Strengthen the Life and Witness of Congregations

3 Oct 2021 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

Training to Strengthen the Life and Witness of Congregations

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

Last Saturday 15 people from our Presbytery were part of zoom training to strengthen the life and witness of congregations. The training was coordinated by the Mission Enablement team (MET) of Uniting Mission and Education of our Synod, and was presented by Presbytery Chairs, Presbytery Ministers and MET staff. Over 100 people from across the Synod participated in the training day.
Participants from our Presbytery included members of the Pastoral Relations Committee, Mission Strategy Committee, Property Committee, Finance Planning Task Group and Congregations. Most of the training day focussed on equipping participants to be part of Presbytery teams to lead Strengthening Life and Witness Consultation with Congregations.
The reasons that the Presbytery undertakes these consultations include:

  • To strengthen congregations in their life and witness;
  • To be a catalyst that encourages congregations in their mission development, mission planning, mission implementation and innovative thinking;
  • To develop co-operative partnerships between congregations in the Presbytery;
  • To provide a “health check” for congregations to prevent more serious issues emerging in the future that might hinder their mission;
  • To determine a congregation’s future needs with respect to the placement of Ministry agents;
  • To enable congregations to stop and reflect on its past, present and future;
  • To encourage a culture of accountability to one another for stewardship of our time and resources as we engage in the mission of God – both as Presbytery and as congregations;
  • To ensure each congregation is a safe place with respect to the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of the people who connect with the congregation;
  • To consider the place of each congregation within the wider church and to develop stronger connections between neighboring congregations and other councils, agencies and bodies of the Uniting Church;
  • To ensure compliance obligations are fulfilled within the Church.

Ideally, these consultations take place with a congregation about once every 5 years. Many Presbyteries are finding it hard to manage this level of engagement. Part of the aim of the training day was to equip more people to be part of teams to increase the capacity of Presbyteries for this important responsibility. The shape of a Strengthening Life and Witness Consultation is:

Stage Objectives/Outcomes
INITIATE The Consultation is established with the Terms of Reference, a Team with appropriate leadership and skills, and communication to all parties to ensure smooth commencement and  data gathering.
LISTEN The Team becomes familiar with the congregation and its ministry, its joys and challenges. It meets the congregation and its leadership, attends services and activities. The Team will understand the congregation’s property use, its finances, and its governance.
REFLECT The Team prayerfully considers what it has heard – the congregation’s strengths, challenges and hopes for the future.
ENGAGE Through meetings, conversations and/or workshops, the Team will explore the hopes, questions and issues facing the congregation, seeking to guide the congregation to renew its vision and ministry. e.g. mission planning. This could be recommended to come after the consultation.
REPORT The Team seeks to formulate and document its recommendations based on what was heard and discerned. The Team will test the report with key leadership in the congregation, and seek to ensure the document is of the highest quality and usefulness for the congregation’s future growth
ENACT The Presbytery committee and the Congregation take responsibility for enacting the recommendations of the report.

One of the highlights of the training day was the role play acted out by Alice Ferguson, Irene Lund and Rinda Scott from our Presbytery. The scenario was three adult siblings working out the details for the extended family 2021 Christmas gathering that is to include the immediate families of the siblings, plus the elderly parents of the siblings (assuming no COVID restrictions!). The three did an amazing job with the role play, creating many knowing smiles as participants saw their own families in what was being played out.

The purpose of this activity was to raise the importance of early engagement with a congregation in initiating a consultation so as to create a partnership in which the consultation happens with the congregation, rather than happening to the congregation. In this way we hope to avoid too much bah humbug around the Consultation, and move more to a very merry strengthening Life and Witness Consultation.
Another highlight of the day was the introduction of a mission planning tool for congregations prepared by Cameron Eccleston of MET. You can access the tool through this link: Mission Planning Tool - Uniting Mission and Education. Further sessions about engaging with children and young people, and also with First Peoples, all contributed to a very comprehensive training day.
The zoom session training day was recorded with the intention of making it widely available across the Synod as part of an ongoing training package. So, keep an eye out for further training opportunities. If you are interested in being part of a Strengthening Life and Witness Consultation team with our Presbytery, please let me know so that I can pass that onto our Pastoral Relations Committee.