Janesville73.7°

Church visioning programs put focus on faith

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Catherine W. Idzerda
October 7, 2009
— A bigger building doesn't mean better people.

A remodeled sanctuary doesn't translate into changed hearts.


Most church leaders understand those concepts but still find themselves having long arguments—in even longer meetings—about how to "grow" their congregations.


A new church in the suburbs? A remodeled entryway? New furniture in the nursery?


But some Janesville churches are looking at "church growth" in a different way.


Roxbury Road Church of Christ did a professionally designed spiritual life survey of its members.


"We're not counting 'nickels and noses,'" said the Rev. Jon Grice, senior pastor. "We're trying to get at the spiritual practices, the spiritual habits, the spiritual commitments of people."


Designed by the Chicago-based Willow Creek Church, the Reveal survey has been used by more than 500 churches nationwide.


Here's how Willow Creek's Web site describes it: "Reveal helps people move forward along the spiritual continuum—its ultimate goal is taking people from stagnation into transformation."


The confidential survey asked people about their prayer lives, how often they invite people to church, what are the five most important things they need from their church, how comfortable they are talking about their faith with others, what they want from their pastors and a variety of other questions that address spiritual issues.


For Roxbury, it was a way to gauge the congregation's relationship with their church and with God.


"We want to look at ourselves in the mirror in the most accurate way we can," Grice said. "We wanted to get a little more empirical data about ourselves."


Sometimes church leaders' ideas about their congregations' needs miss a reflection of reality.


So what did the Roxbury Road congregation tell its leadership?


-- They wanted strong programs for families and children.


-- They wanted help developing and deepening their relationship with God.


-- They wanted a more in-depth understanding of the Bible.


"There weren't a great many of surprises," Grice said.


The church had recently hired a family pastor to enhance youth ministry.


But instead of being a kind of faith subcontractor, where the family minister provides programs and then returns kids to their families, the church hopes to work in partnership with families.


"We want to see church ministry in the context of the family," Grice said.


The survey results "reaffirmed that this direction was important to people," he said.


About 64 percent of respondents noted that they were comfortable talking to about their faith with others. But a less significant percentage said they had asked people to come to church with them, and Grice wondered about that dichotomy.


Grice hopes his congregation will take the survey again to see how people's faith lives are evolving.


"The emphasis is not simply going from no faith to faith, but going from faith to a faith that will give us a new kind of life," Grice said.


It's that kind of "visioning" that keeps people "focused on the cross," said the Rev. Steve Ekblad, pastor of Good Shepard Lutheran Church, Janesville.


Ekblad first came to Janesville in 1986 and remembers his church struggling with the rebuild-remodel kind of "visioning." The congregation and its leadership decided to focus on smaller changes to the building and making the bigger, more challenging changes in their hearts.


Ekblad and his church council have tried to keep that focus by encouraging congregation to participate in a yearlong Bible study called "Divine Drama."


"We're after an understanding of Jesus, to understand the mind, the meaning and the mission of Jesus," Ekblad said. "It's the cross, which is forgiveness, and beyond the cross to the lifestyle of Jesus. How do we copy Christ in our own lives?"


It's crucial that any church planning starts with a congregation "seeking to think with the mind of Christ" instead of being pressured by a culture that always wants what's new and what's best.


"That visioning thing—it's what God is calling us to be in the near term and the long term," Ekblad said.



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