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
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
13 41 41 23
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.
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-
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
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
|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
|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
Well organised Services
|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
Flexibility, ability to delegate
|What expectations are placed on other leaders?||Time and effort
May not be ‘other leaders’ – you’re it!
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
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
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’?
‘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.
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 ) 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 do for our hopes for the future.
We began on June 10th by creating a time line recording the year when those present joined Christ Church. This is what it showed
1990 2000 2010 2018
x xx x x x x
We were clearly only a small sample of the congregation, so that it is not wise to draw any significant conclusions from this distribution. It may make sense to add to this diagram by asking those attending in the next week or two to record on a card the year they first joined Christ Church and adding the information to this simple diagram.
Here are a few general observations about time lines:
Occasionally there are clear clusters and gaps which may have obvious explanations, for example a cluster due to new housing and so new people living in the parish, or a gap due to an especially unpopular vicar.
Usually (but not in this small sample) there are several recent arrivals which reminds us that people are still joining, even though we may be losing members through death or moving away at the same time.
Sometimes a cluster of joiners can come to dominate within a church so that the church’s activities are geared to its particular changing interests as the cluster get older and other age groups are overlooked. And so on.
We then divided into two generational groups (the generation of arrival, not age!) and invited each to work together to record the salient points of what happened as it lives in their memories. This is what they recorded
The ’90’s generation
Vocations (not recently) [I take it this is shorthand for vocations to ordained ministry, because there are other very valid vocations as well!]
Youth Group – Lake District
Rebuilding Church Hall
Link with FOCC
School services for LRGS and Ripley
1991 Night Shelter opens
1993 Passion Walk
1998 PJ Ballard leaving
Holy Week “school” and other events
Several Confirmation Candidates events – Over Wyresdale and Whitby
Jesus Shaped People
Giving in Grace
Tiddlers (Mini Movers)
2007 150th Anniversary
2007/2009 Loss of older stalwarts – Jennifer, Jessica, Jeanette, Kim, Lesley, Ann T
The ’00’s generation
92/93 Night Shelter and growth
Tiddlers 2015 >
Firelighters 2005 – 2012 (?) + revival
Childrens Church (ebb and flow)
Mens Group (up and down)
Deaths/Funerals – Alan S, Kim, Ann T, Jessica, Jennifer
Curates – Susan, Andrew P
Placements/Readers – POT
“Exports” – Sharron, Lorraine
2007 – 150th Anniversary and Hall Rebuild
Secondary School use of Church increases LRGS
Eco-Church/Grdn (?) 2015>
2015 – JSP
Baptisms up in 2016
down in 2017
Note: I have used italics to make my own comment or to interpret arrows or other symbols.
There is a good chance that most members will understand these notes and the references they make to organisations and people, but outsiders will be forced to guess what FOCC or GinG stands for, and possibly miss the implications of many of the references.
Many Churches have produced “Histories of themselves” though these have largely been about the building itself and perhaps a bit about the various vicars. Nothing wrong with that, but a history of what happened to the congregation would be equally important, probably more interesting and help newcomers and visitors understand more of what you are about and what you stand for. These notes could be turned into sentences designed to help outsiders grasp what has happened to you, especially if they also gave an assessment of the impact of various events, for example the impact of use by schools, the loss of older stalwarts and the Night Shelter as well as Jesus Shaped People and Giving in Grace.
Maybe someone – or even a small team – could take on the responsibility of producing such a ‘History’. It might even be taken up as a local history project by one of the local schools with two possible end products
A time line based exhibition of what has happened with memories, photos, comments and even events or themes (Christ Church in the war; Christ Church and the Homeless in Lancaster; Christ Church and women clergy; Christ Church and children)
A booklet with photos (local papers usually have great archives of historic photos) and personal memories, gathered by children or researchers interviewing members and residents. The same material of course could feature in both.
In the Sermon I mentioned the challenge of the story we tell ourselves and others. Lots of things happen to us whether we like it or not but to some extent we have a choice of how we respond and what we eventually make of things. With this in mind we spent a few moments thinking about words or phrases which might sum up or characterise our shared story.
Possible Descriptions of Christ Church
Encouraged to be involved
Genuine caring – both practical and in prayer
Responsible for the community as a whole
Fragile in terms of numbers
What to do with these descriptions
Please reflect on them carefully
I recall one congregation which cheerfully said we are very friendly and welcoming, and who were then being taken aback when several people said No you are not! You are friendly and welcoming to people like yourselves but not to the younger generation or to people who would like to see change.
So test these descriptions with others –
How do you see us?
