possibilities.

 

This is a problem that can especially affect clergy: many curates – not all – have their formative experience as an ordained minister in larger churches but then move on to look after several smaller churches. The smaller numbers can unconsciously feel like something of a let down – its not what they have become used to. And if the new churches sense that the new vicar thinks they are a ‘poor show’ by comparison, they soon grow indignant or loose heart.

 

We drew the following diagram to record our own experiences: the little square shows where we had our formative experience of church, the arrowhead is where we feel we are now and the line connecting them is an abbreviated version of our experiences.

 

Our experience of different size churches

 

Small Medium Large Extra-Large
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       

 

 

 

 

Of course growth need not simply be from smaller to larger: it can take the form of multiplying congregations by church planting in another location, or hosting a different, distinctive congregation at another time in the same building, for example, a Service without Books aimed at people with learning difficulties, or one that caters for families with an autistic member (a specialised thing to do) or for families with a member suffering from Alzheimers (The Dukes Theatre provides such events, as does the church in Goosenagh) or even – and I know this is controversial – for the LGBT community.

 

 

We meet again on Sunday June 10th with an examination of our church story, what has happened in our ups and downs and what they does for our hopes for the future.