This week I was a guest blogger for the Flourishing Congregations Institute, a project of Ambrose University in Calgary AB. 70% of motivation comes from the belief that you are able to do what you intend to do. The article highlights 3 proven strategies to help congregations strengthen their belief in their capability to make changes.
This week I was a guest blogger at "Alban Weekly" -- a blog managed by the Divinity School at Duke University. In my article I talk about:
Click the button below to go to the article.
What is a Flourishing Congregation?
As we think about the different congregations we have experienced or know in our communities, I think most of us could say that some "flourished" and others did not. But what makes the difference? Professor Joel Thiessen of Ambrose University in Calgary and his team are starting a long term project to better understand congregational flourishing.
Now Dr. Thiessen has already done some homework for this project. Specifically he has looked at societal reasons in Canada for the decline of the church and the Christian faith over the past 60 years. His major study was recently published in the 2015 book "The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age." I just finished reading it a couple of weeks ago, and it is excellent. He has looked at the religious beliefs and practices of Canadians, who can be categorized into three different groups: those who attend religious services weekly, those who attend services mainly for religious holidays and rites of passage, and those who do not identify with any religious group and never attend religious services. His conclusion is one that many church leaders will affirm: a tsunami of societal change is fostering growing secularization. “Stop blaming churches…. factors beyond what religious groups control significantly account for diminished religious involvement and affiliation.” (Joel Thiessen, The Meaning of Sunday, page 148).
But congregations still want to thrive in these challenging times... and there are indeed congregations that are "flourishing" despite the cultural realities in Canada. So this is Thiessen's next task: to describe the nature of congregations that are thriving in our current social context despite the social context. What can we learn from them to help us all?
This study will continue for many years, and it is only now beginning. In the meantime I commend it to your attention. It is a VERY rare thing for an academic with a heart for Christ's church to look at Canadian realities with the goal of helping the church. I for one look forward to the gleanings of this research team.
What follows is the link to Dr. Thiessen's new blog, and his first post.
Dr. Stanley Hauerwas is Emeritus Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School. He's my favourite theologian. This 10 minute interview seeks Dr. Hauerwas' wisdom on leadership in faith communities. As always, he is very thoughtful.
“Are Congregations Destined to be Controlled by the 80/20 Rule?” --Intentionally Building a Culture of Participation
We’ve all heard it: “20% of the congregants do 80% of the work in a congregation.” Most of us probably believe it’s true. But does it have to be?
We’ve all done it: thinking that the recruitment of people for congregational ministry is problem-solving. Filling a position is too easily seen as averting a crisis. But what if engaging people in congregational ministry is primarily about helping people find their faith more meaningful? What if the work of helping congregants find involvement doesn’t just happen when there is an empty chair to fill, but is a core work of a congregation that is going on all the time?
Some of the most common concerns I hear about in my conversations with congregations revolve around “member engagement”: congregants who believe they are “active members” but infrequently attend worship, people who attend worship but do not participate mid-week, as well as the hesitancy of people to agree to take on leadership roles in congregational life. It is most acutely felt in many congregations when leaders find it hard to fill important ministry positions on committees, in pastoral care, for church school, as well as on the Session.
I wonder if one reason we have these challenges is because we are focused primarily on the needs of the congregational organization rather than nurturing people? On filling an empty chair rather than fulfilling individuals?
I’ve recently come across a free resource designed to help congregations do both that was designed for use in Jewish faith communities. It’s origins is not a problem for us—congregational life is congregational life, and the Old Testament references work just as well for us. The package is called “Repair the World. The Engaged Congregation: a guide to creating a volunteer culture”. The material was produced by JFFixler Group, who are professional consultants in volunteer engagement, and sponsored by several donors (including Canada’s Bronfman family). This straight-forward, user friendly resource helps a congregation establish an engagement working group whose primary task is two-fold: help people find greater meaning in their faith through ministry involvement, and help populate a congregation’s organization with motivated individuals. The resource comes in four documents, each about 16 pages in length. Each booklet contains educational elements, evaluative tools and templates to help the engagement working group. The four booklets focus on four important engagement topics:
1] An Introduction to the Core Competencies of an Engaged Congregation
2] Creating a Culture of Engagement in a Congregation
3] Supporting Persons in Ministry
4] Acknowledging Volunteers
The big benefit of this program is how it helps a congregation take much more seriously the interests, needs, motivation and point-of-view of congregants as individuals who are being invited not only into new ministry opportunities but also into a faith journey. It is also very comprehensive, as it seeks to align the promoted congregational attitude towards involvement with an organization that is oriented to invite, support and encourage participation.
