Written by Connie Larkman
A question about finding a better way to measure church vitality has led to the creation of a new mission planning and assessment guide around ways to "Be the Church."
"Be the Church," nine bold statements first posted as an infographic on the UCC's Facebook page, describes what it means to be "unapologetically Christian" — Protect the environment; Care for the poor; Embrace diversity; Reject racism: Forgive often; Love God; Fight for the powerless; Share earthly and spiritual resources; and Enjoy this life. These words are displayed on banners by churches across the UCC and define to the world what the denomination is about.
The statements resonate with people of faith and mesh with the UCC purpose, vision and mission statements said the Rev. Mike Denton, Conference Minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference. So he and other conference folks wondered if there was a way to measure what it takes to be a vital congregation using "Be the Church."
"We came at it from a question, a question as to whether or not the statistics we had been using (around size for example) were the best ways to measure the vitality of a church — statistics were not measuring very much around mission. Some large churches struggle with vitality, and some small churches do it very well," said Denton. "We thought about using the Be the Church statements as marks of vital congregation, but we didn't know how to do it, so we turned it over to Kristina and CARD."
The result, a downloadable resource available for free to interested congregations. A 36-page "Be the Church" mission planning guide with an assessment tool that helps local faith communities measure the effectiveness of their ministry.
"Over a year ago the Rev. Mike Denton approached me with the idea of using the Be the Church statements to measure vitality and invited me to lead a clergy retreat on this," said the Rev. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, director, of the UCC Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD). After that retreat last fall where she and PNC clergy began developing the metrics for the assessment tool, the CARD director collaborated with Rev. Chris Davies in Congregational Assessment, Support and Advancement (CASA), and Rev. Patrick Duggan in the Church Building and Loan Fund.
"We had some preliminary brainstorming sessions around our individual and collective work with churches and discerned that there is no one resource currently in existence that addresses mission planning from start to finish in an accessible way," Lizardy-Hajbi, said. "So we began to ask ourselves, 'How do we do this in a thorough, yet uniquely UCC way as a resource for our churches?'"
The "Be the Church" resource, outlines tangible, adaptable ways to develop programs and activities to live into God's beloved community with clear outcomes. Ideas that are already generating interest in local churches.
The Rev. Greg Briggs, interim pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Grand Ledge, Mich., put the resource to use right away.
"As part of our self-study and visioning process, the 'Be the Church' assessment tool was a helpful way for the congregation to assess the effectiveness of their outreach. The previous summer, the congregation's sermon series was based on the 'Be the Church' banner, so the congregation was already familiar with the concepts. The resource became available literally days before our final visioning session before the summer, so I wasn't able to fully integrate it into the process, but we did take the assessment and I'm compiling an average of the scores for future discussion."
The Rev. Zayna Hart Thompson, pastor of First Congregational UCC, Platteville, Wisc., and and Mt. Zion UCC, Cornelia, Wisc., "This is AWESOME! And good timing, as we'll be doing a 'Be the Church' sermon series this summer."
Denton said the nine mission statements share a clear, common purpose. "We purchased 'Be the Church' banners for both of our camps in the Pacific Northwest," he said. "Not all the people who come are UCC, so we thought the banners would let all of them know what we were about. And we started seeing a lot of non UCC people getting their picture taken in front of the banner. And when the purpose, vision, mission statements came out, they meshed really well with Be the Church."
"It has been nothing short of remarkable how much energy the 'Be the Church' meme has created across the life of our United Church of Christ," said the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president. "I see it everywhere, and people I meet who encounter it for the first time love what it says about the Church. Now, we have a way of engaging churches in a sustained, measurable, embodied expression of those commitments. No matter your size or location, this resource will help you bring alive a vision of the Church that has excited and inspired so many."
"The way some people read it as a challenge from the church — it's more of a challenge to the church — to live into these things," Denton said. "That's an important way of receiving it I think."
"We fully expect that this guide is just a beginning—there are additional pieces that we want to write in order to assist congregations in their discernment and missioning including: assessing community needs, guiding congregations through change, and offering specific tools for measuring impact," said Lizardy-Hajbi. "Much of the credit goes to the Pacific Northwest Conference for their innovation and creative imagining."
"I think the guide goes even further than we were thinking about," Denton said. "It's great."
Print copies of the new Be the Church Mission Planning Guide will be available at General Synod in the LCM Church Building & Loan Fund, and Innovation Lab exhibit areas during General Synod. In addition, there will be a "Be the Church" Roundtable discussion on the new resource on Sunday, July 2, 11:30AM-Noon. Download from the webpage: www.ucc.org/bethechurch.