Category Archives: Congregation – Community Integration – Tips

Suggestions, ideas and experiences in the interaction of church congregations and faith communities with their local communities

Home Church has great cultural value

The position of ‘faith’ in society is well over due for a fresh and practical review.

Promoting ‘home church’ in the current climate of huge social challenges to the institutional Church has great value. But not all home churches fit the bill.

Traditional ‘home church’ has given groups a chance to ‘hide’ from the reality of a diverse society. It has brought comfort to those who did not easily mix with others and those who found the world in conflict with their values. But a more enlightened view of church and in particular home church offers something that is sorely needed to bring people into a more harmonious relationship and greater commitment to ‘community’ and the sharing of resources and values. The sharing of resources and working for the common good is a strong mantra of both the Old and New Testaments and is not unique to Christianity.

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. Romans 15:1-2

 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 13-15

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  Isaiah 58:7

The sharing of faith values is an important part of a healthy democracy, provided it is in the spirit of ‘sharing and learning’ rather than ‘imposing and constraining’. There is so much we learn from each other within safe and open environments. Sharing values does not mean sacrificing personal viewpoints and practices. It means placing a personal world view into a context of the reality of our neighbours life journeys. Greater tolerance grows out of shared understanding.

‘Identity’ of individuals and groups in society has lost ground with increasing globalisation and the growth of the market economy in favour of big corporations and the political support for transnational organisations. The Church has fallen into line with the trend towards the mega-group. The Church is following trend and drawn into the idea that big is beautiful as well as the outdated view that audiences don’t need to be involved in critical thinking. In this model individuals, their viewpoints and needs count for little. It often does this while walking away from small or fading communities. But is this serving the needs and interests of communities and individuals? Is it community building or unintentional community degradation? Is it more about the survival of the institution than serving society.

At the same time, cultural barriers of race and religion are slowly coming down despite the efforts of reactionary nationalistic movements. In particular, especially in the western world, people are no longer identifying themselves on the basis of religion or race. They look for ‘good’ communities – friendly, supportive, intimate and understanding.

The emergence of supra national interest groups may be a response to a trend to eliminate ‘identity’ by the economy and political authorities. It is a healthy movement away from the old  crowd management models. Possibly the fastest growing category of people is now those of mixed race, mixed religion and diverse cultural and ethnic origin. Long term practitioners of Christianity probably regret the slow but sure decline in adherence to large worship events, but many would welcome a ‘back to the grass roots’ faith of its founder and presented in the Gospels. Home church can put the emphasis on the teachings and examples of Jesus and moves away from the essential doctrinal and organisational values that take precedence in the institutional church.

In this climate of  growing mixed ethnicity and falling social boundaries, the practice of home or small group church fills a great need in community building and cohesion of society. It becomes a shared space that can liberate thinking and promote unity of social purpose in communities.

Giles, in the previous post, makes the point that 84% (and growing) of the planet have a faith perspective that influences their world view. He makes a good case for bringing the faith and non faith peoples into closer alignment. There are obvious reasons why this would be good for society, but there are few vehicles for this to happen intentionally.

Home churches or home groups lend themselves to encouraging collaboration and conversations between church and non-church people. The expectations are different. The formal church worship event, unless worked on intentionally, is not a natural setting for non-church people to feel at home and expects conformity and acceptance of all that is said and done. Within the smaller, less formal setting of a home or family environment there is greater potential for sharing ideas, opinions and values.

For many reasons, the Church is at a crossroads. Many are tipping its demise, others are seeing it survive and even grow as a reaction to a liberal society. We have an opportunity to turn the current crisis of purpose and usefulness into something closer to the community model it manifested before it was moulded into an empirical model by the Roman rulers of the 4th Century.

Paul Inglis January 2018.

The author was a Uniting Church Community Minister for 11 years and still works alongside church and community to develop healthy and harmonious communities.

GARAGE SALE – MEETING THE LOCALS

Garage Sale – Meeting the Locals

Rodney Eivers – 30th November 2015

A couple of weeks ago Milpara Congregation held a “Garage Sale”(a.k.a “Boot Sale”, “Flea Market”)

I had not realised how popular these events are. There were people lined up at our gateway at 7 o’clock on the Saturday morning. They drifted in and out over the next three of four hours and it was notable that there was a high proportion of people whom we had never seen before. There was another group of non-church-attenders who were known casually to members of our congregation and greetings of recognition were exchanged

I presume such market days are a feature of church congregations around the world. While I was holidaying on the Sunshine Coast last week we read of one being conducted that weekend by the Coolum Uniting Church.

