Classical Renewal Prairie Style – One Congregation’s Experience.

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Previously: Classical Renewal Prairie Style—A Ground Up Approach

The previous article gave an overview of my work the last eighteen months as a coach/consultant to churches of Classis Central Plains. I prefer to think of it as a “guide alongside.” Second CRC of Pella was so eager to use this coaching they began contacting me before the start date. 

When I first visited Pella II in January of 2013 I found a room full of men mostly younger than myself who were frustrated and angry because the church was at odds about what to do about their aging building. It was immediately clear to me that conflict over this issue was leading to a dangerous level of interpersonal stress in the congregation.

Soon after that visit, their council chair discovered that there was practically nothing different between a SWOT analysis (a listing of perceived Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) they did in 2005 and one they did in 2012. During those years, the congregation gained a significant number of young families with children, and made steady progress in many areas of its life and worship. However, some long-term systemic weaknesses in congregational life and culture persisted. Further progress would be limited if the congregation could not find ways to alter these behavioral patterns.

So how to get things moving again in a good direction? It seemed to me that this church was acting a bit like someone with ADD—spending a lot of energy for a time in one direction and then before finishing that project, getting distracted and going in another direction.

Since they expressed a desire to become a healthier church, I set out to lead them in a process to determine two key objectives in 2013 on which they could focus. I found they had already begun work on six significant projects. Not wanting to overload the church, the council voted— for the first time ever for something like this, to declare these 6 projects plus one other that was screaming out for attention, their objectives for the year. By the end of 2013 Pella II had completed 5 of those objectives, radically scaled back one and was making significant progress on the 7th.

That 7th objective was a clear and unified sense of direction for their future. During the disputes over the building the people realized they could not come to a unified decision on the building partly because they had no unified idea of what their building was to accomplish. That objective became the focus of my work as a “guide alongside” during the last half of 2013 and into 2014. By late summer 2013 a team of 8 was appointed to work with me. They replaced the name I had given their team with one of their own—the “Reflect, Renew, Revive Process” (RRR) team. They completed their work by January of 2014. The first big step of their process was to complete a journey wall of the church’s life. A journey wall is a group process that identifies the positive and the challenging events in a church’s life, the chapters and repeated patterns and themes in the church’s experiences. It is not about opinions, but simply observing and naming.

Because the congregation had completed major reflection projects in 2001, 2005 and 2012, on top of the facilities decisions stress of 2012, they were resistant to the journey wall. In its stead, three individuals synthesized all the material from those projects, and the journey wall and drew out nine prominent themes for the RRR team to consider as a potential guide for the next chapter of Pella II’s story (2014-2018, 19 or 20). Through some further work of the RRR team and a congregational conversation they brought a proposed direction to the council.  In January the council met in a retreat and approved a four paragraph description of that direction based on Matthew 25:34-40.  These included the chapter title, “Christ’s disciples meeting the spiritual and practical needs of people in Pella and Beyond,” the slogan, “Christ’s Disciples Serving People,” and desire for ministry participation by a larger number of the membership across all generations.  They also approved two objectives for the next 12 months that they thought would best move them down in the proposed direction.  The council dismissed the RRR team with thanks and put in place an RRR Implementation team to guide the next 12 months.

Implementation is precisely the point that most churches fail. They have spent so much energy planning the work that they sputter out when it comes time to work the plan.  With this in mind, the planning time was intentionally shrunk down to a mere four months (with one month off for the holidays) so people would have ample energy for implementation. From mid-February to mid-April, the implementation team led the church through three consecutive work sessions which brainstormed action steps, honed these down to the fifteen highest leverage steps needed to be completed in the next twelve months, and identified go-to persons for each action step.

While this process has not been without some periodic bumps in the road, it has continued to move forward. There are many reasons for its success thus far. One is that the pastor of Pella II, Pastor Dan Brouwer engaged the process without over-functioning, without trying to drive the process in a direction he desired and without allowing himself to feel threatened by the guidance of any outside coach. Another is that while many congregations today show strong indications of passivity, Pella II had a number of people who were willing to give extra energy for a period of time to pursue a better future and were willing to both work with and question an outside coach whom they had only recently met. God used all this for Pella II to adapt in ways that are seeming to build a healthier future.

God has taken Pella II a long ways since I first met with them. Many seem relieved and pleased, declaring victory, but I have advised them to be careful we do not declare victory too soon. Pella II still has a year of implementing these action steps, reporting progress, doing a six-month checkup in November and then considering the highest priority objective and accompanying action steps for mid- 2015-2016. I am confident that God is going to lead this congregation to accomplish much in the year ahead and look forward to celebrating with them as they meet the needs of people in Pella and beyond!

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