If your congregation feels like it is struggling finding people to fulfill ministries, then this approach and resource may be very helpful to you. If you are interested, drop me a line and I will email this free package to you.
8 December 2014
Westminster Presbyterian Church in Calgary is now utilizing the Narrative Lectionary throughout the congregation: Sunday worship, church school and in the home.
So, to answer your first question, "what is the Narrative Lectionary?" It is a four year cycle of readings that has been imagined and managed by Luther Seminary in the USA. This is what the creators say about the motivation behind this four year old lectionary: "Though the Revised Common Lectionary has united the church in its reading of scripture and has given much-needed structure, it doesn’t present scripture -- especially the Old Testament -- in a way that helps people to become fluent in the first language of faith. The Narrative Lectionary is an attempt to take nine months to do just that."
The Frequently Asked Questions page also has a video intro to the overall plan of the Narrative Lectionary. Resources week by week are provided on-line--and free-- at workingpreacher.org. This site, also managed by Luther Seminary, provides both written and audio podcasts on lectionary texts for both the Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary.
So how is Westminster using the Narrative Lectionary? The minister hosts a Bible study group weekly on the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday. In advance of the goup's meeting participants are sent links to the written and podcast resources for the texts found at WorkingPreacher. Group discussion helps participants delve more deeply into the texts and the insights that arise help shape Sunday's sermon. The church school follows the same texts, so children deal with the same stories as their parents do on Sunday morning. Curriculum materials for the church school teachers are all available on-line for downloading so classes can be prepared. Finally, the picture at the top of this post shows a page from inside the Grade 3 - 6 home guide. This guide provides texts and suggested activities for daily family devotions.
Westminster has been using this lectionary all this year, but in December is introducing it in this far more comprehensive way across the congregation.
On November 22nd, Knox Presbyterian Church in Calgary hosted a workshop on Community Hubs that was presented by the Calgary Interfaith Council. The Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative in its May 2013 report proposed that Community Hubs can be an important means to reduce poverty in the city. The workshop brought people together to explore how their faith communities might participate in--or lead the creation of--a Community Hub.
So what is a Community Hub? Here's the definition from "Enough For All: Unleashing Our Communities' Resources to Drive Down Poverty in Calgary" (Report of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative, May 2013):
"Poverty is most effectively reduced when people work together in their communities to develop actions that meet their real needs. In recent years community-based multi-service sites termed community hubs have been developed in various cities across Canada as an effective approach to poverty reduction. A community hub is an intentionally designed space that facilitates connections among residents for community building, and for programs and services to support individual and family resiliency in the neighbourhood.
"The development of community hubs can serve to build community while bringing services closer to people in their communities and thereby enhance access. In Calgary, the Genesis Centre and several of our Community Resource Centres currently function similar to what is envisioned by a community hub. In order to be effective, community hubs respond to the unique needs of particular communities, so no two may be identical.
"The Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative proposes working with communities to establish a network of community hubs in priority neighbourhoods. Community hubs could provide a variety of programmes and services including childcare, community gardens, mobile health services, civic services, justice services, library services, food trucks, recreation and arts programming, community kitchens, financial literacy, social services, youth and seniors programming, immigration services and Inform Alberta service kiosks. Such centres can also provide local economic development as potential centres of community economic development activity."
Faith communities are seen as important potential participants in this initiative. We are communities who have concern for the poor, and are potential pools of volunteers to help create and manage hubs. Also our congregations may have space in our facilities that can be utilized for a hub.
For congregations seeking a missional focus and open to partnerships this is an initiative that is worth looking into.
Thanks to Knox Church for your initiative in this initiative!
Encouraging Congregant Engagement
What Is Engagement?
It is common today to hear about how important “engagement” is in the workplace, in education and volunteerism, but we don’t hear the term used regarding congregational life. Yet we are very aware of the presence of low engagement among some congregants who:
- have a sense of belonging t a congregation but attend worship sporadically
- attend worship but do not participate in congregational life mid-week
- do not take some part in the many ministries of the congregation
- appear to give low personal priority to their faith, and no priority to its development.
