Emerging Priorities in Congregational Life


Introduction

Setting Worship TableIn early 2012 the Vision Team began to ask questions about our congregational priorities.  Where should we focus our pastoral resources?  How should we use our financial and other resources?  These questions became even more pertinent when the day care, Children’s Garden, moved out of our building in October of 2012.  The loss of income and the newly available space in the building presented an additional question:  How should we use our building?

To plan strategically for the future, in the context of a growing and changing congregation, the Vision Team used a process called “appreciative inquiry.”  In early 2013 six meetings were held with small groups of our GMC family to find out how we feel about our life as a church community and to dream about our vision for the future.  The process started with what we love about Germantown Mennonite Church.  With these positive responses serving as a guide we moved to thinking about where we want to go in the future.  Vision Team members recorded each answer given in the small groups and spent many hours looking for common themes and ideas.

We used the focus group setting because we wanted input from everyone–from our oldest to the youngest and from recent attenders to our longest standing members.  We wanted everyone to share their hopes, dreams and vision for the future with the belief that the Holy Spirit speaks through our many voices.  This document, based on the appreciative inquiry model and many hours of discernment and reflection, is a summary of our findings.

 

Our ValuesSinging in the Sanctuary

What kind of church do we want to be?  Our backgrounds are varied and we are at different places in our journeys of discipleship. Yet, as followers in the the way of the risen Jesus, it is evident that we do have a common desire to:

  • Be good neighbors, in Germantown and globally, as people that identify with the Anabaptist tradition.
  • Use our skills and talents to express and live our core beliefs–discipleship, peace, service and worship.
  • Care for one another in every stage of life.

 

Congregational Priorities

church retreatHow do we put these values into practice at this moment in the life of our congregation?  Six themes emerged from the focus group discussions.

1.  Church Fellowship

We are a congregation that enjoys spending time together.  We like each other.  We value meals together, affinity group get togethers, the church retreat, workdays, kids club and less formal meetings.  These times of fellowship help us to feel cared for and connected to one another.  As new people join our church there is a particular interest in having more opportunities to gather, get to know each other by name, and to know each other’s stories.

2.  Neighborhood & Community Engagement

We want to serve and be engaged with our neighbors but we are less sure about what exactly this means.  Rather than starting our own projects many expressed an interest in partnering with individuals and organizations that have values similar to our own.  We want to be a welcoming presence and resource that responds to the concerns of the neighborhood.

Sunday in the ParkThe word “community” means different things to different people.  It can mean our neighborhood, our congregation or our denomination.  Many in the congregation value our Mennonite and Anabaptist identity.  We seem disappointed but not uncomfortable with being excluded from the Mennonite Church USA.  We look forward to the day when GMC is a natural part of MCUSA but we do not place a priority on using our resources to work our way back into the conference.

3.  Youth

We are a community that strives to actively include our children in the life of the church.  We would especially like to keep them engaged as they move to young adulthood.  In the upcoming years we want to focus on engaging and giving a place to our youth in the 7th to 12th grade range.

Youth24.  The Arts

We value artistic expression and want to be a place that nurtures our creativity.  Art, music and dance are important parts of our congregational life both on Sunday morning and in other times and places.

5.  Worship

We value Sunday morning worship.  We enjoy the singing, sharing and thoughtful sermons.  We strive to be welcoming and authentic.

6.  Church Structure 

Some in the congregation do feel unable or uninterested in participating in committees.  Yet there is a desire to contribute to the life of the church in other less formal ways or on ad hoc committees.  Fostering this kind of participation and involvement, outside of our traditional structures, would enrich the congregation in the upcoming years.

 

The Building

Church in WinterThough building discernment was not the primary reason for the discernment process it was an important consideration.  Many expressed a desire to develop the unused spaces in our building, particularly the stage and associated rooms.  Some would also like to create more intimate spaces for meetings and additional Sunday school spaces.  People are excited about the prospect of inviting and partnering with people and organizations from the community to use our space–we want our space to a resource for the community.  People seem less interested in renting out the space for use as a daycare.

During the lenten season Vision Team asked each committee to host a weekly meal at the church.  Since we had not tried anything like this in many years we were not sure if it would be successful.  To our delight the meals were a great success with fifty to sixty in attendance at each meal.  The positive response to these mid-week events speaks not only to the congregation’s desire for more fellowship but to the opportunities that mid-week access to the space affords us.

Conclusion

WorshipMany significant moments mark the rich 330 year history of our congregation.  These include important historical events that took place at our doorstep, struggles for survival, and struggles for identity and place.  Our Anabaptist/Mennonite heritage is associated with rural farming communities yet Germantown Mennonite Church is located in a diverse urban setting.  Putting the values of discipleship, peace and community into practice in this setting is invigorating to our congregation.

Creating space in the church for our youth, partnering with our neighbors, embracing artistic expression, facilitating the fellowship of our church community and finding new ways to involve people in the church are of particular interest at this moment in the life of our congregation.  We are excited to see how these priorities are put into practice in the upcoming years, through the leadership of the church council and participation of the congregation.

We are finding clarity on who God has called us to be.  People are drawn to this sense of identity and that gives comfort and peace.  This congregation is a safe place, a community where folks feel welcome and nourished.  It is an exciting and forward thinking time.  By prayer and by the Spirit we have come to understand better who we are, and by prayer, by the Spirit and by these congregational values, may we move into the Spirit’s leading.

 

Respectfully Submitted,

Germantown Mennonite Church Vision Team

Dan Thut, Chair
Patricia Beynan
Greg Kinnison
Amy Yoder McGloughlin, Pastor

June 23, 2013