Ten Years Forward?

Posted 15th November 2015

Milpara Journal.

This entry comprises the start of a proposed time-to-time series of descriptions of the story of a small church congregation seeking viability in integrating with its local community. For the sake of some confidentiality we shall name it the Milpara Congregation. The stories will be a composite of the experiences of a number of separate congregations but describe events and activities which actually happened. We invite viewers of this site to send in reports and comments on their own experiences in integrating church and local community.

FORWARD TEN YEARS?

Committee 2025

The Milpara Congregation is keen to continue the fellowship of its members and to maintain a Christian presence in its community. It recognises, however, that with the ageing of its members (average age in the area of 60 years) the drain on their energy and likelihood of insufficient financial backing to maintain a full-time minister, it needs to have a serious look at planning for a way forward.

 

One of the members suggested the formation of a small cell of committed people to plan for the future with a vision as far as the next 10 years – Committee 2025.

 

The first meeting was held this week in a relaxed two-hour session over lunch. There was an encouraging attendance of six people.

 

There had been no expectations, of making decisions on the day. In fact the aim was just to encourage participants to make a list of ideas, no matter how wild and woolly or impracticable they might seem. Following this meeting they were to seek ideas of other people as well and then, given a 10-year perspective, take time in selecting suggestions and throwing them open for the congregation to discuss and in due course perhaps take action.

 

It turned out, however, that the results did not get that far. All seemed to agree that the world at large, whom we would hope to attract to the Jesus way, are largely ignorant about what Christianity means and illiterate when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Strong contrasts arose, however, as to how to respond to this environment.

 

The main difference on the surface (although there are other deeper implications) was in relation to the value of facing newcomers with our traditional religious practices in activities other than worship services. Such religious practice would include prayer, hymns and preaching, Bible reading and the use of religious language – “God-talk”.

 

One side reckon that we would not be true to ourselves or demonstrating to the people in the street what Christianity was all about, unless we required people to accept these religious practices when non-members were associated with us, even when not in the context of a service of worship.

 

The other side, see public religious practice as not being at the heart of the gospel. To them compassion, forgiveness and loving one’s enemies is closer to the spirit of Jesus. In a world biblically illiterate and unfamiliar with the essence of Christianity, religious practice can inhibit or even repel people whom we wish to associate with us. An instance is recalled whereby one member on a “secular” walking-group excursion insisted on saying a “Grace” before meals. The other members of the group were offended by this.

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There is a need to work around these difference in finding policies and practices which are attractive to people outside the church so that we can draw them to Jesus. Until we have a clearer vision of the way we see expression of our faith in the future, we are going to find it hard to agree on what practical steps to take.

 

It can be said that in seeking to bring the local community to freely interchange with its church congregation Milpara favours the second approach. As long as it does not compromise the principle of love we may actually reinforce that key principle by not insisting on our own religious practices but by “doing what the Romans do”.

 

So, although this Committee 2025 did not make any firm decision for action and the way forward may be more of a struggle than might have been hoped, there was unanimous agreement that there should be more of this relaxed analytical discussion – with or without the lunch – and it was agreed to carry on with it in 2016.

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Suter Thesis

 

In 2014 Keith Suter completed and published his Doctoral thesis, offering 4 scenarios of the future of the Uniting Church in Australia.  This has become the subject of some discussion within the  Church and is of interest to Milpara, which vision for a future Church that is vibrant, relevant and integrated with Australian communities. Suter’s thesis is long, but well worth a read. You can access it here.

Does “local” matter?

“Describe a good neighbour?” a trainer asked her students. The response came quickly: “One you don’t know is there!”

Australians no longer know their neighbours. The reality is that many don’t want to know those they share a fence, a wall or a street with. And so with a only a few exceptions, the days of borrowing half a cup of sugar from a friend next door are well and truly gone; and to be honest, I am to young to remember them, though my grandmother insists that such a time once existed. In their book “Why people don’t go to Church” Bellamy et al., confirm what many of us already experience, that people “find community in the workplace, through clubs and interest groups and through the ‘ready-made’ communities of festivals and other one-off events”. Further, their research has uncovered that “nearly half of all people under 40 have no close friends living in the local area”(Bellamy et al. 2002). It is without question then that, for many, the notion of a ‘neighbourhood community’ meaning anything more than the geographic co-location of dwellings does not fit with experience.

The concept of churches as centres that facilitate and promote the gathering of local believers is also, well, fading rapidly. Continue reading

The Project

Church and Community – Building Healthy Relationships

Milpara is committed to the Church playing a major role in the development and maintenance of civil society. Indeed, churches with their physical and human resources, as well as their inspiration from Jesus to love your neighbour (without qualification), are well positioned in the community. The Church can be a potent part of community, being able to listen and respond to many of the needs of individuals and whole communities. For this reason alone, communities need churches, and of course, churches need community. Continue reading

Welcome to Milpara

You can be a part of this developing concept.

Milpara is an emerging community innovation set up by long term members of the Uniting Church to help put the Church back into the heart of the community and to help alleviate common issues such as isolation, loneliness and many other life challenges. Milpara is intended to both support and empower churches to open their doors to the local communities as well as work with the community to help create stronger, friendlier and more collaborative environments through events and networks. While this project is in its formative stage, we are inviting others to join us in developing the initiative. You can register interest or offer advice by contacting any member of our team. Just follow the links on this site.