So what can this mean for those of us who seek integration of congregation and local community? At the very least it gives us chance to meet more of our neighbours.

A local market on the church grounds can have a number of functions. It may be a means of raising money, often for charitable purpose, or perhaps for some immediate need for maintenance of the property. In the case of the Milpara Congregation it was for the purpose for getting rid of the clutter from all the paraphernalia which had built up in the storerooms and cupboards over a number of years. These reasons have their value.

But what if, in the context of the Milpara vision we see these public occasions as opportunities to invite the local community to join with us in making our town or suburb a better place – a little corner of the Kingdom of God?

If this is to be the case we need to be purposeful in planning and carrying out these market days. Viewers of this site may have more ideas and we would invite you to send them in. Let us put aside the money-making or rubbish-disposal options. They may be a valid function of open-air markets but are not relevant to our purpose:

Market days as an integrater of congregation and local community

  • Plan well ahead and draw up a schedule of market days as much as a year in advance and provide firm dates. As with the local government kerbside pick-ups this allows people to put aside items they may want to dispose of but which may still have value for others, knowing that they will have the opportunity to sell them or give them away.
  • Be aware of government and denominational statutory requirements. This would include appropriate insurance cover. Church Councils will need to have the planned dates recorded in their minutes as activities of that congregation.
  • With the awareness of the ageing and infirmity of most congregations, on top of the need to incorporate local “secular” expertise, be always on the lookout to invite non-attenders to participate and to have them, as far as is practicable participate in the initiation, planning, design and administration of the markets. It would be a good idea to invite people to attend church council meetings for that purpose. Such a practice would have the further purpose of demonstrating to the locals how church governance works.
  • Use as a principle, the assumption, that in this context of enlivening our congregations and integrating with the local community participation is more important than efficiency. Thus where there is a choice (and we should be on the lookout for such choices), to carry out a particular role or task choose:
  • A younger person over an older
  • A non-member over a member*.
  • An ethnic or minority group person (refugees?) over an Anglo Australian
  • Perhaps in some cases a woman over a man. (Or perhaps the reverse when it is proving difficult to get men involved in the congregation’s affairs!)
  • As the purpose of the market is to bring church and community together the money-making aspect can be subordinated to the bringing of local people on to the property. Therefore sites for stalls may be offered at very cheap rates or free of charge.
  • While the market is being conducted the church building may be left open for people to wander through and gain a little familiarity with the religious environment.
  • Publicity. Because the aim of the market day is to build up rapport with the local community, promotion and advertising needs to be directed to people in the vicinity of the church property. Ideally this would be for people within walking distance. Use of local shop fronts, newspapers, community organisations and so on may be useful but the most direct contact with people is likely to be either greeting them in the street or through a publicity brochure dropped into letter boxes of every household. I suggest an appropriate radius for this would be a distance of one to two kilometres from the property.

 

 

Glossary:* Members: In this context and in other places on the Milpara website “members” will not necessarily refer to formal, baptised members of the congregation (something which is not always easy to establish and a criterion not likely to be familiar to the general public). It will usually be used as a synonym for “regular attenders of worship services”. That is those people, whom to the casual eye, make up the group that forms a congregation.

Everybody knows who I am!

Everybody knows who I am!

This week’s tip for integrating church and community – The wearing of name badges

Rodney Eivers

For many years I resisted the idea of wearing a name badge on my chest at church services or other public gatherings. Perhaps I was a bit shy about revealing my identity. Perhaps I thought it to be something  of an ego trip and that I would be just big-noting myself.

I have now changed my mind when it comes to church services or to public gatherings where there are strangers. Perhaps it has become even more important when there are very few strangers who may feel somewhat isolated within a group of others well-known to me.

The trouble with assuming that everybody knows us when it comes to integrating church and community, or simply making strangers welcome, is that we are seeing the question from our own point of view.

What about the stranger, especially one who is coping with growing deafness? She or he is feeling uneasy about being in an unfamiliar environment. Being enabled to learn somebody’s name without the embarrassment, potential discourtesy and perceived “forwardness” in asking for it, can go some way to making the stranger feel comfortable in that environment.

And this need not only be in incorporation of brand new people. Sometimes it can take a very, very long time to get to  know the names of people whom  we may greet from week to week and yet never  manage to put a label to the   face.

To my chagrin and shame this week I was told of the untimely death of a person connected from time to time with our congregation. I could not recognise the name but was staggered to find that he had been associated intermittently with us for the past 10 years!

There is a most damaging implication from the declaration, “I don’t need a name badge because everybody knows who I am”. It reveals a mindset that assumes that the membership of the group is static and there is no expectation of new people coming along.

