Reviewing Church Life
Reviews of church life take place in many ways such as through an ‘Annual General Meeting’ within a local church, when the leaders for a region gather such as in a Synod, or when researchers do an analysis of church life. All such reviews make certain assumptions about what ‘church life’ should be about. The Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania has been thinking about these assumptions and suggesting some new ways to conduct reviews.
When the reports of the various activities are gathered together and a church meets for its Annual General Meeting, the assumptions are often around numbers. Did the numbers attending the children’s club or the Bible study increase or decrease? Often, most prominence is given to the financial numbers. Anxiety is often expressed about the levels of financial giving and whether a church is ‘in the black’. While financial viability cannot be ignored, the calling of a church is not fulfilled by being financially viable. Nor is the essence of being a church measured by the numbers of people who sit in the pews.
The Uniting Church, in conjunction with the Christian Research Association, has developed a survey which will be sent to all churches in the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. While some factual information is requested, such as details of services of worship and mission activities, certain evaluations are asked of the Church Council. Thus, the body with responsibility for leading the church is invited to reflect on the various ways in which the local church is being equipped for and is entering into God’s mission.
All forms of review can be helpful to a local church. Over coming months, many churches will be using the reports from the 2011 National Church Life Survey as these are released to reflect on their life. No doubt, many churches will be inspired by these reflections to develop various aspects of their life and mission.
Criag Van Gelder, an American church consultant, has suggested that the self understanding of the church has developed through three paradigms. These are: The Established Church, Corporate Church and Missional Church.
Van Gelder’s distinction draws attention to the fact that churches have and do see themselves in very different ways. In reviewing church life, attention must be paid to what is the calling of the church. There is always a tendency for people’s thinking to be shaped by the ways that other organisations operate around them. There is a tendency for churches to take on characteristics similar to other organisations in their cultural environment and to be shaped by them. However, the calling of the church is distinct and a review of church life must attend to that distinctiveness.
For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 2, Pages 13-15