The Nicodemus Project:
Congregational self-assessment is the first step
By Jim Morell
For the Administration Team of Diocesan Council
Synod 2009 shone a bright light on the difficulties and challenges faced by our church at the parish and diocesan levels. Delegates confirmed the messages of two important reports: we are a church in decline, our situation is very serious and we need to seek God’s will through a process of self-examination. As a result, we are coming to grips with our need for transformational change — and we call the process of achieving that deep and long-lasting change The Nicodemus Project.
It begins at the parish and congregational level. Clergy, wardens and vestries have been asked to initiate a process of parish self-assessment intended to involve and excite every member.
What does this really mean and how is it accomplished? Our Archbishop Claude Miller explains with a sailing analogy. “Like a good ship’s captain, from time to time we need to re-chart our course, and we need to use God’s compass — not ours. We need to ask God to help us set a new vision and a plan to achieve it.”
He is not describing ‘just another exercise’ or a task to be completed. He is describing a Spirit-led, Bible-based, honest and open discussion aimed at answering a fundamental question: “Are we the church that God expects us to be so that, through us, God can fulfill his mission?”
Several parishes have already embarked on this revealing self-assessment using the ‘10 Marks of a Healthy Parish’
as developed by the Task Force on Rural and Struggling Parishes.
“For the past year we have been thinking about what God wants us to be and where he wants us to go as a parish,” says the Rev. Keith Osborne of the Parish of Pennfield. “We have used the ‘10 Marks’ in two Bible Study groups and in bulletin inserts with various messages, all geared toward discipleship and renewal of our focus … (We are) teaching our people how to do outreach and how to more effectively live their faith.”
This parish continues its financial giving to those in need in its own area and its people also respond financially to parish needs. “I feel truly blessed to be in this parish,” continues Mr. Osborne. “I anticipate more success with our efforts. This parish is very open to change and is very open minded with no serious complaints or people standing in the way of progress.”
Like many small, rural parishes, this one operates on the strength of its healthy relationships. “We are getting new members on a regular basis as people are welcomed and accepted. Please do not think we are perfect, we still have our challenges, but I am encouraged in terms of our future.”
That wonderful story should encourage us all!
There are other useful tools and processes besides the 10 Marks available to help parishes guide their self-examinations, including Natural Church Development. This program helps congregations assess their strengths and weaknesses in eight different areas of congregational health: worship, spirituality, relationships, small groups, ministry, evangelism, leadership and structures.
Parishes looking for outside help can also call upon a small team of facilitators available through the Parish Support and Development Team of Diocesan Council. Archdeacon David Edwards of Saint John <david.edwards at anglican.nb.ca> is the contact.
No matter what tools and processes we choose to help us along the way, we need to pray often, remain faithful and, as Bishop Edward Salmon is wont to say, “speak the truth in love.”
When we ask the right questions and answer honestly we engage in a deep and honest process that will inspire a congregational commitment to an exciting and unifying plan that pleases God.
12 January 2010