In the September issue of The Moravian Magazine, we highlighted the Northern Province’s Healthy Congregations Task Force. In this and coming issues, we will be sharing examples and ideas of how putting the “Seven Characteristics of Healthy Congregations” to work have enhanced the mission and ministry of a local church. This month, we hear from the Rev. Jenny Moran, pastor of Christ’s Community Moravian Church and a member of the Task Force.
Imagine a beautiful late summer day. There’s a cool breeze, a warm, bright sun shining and green grass all around. The wonderful smell of hotdogs on the grill mingles with freshly popped popcorn. Children squirt syrup into SnoCones and adults chat with friends. The lawn is covered with games: Kub, Corn Hole and a colorful parachute filled with balls. The children and adults alike are enjoying their time together in anticipation of another year of spiritual formation. It’s Rally Sunday at its best!
Now imagine the next Sunday, another beautiful late summer day. These same children and adults are happily meeting in newly decorated Sunday School rooms, learning that they are “God’s stars,” created and beloved, called with a purpose by Jesus Christ. There is energy, excitement and a sense of commitment to the spiritual growth of our church family. Songs are sung, prayers are said, Scripture is read and God’s presence is clear.
This word picture is a simple one and paints a scene that most of us experience in our churches every autumn. It seems to be an unremarkable, although enjoyable, fellowship opportunity. But for Christ’s Community Church, this picture is all that and much more. This picture highlights God’s grace in our lives when we as a congregation made the decision to focus on the spiritual health of our family of faith.
You see, Christ’s Community has not always had a thriving and healthy Sunday School program (although sometimes is certainly has). There were a few years where we struggled even to host a Rally Day program.
So what changed? How did we go from having a struggling Sunday School program to this beautiful picnic on the church lawn? Put simply, we decided to focus on increasing our congregational health, specifically in terms of spiritual formation.
This process began when the Northern Province 2010 Synod made available the “Seven Characteristics of a Healthy Congregation” worksheet. Around that same time, I took a continuing education seminar at the University of St. Thomas focused on church business administration and the importance of mission, values, vision and goals in the administration of a church.
Using these resources, I put together an annual goal-setting retreat. Through this adaptable retreat, the Christ’s Community leadership teams review our overall health in each of the seven Characteristics every year. We set short-term, attainable, measurable goals in each of those characteristics and determine which ONE characteristic we will focus on in the upcoming year.
In 2012, that single focus was spiritual formation. Through the retreat process, we discerned that God was calling us to focus on the spiritual formation of our church family and on the health of our Christian education program. The specific annual goal we set to bring about greater health in our spiritual formation was to form a new Christian Education Team.
The Christian Education Team’s focus was to determine how God was calling us to be healthier in our congregational life when it comes to learning and teaching about our faith. They were called to take the “big picture” and put it into action. The Christian Education Team did this both carefully and creatively.
We asked people with the gift of teaching to consider if God was calling them to commit to teaching Sunday School and paired them up to teach in teams. We spent an “experimental” year where we tested different Sunday School and worship times. We surveyed the congregation. We spent time in prayer and discernment. We spent a full year implementing this goal to improve the spiritual formation health of our congregation.
It wasn’t an easy or fast process. We ended up completely changing our morning worship and education schedule, which required a lot of give and take from everyone. But the result of our efforts to answer God’s call to become healthier disciples can be seen in the pictures of that beautiful Rally Day Sunday and in the many Sundays of spiritual formation since, where our children and adults alike glow with health.
Our stories of “success” (which really are stories of God’s grace) have continued year after year as we’ve worked to increase the health of our congregation. One year, we focused on increasing our stewardship health and found we were able to end the year with a balanced budget, including some extra. Another year we focused on outreach, which led to more than 2,000 meals going home with children at a local school that year. In some of the Seven Characteristics, we were already pretty healthy and we’ve maintained our health in those areas. God continues to make his grace evident to us over and over again.
Christ’s Community Church’s health isn’t perfect, any more than anyone’s individual physical health can be perfect. But through our process of goal-setting with the “Seven Characteristics of a Healthy Congregation,” we are undeniably healthier than we were. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to that kind of journey of transformation, ever striving to be more like Him in all areas of our lives.
Jenny Moran is pastor of Christ’s Community Church in Maple Grove, Minnesota.