What is the evidence for our inclusivity?
How do we show mutual support?
What form does our responsibility for the community take?
And so on.
And then, more difficult probably but spiritually important, is our fragility and vulnerability a serious problem or might it be an essential part of being a Christian Church?
We spent most of the remaining time looking at the usefulness of a simple life-line diagram.
This was partly because with comparatively small numbers able to attend any results could not be relied on for building future policy. But the suggestions which follow may provide a useful resource for shared reflection and possible testing of the congregation’s position.
The balance between net contributors and net dependents
The horizontal line divides the net dependents below the line (the very young and the very old) from the net contributors above the line. (The word ‘net’ is very important because the young and the old make a real contribution to the life of the church while the net contributors are also ‘receivers’.) Here we only focus on two broad categories of contribution – finance and responsibility.
If the horizontal line gets too high, the situation as it is becomes unsustainable. This does not mean that everything collapses but certain key things just stop happening; e.g. little or no children’s work, the housebound are neglected.
But also when there are few net contributors they themselves can become overwhelmed and disheartened so that a downward spiral begins. But we must be realistic: we cannot usually do all we would wish to do, and to beat ourselves up because of impossible ideals is a serious spiritual mistake. What is needed is a mature balance between the two ‘halves’.
Three major parts of the life line
It is not easy to find neutral labels (‘decline’ sounds reprehensible but every life inevitably ends in some sort of decline unless it is cut off early).
The first part is growth and development
The second is responsibility and maintenance
The third is retirement and handing over.
Each part is important, but many churches (and individuals) have a bias or preference for one part rather than the others, regardless of our chronological age. Some churches focus on beginnings, bringing people to faith, challenging folk with new ways, going for growth and the like. Others focus on maintaining what they have and keeping the show on the road, sensing that this may not be so heroic but still demands a great deal of energy and time. A few focus on the care of the elderly, making provision for the bereaved and for the large number of people living alone, the kind of caring which doesn’t often involve recruitment to the congregation.
I once came across a church with a very large staff which had team members who were each allocated specific responsibility for one of these three parts, but that is a luxury most churches cannot now afford. Nevertheless it is something we might reflect on.
If we identify a serious gap in our own resources we are still presented with a significant choice:
We either say everyone just has to go without
Or we search for someone (or more than one) who could help us.
More rarely than I would have liked I have come across churches who have asked for help from members of neighbouring churches (and many churches are actually encouraged by being asked for help).
Long term commitments like running a Junior Church or starting a youth club etc may be difficult, but single projects like a summer holiday club or organising a pilgrimage or running a survey can be easier, as can periodic (eg once a month) Lunch Clubs or CAMEO Coffee mornings. (CAMEO stand for Come And Meet Each Other).
A small reflection we did together revealed that everyone present felt that Christ Church was near the part three section of part two – just before the ‘retirement and handing over!’
We considered briefly an elaboration of the life cycle diagram which reflects the life of a community rather than an individual, which consists of a whole series of overlapping life cycle. This works when each generation (each life cycle) is prepared to take its turn at responsibility and at handing over to those it has nurtured.
We concluded with a brief exercise to help us reflect on why people choose (and then stay with) a church using the metaphor of choosing a place to live.
Those who sell houses say it all has to do with
Location: Where it is in relation to all the other things we need – shops, schools, work place etc
Facilities: Does it have enough bedrooms for our family? Do we want a garden? An off road parking space? And so on.
But it may well also involve
Condition: Will it need too many alterations or repairs before its fit for our needs?
Feel: Some people sense immediately that this is ‘us’ – we could be happy here!
We took a straw vote about our own reasons for choosing Christ Church.
one person said location
one person location + feel
one person facilities + feel
three people feel
Feel nearly always wins hands down! It is worth reflecting when we are considering growth and recruitment that it is this largely undefinable ‘feel’ that plays such a large part. So, for example, when a church has spent a lot of time and money adding kitchen and toilets etc (Facilities!) there can be disappointment that numbers have not increased.
What we have been able to do together is simply to begin to share our thoughts about various aspects of who we are as a church. This report summarises many of those initial thoughts but they need to be worked, discussed and developed. They are indications of what you are likely to do well (as well as things you may not want to do) which will act as a kind of foundation or basis for future planning. Other churches may have had great success doing this or that but it may be a mistake to try to imitate them if that isn’t going to fit with who you are.
You can find a fuller discussion of the kind of things we have done together in my book
Developing Your Local Church : Working with the Wisdom of the Congregation
Published by SPCK
13th June 2018