Before we decide where we want to go, we need to know where we are.
How big is the congregation? “Oh, we run about 250 or 260. Of course, it was Family Day year before last since we hit that number.” “It seems like we’re gaining a few now. The parking lot looked like there were more cars than usual.”
Those statements may or may not correspond to reality.
The best way I know how to learn the facts is to average attendance and contribution for as many years as the church has kept records and plot the results on a graph. Growth or decline is clear. I know nickels and noses are not the whole story, but they’re part of the indication of the health of the church.
Early in the interim process, I ask for volunteers to collect and record this information. In one congregation, we went through boxes and boxes of old bulletins to assemble figures.
The easiest time of collecting stats was at Eddyville, Kentucky. Emma Walker had kept information for Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, gospel meetings, and Vacation Bible Schools since the church moved to “New Eddyville” in 1961.
We copied her hand-written books (I didn’t want to be responsible for loosing the originals), distributed them to people who transferred information to Excel spreadsheets, and drew charts on large paper.
In other congregations, we made spreadsheets, took them to Staples or Office Depot and printed large charts to display.Adding other information can help give a visual factual reminder of major changes in the congregation:
- Appointment and resignations or deaths of elders and deacons.
- Names and dates of service of preachers, youth ministers, and other staff members.
- Building programs or relocations of the church.
- Other major events that have affected the congregation.
- Plotting of national and world events can put additional perspective to the graphic history.
A copy of this timeline should be sent to each preacher the church is considering. Just as the search committee wants a résumé, recordings of sermons, and three references of each preacher they are considering, they should supply information to candidates to help them evaluate their fit in this church.
I’ve observed the night of the timeline discussion to be a time of celebration, shock, nostalgia, contemplation, and hope. It’s one way of helping a group come to terms with it’s history.
What have you done to help a congregation reflect on where they have been to move forward more effectively?
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