So let’s not be shy of displaying our names when it is our hope to make people welcome.

To have the name of our denomination or congregation on a badge may be additionally helpful but the more space available to make the lettering easily visible may also be an advantage.

I am not the first male to feel some nervousness at misperceived intentions in staring intently at a lady’s breasts because of  my unreliable vision.

Badges are readily available from the Internet and probably other sources and in my case, recently, cost about $10 each.

 

 

To Be or Not to Be

Survival to Self-Actualisation – Maslow’s Hierarchy

Rodney Eivers

“Our Church is on life support” was one of the themes of the 2014 Uniting Church Synod in Queensland. So it is now recognised, after perhaps some years of denial, that our denomination is in dire straits.  Whether suggested steps to be taken have any significant influence on the drift remains to be seen and we would encourage and support the suggestions and activities which may arise in support of revitalisation.

Our purpose in Milpara is somewhat narrower than this as we focus on the fate of existing congregations, especially small ones, and perhaps facilitate the establish of new congregations or faith communities “in every town and  suburb”.

So, is our/your congregation, “to be or not to be” beyond the next ten years?  I would suggest that this is an important question for those congregations which are of moderate size (20 to 100 attenders) and have not seriously faced this question.

Sometimes the very small groups of less than 20 members have a surprising tenacity especially in some  rural areas. They have learned to get by without a full-time minister.

The  large congregations of which there are very few in Queensland can  manage to support a band of full-time professional staff.

The most endangered are those which our current model tends to set up as the standard.  That is a moderate-sized congregation with the capacity to employ one full time minister. More and more congregations are struggling to find the resources to do this.

Milpara would see it as being necessary for the sake  of survival for communities with small attendance to develop policies which would allow them to operate without a full-time minister, or no minister at all, if necessary.  This still leaves them with the opportunity to grow to a size whereby employment of  minister becomes practicable.

One estimate used by the Presbyteries is that the maintaining of a full-time professional ministry requires and annual income of $120,000 per year.

But is this acceptance of a stage of “struggle for survival” helpful or appropriate? Some leaders I have spoken with suggest it is too negative and uninspiring.  People need to be given hope and assurance that they are doing the best they can.

By focusing on survival this may take away the incentive to do the good things that congregation continue to promote and carry on in our local communities.

Nevertheless, find the model used by psychologist Maslow to classify human needs, as helpful in developing a way forward. He drew a model which suggested rising levels from the first desperate need, that of survival. He also suggested that although individuals could move up and down from level to level depending on circumstances there was a tendency for people not to be able to move to the “higher” levels until those at the lower levels had been satisfied.

The following is a suggestion has to how this model might apply to a church congregation or faith community.

 

MaslowMilpara

 
                    CONGREGATION AND FAITH COMMUNITIES A hierarchy of needs – After Maslow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips from Time to Time

 Milpara Tips

Rodney Eivers

31st October 2015

It so happened this month that, with one or two people having become aware of our Milpara vision of integrating churches with their local communities I was approached by Rohan Salmond, the  Editor of UCA Queensland’s Journey magazine. He was writing an article on church planting and it was thought that with our thrust on nurturing existing congregations Milpara might have a contribution to make.

This is the way Rohan put it on page 6 of the November issue of Journey:
“New shoots from root stock.

A renewed focus on church planting may leave established churches feeling left out. Not everybody can start over in a new suburb, and traditional congregations also have communities to which they need to minister. But another project is already underway to revitalise older congregations. 

Rodney Eivers from Acacia Ridge Uniting Church is part of the Milpara Project, developed to assist local congregations to become integrated with their local communities. 

“I’m not talking about the church doing things in the community, “says Rodney. “I mean you hear stories of that in Journey and so on all the time.

 “I’m talking about the community getting involved in the church, right?  Coming from the other direction so the community actually comes to feel that the church belongs to them, and they will work to support it. 

“This is why we are trying to integrate the community into the church, so that the community see that the church is relevant to them in their particular geographic community.”     

Milpara invites visitors of this site to send in their experiences in supporting the viability of small congregations and instances where they have earned the support of their local secular community.

In awaiting your responses, however, it has been suggested that I relate the moderate success my own congregation Acacia Ridge Uniting Church has achieved in maintaining and increasing its vitality since its low point some 15 years ago.

I’ll spread this discussion over the coming weeks and we shall welcome your responses as you seek to either bring new life back into your congregation or faith community or seek to discover the seeds of an interest in spiritual and social concerns which might lead to the formation of a new faith community in your local area.

At the technical level please bear with me as I develop some familiarity with the management of this Milpara website.

Rodney Eivers