From Dreams to Design for Ministry
To revitalize its mission and ministry, a congregation on Long Island is investing in ways to become more welcoming, passionate, vital, risky, and generous.
It began with the people at Plainview Reformed Church (PRC), along with interim minister/church revitalizer Susan Switzer, taking a year to dream and examine their history, values, and identity. Toward the end of the process they held a dreaming session to brainstorm how to bring the congregation’s values to life without regard to money or common sense. To make it fun, they adopted a circus theme and had participants sit with people they didn’t know.
A design team took what emerged from the dreaming session and “wordsmithed” what congregants said they value about the church. They came up with the church’s major values, describing who they are and what they wanted to create more of. The five areas PRC needed to focus on became clear: extravagant welcome, passionate worship, spiritual vitality, risky mission, and exceptional generosity.
“Now the design team meets regularly and is taking a number of the dreams and starting to make them a reality,” Switzer says. PRC also has asked for financial help from their classis and the Synod of New York to keep moving forward.
In year one of their three-year goal, the church plans to hire a professional website designer to make their websitemore inviting, engaging, and relevant. They realize that today, especially for young people, the door to a church is its website. They’ll also hire a part-time communications person to keep their ongoing communications fresh.
As another way to welcome members of the community, the church has launched PRC Café, a monthly coffee house that showcases local musical talent and art. Through the café, PRC provides an alternative place for people of all ages to come and enjoy music in an alcohol- and drug-free environment. The café has been open several nights with positive reviews, and has scheduled dates and performers for many months to come.PRC also plans to create a welcome/community center. Currently parishioners go downstairs to the fellowship hall for coffee hour after worship. This is difficult for many older folks because the lower level is not handicapped accessible. It’s also hard for new people because the space is large and not very welcoming. One Sunday the church held coffee hour in the narthex, and it was transforming. People spoke to one another. A new family that had just arrived was truly welcomed. As one congregant expressed it, “A new spirit was palpable and no one was left out.” To build on this experience, PRC plans to renovate a room off the narthex into a warm, inviting welcome/community room.
PRC leaders believe that the most important thing for “growing the church” is worship that is heartfelt, inspiring, and surprising so that people are eager to return. They’ve introduced contemporary Christian music in some services and brought in instrumental soloists, vocalists, and a drummer. They are trying new ways to deliver the message including streaming contemporary stories on a screen, showing PowerPoint presentations, and having more people deliver different elements of the worship liturgy.
A worship team meets regularly to design new services. In the past year those have included a Blessing of the Animals (with an outdoor café in the parking lot that served both animal and people treats), a Blessing of the Backpacks, a Taizé service, a special service on prayer, a service on the transformative power of water, and a forgiveness and redemption service.
PRC members have also started moving beyond the church property and into the community to connect with the people out there and discover their needs. They’ve observed that many people are still hurting from Hurricane Sandy and the recession. They’ve discovered that neighboring communities are home to lots of single parents, there are immigrant workers in town, and factory workers walk past the church early every day on their way to work.
To begin to connect with the needs in the community, the church wants to create a new, larger thrift shop and a community garden on church property to provide people in the neighborhood with home-grown vegetables.
Spiritual growth is foundational for all of PRC’s revitalization dreams, so over the next three years PRC plans to embrace certain early church spiritual practices including contemplative prayer, meditation, and walking the labyrinth. They also plan to hold an all-church retreat.
PRC is encouraging members to be generous in giving of their time, talent, and treasure to support revitalized mission and ministry. Even beyond that, they want to become known as a congregation that is exceedingly generous in all of its dealings. They’re going to begin by reading Creating Congregations of Generous People, by Michael Durall, hoping to expand people’s thinking about giving, enabling them to be more generous in all things.
Switzer acknowledges that there are a lot of changes to outreach under way at PRC, adding that the congregation will review how things are going annually and make adjustments. They’ll hold on to what works and if something doesn’t work they’ll let it go and try something new. “It’s an exciting time at PRC!” she says.