Tuesday, March 19, 2019

St Mark's Erie Blog 3: My Recommendations

This is the third, somewhat delayed, blog on my observations and work with St. Mark’s.  I want to share with you what I recommended to them because it is applicable to lots of “transitional size” congregations, and you may find these helpful to your leadership.

Before I share these, let me start by two preliminary comments. First, I want to say again what a joy it was to work with the Bishop, staff, and lay leadership.  When I met with the leaders, they had all prepared by reading my book The Myth of the 200 Barrier and were prepared to ask great questions and to do the work necessary for the next stage in their development.

Second, I found that they have momentum, had made good decisions, were expanding the leadership, and had a joy and openness that I would like to see in many other congregations.  Consequently, I wasn’t intervening so much as coaching and this is a great position for a consultant.  With all this in mind, here are the recommendations that I gave them.  Note that I’ve added some comments for my readers in blue.

  1. I would like to see the leadership become clearer and more focused on the Mission of the Congregation.  A good way to do this is start with the current good, but long, mission statement and find a way to express this in one or two phrases or sentences. (I want congregations to have a mission, not just a mission statement, and I want them to use this short mission statement to help them recruit others to this mission.) I would want Fr. Don and the other staff members to be able to say, “Here at St. Mark’s our mission is to….”  Once you produce this parish slogan or banner statement then use it on all written material, social media, and the website as a branding for the congregation.  The leadership will also be able to use this in future development by asking if a suggested activity or ministry is congruent with this mission.  (Branding helps make a congregation known in the community!)                                                  
  2. I would like to see the leadership and staff develop a greater sense of urgency in accomplishing your mission and engaging more new people in helping you in this work.  I would like to see the leadership carry out a strategy aimed at moving St. Mark’s above an ASA of 225 within two years.  (Many transitional size congregations simple take to long to get to the program size and wear everyone out especially the leadership.)As I said to all groups while there, if you take to long to develop into the program size, you will grow fatigued and the natural forces of attrition and resistance will keep you in the transitional size.  Trust me that once nearer an ASA of 225 parish life will flow more smoothly and you will be able to have the resources needed to carry out your mission. So, develop a strategy for further development. Some of which I will suggest here and have suggested in my book.

  1. I have suggested that the work group and staff look at points where people are connecting most with ministry and activities and explore adding more.  Some may wish to explore what larger congregations in the area are currently offering to newcomers such as divorce recovery, etc.  (St. Mark’s was set to do this, but the leaders were busy and maintaining what they already have was limiting their potential.) 

  1. I would recommend that the leadership consider the creation of such points of connection exploring especially the area of “felt need” ministries and expanding current outreach programs of the church by incorporating more newcomers to these ministries. 

  1. I would like to see the parish plan and execute four Special Sundays.  I have given the Staff information on forming the task forces to carry these out. (The Special Sunday is the one proven method to increase the attendance of both visitors and inactive members at the same time. I describe these in my book 5 Keys for Church Leaders.) 

  1. The Parish has a wonderful way of welcoming newcomers through dinners.  I would add to these dinners a chance for people to answer two valuable questions: 1. How do you find St. Mark’s in the first place?  2. What or who made it possible for you to stay?  I would also recommend that a key ministry area of the parish be highlighted also at such dinners.  By doing this, you gain valuable feedback and provide points of connecting for the new members. 

  1. I would challenge Leaders and Staff to create a clear path to membership and discipleship.  The essential challenge is to have activities and ministries that invite seekers into a deeper relationship with Christ, his Church, and his mission to our world through the intentional life of the congregation. (It is surprising how few churches in TEC have a rational plan to lead folks to discipleship and membership.) 

  1. The parish did an excellent TV ad.  I recommend you touch base with the “Invite, Welcome, Connect” ministry to explore further creative ways to invite seekers to experience the worship, community life, and ministries of St. Mark’s.  And with the increasing number of disillusioned Roman Catholics in your area, highlight your Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and other sacramental and liturgical events that are deeply connected to their past spiritual life in the Church.                                            

I am happy to say that the staff and leadership are still on task toward these goals.  One goal, IMHO, of Diocesan Leadership should be to highlight the congregations in their dioceses that are doing things right and let them teach others.