On November 12, 2006, we held our third fall worship and workshop event to help with congregational transformation. The minister presented an exercise called “Who is Our Church?”, drawn from the work of Canadian interim minister Dr. Janet Cawley. Dr. Cawley has learned that congregations can benefit from discussing our identity through likening the qualities, characteristics, and quirks of the congregation to a person.
Dr. Cawley worked with one congregation who experienced a great deal of growth as a newly founded church in a suburban area, yet it felt a little unsure of its path ahead. The church members likened their church to being like a thirteen year old boy named Eddy: lots of energy, less focus; ready to get into things, but needing a little help; voice is wobbling up and down. The church members discovered that they might have a few things to talk about, but they could at least now name their identity and took great pride in talking about seeing “Eddy” (aka their congregation) grow.
The workshop participants worked together in table groups and presented four different persons: each “person” was a woman, over the age of 50 (from 50 to 80), feeling a little less active but not so tired to give up, dealing with life issues, but wanting to be active and involved. Perhaps a little more retiring due to aging, but certainly ready for something.The workshop then started sorting out which qualities were most likely normative for the entire congregation.
We arrived at the idea that First Baptist is like a woman named “Grace.” The church is like a woman, about 50-60 years old. She is a professional who is thinking about retirement and just became a grandmother. She enjoys going out, but she also knows that she doesn’t have as much energy as she used to have. She is active, but she takes things at a good pace. She enjoys listening to country music and watching old episodes of The Lawrence Welk Show. She is a person who likes to give to others, through her church as well as through charity.
This brief workshop helped us see a glimpse of First Baptist as it looks ahead at its next chapter in life. We don’t want to say that the church is approaching its final years. We are willing to be active, though perhaps we need to take it easier. Perhaps we need to learn a little bit about the younger generation. A person who is fifty to sixty used to listen to the Beatles on an LP. How do we deal with a generation who has the Beatles maybe tucked away on an I-Pod? When we want somebody younger to come to church, will a press release in the Bennington Banner work or do we need to have it posted on the webpage? (Indeed, how often does “Grace” read the webpage?)
During the workshop, one comment was made about the family feel that “Grace” seems to have. How do we welcome those for whom “family” in a traditional sense holds less meaning? Young adults in Bennington might not have the deep generational ties due to the reality of families moving and uprooting more commonly. How could “Grace” become a surrogate “parent” to the younger generation? “Grace” has life experience to offer. How do we help play our strengths as a loving community to reach out to those who need our “Grace”?
In 2007, we will continue the transformational journey, looking for additional ways to building up the congregation. We have some exciting things planned, and we invite the congregation to be in prayer for the health and vitality of the church.
Indeed, may you learn how to pray for “Grace.”