|This Article is from the Spring 1999 edition of good idea!, also available here in a fully formatted PDF file.|
I am very impressed by what I read of the development of the congregation at Christ Church, Cataraqui. As I read the interview with Ed Dallow, I believe there are several lessons to be learned from their experience:
1. Ed spent some time thinking out congregational development. Of course, not everybody can get a leave of absence from his or her bishop to do that, but anyone can decide that over the course of their year’s reading, they will make a point of reading three key books in the area of congregational development. Personally, I would choose Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Drive Church”, Tom Bandy’s “Kicking Habits”, and Don Posterski’s “Future Faith Churches” for a perspective on the Canadian scene.
2. The parish developed a mission statement. Developing a mission statement does not solve all your problems, but it does force you to focus on who you are and why you exist. There are a lot of churches in this country which go from year to year without ever sitting down and seriously thinking through that simple question.
3. Using the parish audit helped create a climate and an expectation of growth. The rector gave the people ownership by nurturing in them the idea of growing and getting ready for company. I think that’s brilliant. As a result, the whole congregation has developed an attitude of expectation and a climate of growth. Everything else being equal, the difference between growth and decline is this attitude on the part of the congregation.
4. The parish let newcomers know that this was a place that would welcome them and where they would be valued. Ed wrote them a letter right away. Parishioners took them a gift which said, “We’re really happy that you’re here.”
Their attitude is not just, “Oh, we’re a nice friendly church and when people come they’ll find us friendly.” Every church, whether it’s a congregation of 25 or 500, needs a plan for what happens when a new person comes.
In fact, everybody knows how to welcome somebody. It’s largely a question of common sense. We need to ask ourselves what situations we have been in where we felt strange, and what would we like to have happened to break that tension. The model really is how we treat people when they come to our home. We don’t ask them if they’ll help paint the roof, or ask how much money they’ve got in the bank-—we make them comfortable.
5. The leadership are helping the congregation become a community by their one social event a month. What newcomers can sense is whether they are coming into a real community. That in turn changes the tenor of what happens in worship.
It’s great to have new people on that Ways and Means committee, because those newcomers have friends who are not yet connected with the church. Serving on the committee also gives newcomers the sense that they are valued and have a contribution to make. Developing the social life of the parish is a job tailor-made for brand-new people.
6. This congregation is becoming intentional about the flow of traffic through the parish in terms of rites of passage. Ed is not simply meeting every request indiscriminately, but, on the other hand, he’s not putting up huge barriers either. What is important is to let people know that we’re very serious about what we do, and, on the other hand, we take them and their children very seriously too.
7. I like Ed’s comment that people are not coming to hear the rector’s preaching. It means the parish has a humble leader. At the same time, while he may not be Billy Graham or Martin Luther King, I can guarantee that, if people are coming back, then his preaching is helping them connect with God and get some spiritual guidance for their lives. Word is getting out to spiritually hungry people that this is a place worth checking out. Ed shouldn’t underestimate what he’s doing through his preaching.
The Rev. Dr. Harold Percy is Rector of Trinity Anglican Church, Streetsville ON, and was founding Director of the Institute of Evangelism.