In the engagement literature it is generally thought that a person’s level of engagement in an organization is observable through one’s personal commitment, activity and involvement in the organization. From a faith perspective engagement is perhaps first a spiritual issue that leads to similar consequences. The Letter of James points to this relationship in a blunt manner: “So faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17). His point is that a lively faith desires and endeavours to honour God by serving others in love. Jesus put it this way: those who drink of me—the living water—will see that “out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). Living in Christ and following him as a disciple means that we become sources of the same living water that flows from Jesus through us into the world. A person who lives faith in this manner is fully engaged in their faith. While the Holy Spirit activates and promotes such engagement, we have a role to play as well. And here the engagement literature suggests a few factors that encourage such engagement to happen:
- that how engaged a person will be with God and their faith, and the degree a person lives out that engagement in congregational life and the world, depends on that person's choice to do so and their motivation to do so
- that engagement rests in part on how a person sees and experiences their relationship with their faith community
-- that whole engagement, ultimately, depends on one's individual choice, a congregation (like all organizations) needs to have a culture that promotes engagement's growth.
So what does this mean? One purpose of congregational life and the congregation’s culture is to prompt and facilitate the growth of individual engagement: in relationship with God, in lived faith, and participation in faith community. For over a decade the Gallup organization (yes, that’s right: the people who do polling) has been heavily involved in helping congregations strengthen congregant engagement. Not surprisingly, they think an individual’s faith / church involvement can be measured by the answers they give to four central questions. Those questions are provided below, along with the positive answers that indicate engagement.
1. What do I get – spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically?
- as a member of my congregation, I know what is expected of me
- in my congregation, my spiritual needs are met.
2. What do I give - what valuable contribution can I make?
- in my congregation, I regularly have opportunities to do what I do best
- in the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my church
- the spiritual leaders in my congregation seem to care about me as a person
- there is someone in my congregation who encourages my spiritual development
3. Do I belong - how and where do I fit in?
- as a member of my congregation, my opinions seem to count
- the mission or purpose of my congregation makes me feel my participation is important
- the other members of my congregation are committed to spiritual growth
- aside from family members, I have a best friend in my congregation
4. how can we grow - how are we progressing spiritually?
- in the past six months, someone in my congregation has talked to me about the progress of my spiritual growth
- in my congregation, I have opportunities to learn and grow
The items given in bullet points can form an agenda for congregational development. The more the "climate" of a congregation helps people to experience these qualities of congregational life the more a congregation is doing in order to foster engagement in both faith and participation.
I have a small but growing collection of resources on congregant engagement. In particular:
- an article on how to become more subjective and personal when engaging congregants
- articles on how to use this perspective when inviting people to become involved in a congregational ministry, and to inform an approach to financial stewardship
- I also have a free resource to help congregations strengthen congregant engagement throughout the whole of congregational life. It was prepared for Jewish congregations.
If you want to know more about this important topic just drop me a line.
Do You "Manage" or "Engage" Volunteers?
If you are not sure what the question is asking then you probably “manage” volunteers. For decades in many congregations volunteer management was the approach. The priority was given to the organizational structure and the primary focus was on keeping the structure working. Congregations were not all that concerned with the needs, constraints and aspirations of its volunteers. And they didn’t have to be: the Builder Generation was generally agreeable to adapt themselves to the needs of the organization. For example, my mother didn’t think twice about teaching in the Church School every single Sunday for 9 months, year after year. But as society changed so has the realities of volunteering and it became important to “accommodate” the needs of volunteers. But if your congregation has adapted to current realities by simply accommodating then you probably still have a management mindset that focuses primarily on the needs of the organization.
Engagement is a different point-of-view for understanding volunteerism today, that takes seriously the volunteer’s point-of-view. It is based on the premise that an individual’s decision to become involved in some congregational ministry—as well as the enthusiasm, time, effort and commitment an individual gives to that ministry—depends on a unique internal choice they consciously or unconsciously make. The choice has many possible factors: individual preferences and interests, personal needs and availability, and the matching of skills to the responsibilities. In the internal calculus of engagement people also ask themselves questions like:
The more these factors and interests are met for individuals, the more likely people will
In other words, the more of these factors that are met the more engaged people will be. Canadian research is showing that we like the idea of volunteering, but we also want to talk about the above needs, concerns and interests in order to tailor our involvement. This is the biggest take-away learning from the research today.
