California-Nevada churches will soon be able to report some of their information, as part of the Vital Signs assessment of congregational health that was mandated in June.
The General Board of Discipleship has assumed responsibility for the assessment tools development project, putting together a team that is working full time to create the online survey and supporting resources for the California-Nevada Annual Conference. The team confidently projects January 1, 2009 as the date the materials will be available.
A resolution adopted at Annual Conference Session in June required churches to complete an assessment of their vitality, “no later than December 15, 2008 using the assessment tools provided in Vital Signs: A Pathway to Congregational Wholeness, by Dan R. Dick (Discipleship Resources, 2007).”
The online assessment was to be available October 1, but a serious accident involving a key player on the original survey development team delayed the launch. It was believed that the survey could be on line by mid-month, but that estimation proved unrealistic. Because churches were not able to gain access to those tools on time, they now will be allowed until March 1, 2009 to complete their work.
Committee asks for updates from churches
In the meantime, the Committee on Congregational Revitalization would like to be updated as to the progress churches are making. A preliminary—and very basic— church assessment survey will be uploaded to the Conference website at cnumc.org next week. Churches are asked to use this online survey to report where they are in the process. Besides serving as an update for the committee, it also will enable the committee to offer assistance to churches requesting it.
In the months since Annual Conference Session, church leaders have had an opportunity to read Vital Signs, and some have been hard at work, putting what they learned into practice.
“Actually, I bought the book because I ‘had to,’ and put it aside thinking it was just another thing the Conference was pushing with little useful information,” reports the Rev. Carole Bergman, pastor of Willits UMC. “But,” she writes, “our lay member of Conference, Frank Barr, kept asking me if I had read it yet. So, reluctantly, I read it. And then read it again. The third time through I knew that this was something that could make a difference in our church.”
Bergman got the church Leadership Council involved, and then scheduled a series of discussion groups over three weeks.
Sessions generate excitement
“[At] the first session we took the assessment and discovered that we were a decaying church. Without any doubt. We talked about what our church would be like in 10 years if we ignored these findings, and what it would be like if we did something about our decay.
“In the second session we really examined the decaying church and saw how well it fit us. We only took maybe half the session on this, and then moved to the retrogressive church. By this time people were excited about the possibilities...
“In the third session we talked about the vital church, and what had to be done to get there. I made it a point to emphasize that it would take seven to 10 years to get where we wanted to go, and that it wasn't an easy road. But the alternative was to die.
“At the end of the third session I gave each participant a 3x5 card, and asked them to commit to taking a ‘baby step,’ which was to choose something that would deepen their faith: 10 minutes daily of prayer, reading the Upper Room, a meditation walk, whatever. Their choice. And to ask someone other than their spouse to be an accountability partner, [and to] write it all down on the card and turn it in to me. This commitment is only for three months. Really baby steps, but we've got to start somewhere.”
Bergman says there will be an All Church meeting after worship on December 7, to discuss “how we want to be in mission here in Willits.” If a decision can be reached, she says, they then will choose an outreach project in which the whole church can— and will—participate. In the meantime, she has asked some people who seem to be “particularly enthused about this new direction” to join her in a weekly prayer/discernment group. Already, some people have asked for a Disciple Bible study class, so Bergman says she will start one in January.
The preliminary Vital Signs survey will be available by Wednesday of next week (November 12). To access it, visit the Assessment Tools page on the Conference website at cnumc.org. A link to the Assessments Tools page has been located under “Quick Links” on the left side of the Home Page (and under “Resources” on the green navigation bar).
The Assessment Tools page is your source for all information related to the assessments of congregational and clergy vitality required by the action at Annual Conference Session.
In addition to Vital Signs Assessment information, the page contains a link to the Lewis Pastoral Leadership Inventory (LPLI). The Council on Clergy Development asked every pastor under appointment to a congregation in the Conference to take the LPLI during the month of October.