Knowing Your Present To Live Into God’s Future
At the June 23, 2015 Presbytery Meeting, your leadership presented several views of the current status of the Presbytery and how that might inform us as we move into a new future.
On behalf of the Committee on Ministry, Stephen Emick and Tillie Chase presented the summary of the findings from the Self-Assessments that churches in the Presbytery were asked to complete a year ago. That report can be found by clicking the link at the end of this summary.
Some of the areas that they highlighted were the fact that of the 32 churches who were asked to complete the self-assessment, we received 22 responses, of the 10 who did not complete the self-assessment, 7 churches chose not to participate.
They pointed out that although the majority of churches within our Presbytery are small in both membership and attendance with 26 experiencing worship attendance of under 100, this is within the average for the PC(U.S.A.). However they found that 8 churches in the Presbytery have less than 20 people worshiping on any given Sunday. Only 14 churches in our Presbytery have called and installed Pastors. And only 8 churches are self-sustaining meaning that their income is higher than their annual expenses.
In follow-up meetings with sessions, they asked them to identify where on the Lifecycle they saw themselves. Five churches categorized themselves as in the Growth area, five in the Maturity area, four as Plateau, four in the Decline/Drop Off area and two at Death. The Committee on Ministry also identify three churches that they feel are at a critical juncture in their lives and that these three churches are where the Committee on Ministry should devote concentrated effort as they move forward.
The report [Self Assessment Gleanings for Presbytery Meeting] provides significant areas for celebration within our Presbytery, but also identifies areas where we see challenges ahead. Our opportunity as a Presbytery is to celebrate our gifts and find ways to make those challenges opportunities for growth.
Knowing Your Present to Live Into God’s Future
For several months our Committee on Ministry and Lead Team have been describing our thoughts and intentions concerning the presbytery-wide congregational self-assessment, “Knowing Your Present to Live into God’s Future.” We are now pleased to be able to share with you in greater detail what our hopes and expectations are for this process — a process we believe will be helpful for both your congregation and the Lehigh Presbytery as a whole.
What is it?
Knowing Your Present to Live Into God’s Future is designed to be an intentional Presbytery-wide undertaking that will lead us, as individual congregations and as a Presbytery, to identify God’s mission and purpose for us in our communities and the world in the next season of God’s future.
John Calvin said that our knowledge of God and of ourselves is connected, and that as we come to greater knowledge of ourselves, we are led not only to seek God, but to find God. (Institutes I.1.1). This self-assessment is designed to help sessions and congregations be honest enough to recognize not only what’s good about ourselves, but the things we might like to hide, identifying our challenges, and having the courage not only to see them, but to address them. This self-assessment will also help sessions and congregations discover new opportunities for ministry that have presented themselves due to changes in the world and the churches themselves – new opportunities that might be unseen and undetected at this moment in time.
Why are we doing this?
In the past, individual congregations have done mission studies only when a pastor left and a search was underway for the next pastor. Fully fifty percent of our congregations do not have, and can no longer afford, a full-time called and installed pastor. These churches are being faithfully served by temporary supply pastors or week to week pulpit supplies. Additionally, some of the called and installed pastors in our Presbytery have been serving particular congregations for five or more years and those churches might not have completed a mission study within the past 5 years.
Some of our congregations are doing their best to remain faithful to what they have been, but that does not take into account the many ways in which the communities in which our churches are located have changed over the past 5-20+ years. Some of our churches appear to be in a “survival instinct/hunkered down mode” hoping for the day when things will return to the way they used to be and our churches will once again flourish. Others are doing their best to keep their church doors open until their remaining members die.
The reality of the world around us – within our local communities as well as around the world – is constantly changing at a pace never seen before in the history of the world. In many cases, we as a Presbytery and our member congregations have not kept pace with these changes which have left us out of touch with the reality of God’s world and effective ways to share God’s love that connect with life in the 21st century.
Ultimately, the issue is whether or not we are being faithful as a Presbytery and member congregations in discerning God’s continuing call to us to be the body of Christ in the world today and into God’s future.
Noted theologian and Christian Education professor John Westerhoff, III points out that the history of the Western church can be divided into a number of eras and transitional centuries. In the 20th century we moved into a transitional time known as post-modernity which he describes as “a time of radical change in every aspect of our lives.” Transition times are difficult to live in; some find these times exciting while others long to return to more stable times. As we continue to move into a post Christian era where the role and the influence of the church is no longer clear to many in the world, we are left in a time of great change, chaos, and uncertainty.
As a people of faith, we know that God brings order out of chaos, inspires change that will lead to fullness of life, and calls us to live out our discipleship in and through the world around us.
What will the process include?
The Presbytery, through the leadership of our Lead Team and Committee on Ministry, will partner with each session in providing the resources needed to complete this self-assessment. It will be a self-assessment with the work being done by individual sessions or others they designate to participate. The intent is to tailor the process as much as possible to fit the needs, styles and size of each congregation. Additional leadership beyond the initial start-up with each session will be available as needed.
Every session will be assigned one or two trained facilitators from within our Presbytery who will meet with them to offer an overview of the self-assessment, provide resources for completing it, and help the session design a process that best fits the needs of that congregation. There also is the possibility of gathering sessions in cluster gatherings to orient them together. Once a session is prepped for the task, they will be on their own to complete it unless they request additional assistance.
In addition to providing each session with trained facilitators for completing this self-assessment, our Presbytery will also provide and help interpret demographical statistics about each church’s local community from Mission Insite (www.missioninsite.com). The Presbytery will cover all expenses for providing this information.