Applying that learning in congregations, however, is another matter, because it means we can no longer simply seek out "round pegs to put in round holes" in our organization. The organization itself needs to become responsive and adaptable. But the challenge for congregations today is not unique to us. A 2010 report from Volunteer Canada makes the following blanket statement regarding volunteer organizations in our country: “One of the greatest hurdles [organizations need to overcome] is a traditional mindset of what a volunteer is.” Across the board in Canada volunteer organizations have relied too heavily on a “pool of ‘uber volunteers’ who are aging and tend to represent the traditional volunteer.” The good news of the recent studies by Volunteer Canada is that younger generations think volunteering is important—especially people in their teens and twenties. But engaging them requires a shift away from the traditional mindset of what a volunteer is. We can no longer assume people will simply adapt themselves to the needs of the organization, nor can we assume that simply accommodating volunteers is sufficient. As Volunteer Canada’s 2013 report (“Building the Bridge for Volunteer Engagement”) puts it, “the volunteer relationship today needs an emphasis on reciprocity.” In other words, we need to find a balance between “what are we asking you to do in this ministry?” and “what do we hope participation in this ministry will do for you?”
But at the heart of congregational life, aren’t these things really our hopes for congregants? Congregations are to be places where people can have their needs met while also be a community in which individuals can contribute from their strengths for the sake of others. We would hope that volunteering in a ministry would be meaningful, fun, satisfying and rewarding… a means for self-discovery, self-development and self-actualization… a way to grow in faith. What the research is telling us is that people want to discuss these things when they are asked to volunteer and achieve these things as they volunteer. What it will take, then, is a movement in mindset away from volunteer management to volunteer engagement.
I am currently putting together a growing collection of resources on member engagement. One resource is a three-page summary of some of the most recent findings by Volunteer Canada. Feel free to download this article I’ve written or contact me about the resources I have.
General Presbyter, Calgary Macleod Presbytery
I joined worshippers for coffee after the service at a congregation I was visiting on Sunday. The man I sat across from opened a conversation saying, "I attended a leadership workshop you presented ten years ago. Are you still interested in leadership?" I said I was. He told me he conducted a lot of leadership training in the company he used to work for before retirement. "Leadership is all about relationships" he said, "and the leadership relationship moves through five spheres. The first sphere is ignorance."
Now, I have to say, that word jarred me. It is a strong, harsh word. As a writer it is not a word I would choose to use--it sounds a mite judgmental. Bill (let's call him that) went on to elaborate on the concept of his first sphere. "When leaders begin to envision change they often do it in a relational vacuum that has ignorance at its center. People in the organization may not appreciate the real significance of what is going on that is prompting a leader to consider change. People may not get the motives for change. But the leader is in the sphere of ignorance as well in the beginning. The leader doesn't know with depth what the people know about the situation, or how people are reacting to a proposed change, or how people might actually improve upon a new direction. For leadership to really happen a leader needs to move everyone--including the leader--beyond the sphere of ignorance. Unfortunately some leaders never do that, ignorance prevails and--consequently--change will rarely take place."
"So you seem to be talking about the importance of dialogue in planned change" I said.
"Absolutely" he said. "That's the second sphere."
I thought a lot about Bill's insight while driving home. When talk of change begins in a church a lot of congregants can go suddenly silent. The culture of respect and kindness--a part of so many congregations--can inhibit people from sharing their thoughts. Also, congregants may not appreciate their capacity and the value of "leading up", through which they can contribute to enhanced planning. They may believe that leadership is meant to be left to office holders. Leaders may also prefer the silence, because they can fear that the alternative might lead to conflict or bruise their self-esteem. But letting the silence continue robs congregational leaders of one of their greatest opportunities dialogue provides to them: the opportunity to learn about people's motives that would favour or disfavour a new initiative. The writer John Maxwell has given leadership a famous, simple definition: "Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less." If you don't know about people's motivation for or against a new initiative, then you are missing the fundamental knowledge for influence.
In books about congregational leadership there has been virtually nothing said about the importance of motivation for congregational change. This has been our sphere of ignorance. And yet when we think about it, we readily acknowledge that people have to have some motivation if they will pursue any change. And how does one discover the motivation of congregants? By opening dialogue about change in a congregation, making it a leadership priority to discover people's motives for change, so leaders will know how best to express influence.
So I now like the idea that the first sphere of the leadership relationship is ignorance. Perhaps using such a strong word will help push us into the next sphere--dialogue--where new directions can be clarified and improved and motivation fostered. Here's to ending ignorance!