After taking part in a Church Life Survey, use your results to reflect and plan for the future
Church leaders who have taken part in Church Life Surveys over the years have asked us how they can move forward on the results of the survey for their church. We believe this question deserves the best possible answer.
We have outlined ways in which the Church Life Profile can be used by your church for deeper reflection, for planning and ultimately as a catalyst for change.
We invite churches to use their Profile to identify their church’s unique strengths, celebrate them and use them as springboards into the future.
The Source of Our Life: The touchstone of our approach to planning is Jesus’ declaration: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Our approach to planning rests on this promise of Jesus, the source of life. We invite church attenders, as individual believers and members of a community, to identify the expressions of Jesus’ life in their congregations: what has given them life in the past, what gives life in the present and what they can build on to create a future that will lead to life to the full. We assume that every local church has had times of vitality in its history and that every church has a wellspring of life which offers energy, creativity and hope for the future.
This assumption rests on the fact that Jesus Christ and his promise of life is at the core of every believer and every Christian congregation. In the midst of our church life Jesus is:
This life is continually being imparted to us individually and communally through the Spirit of God, who teaches us the truth of the gospel and the path of faith and obedience and gives us all the gifts we need to build our church communities (1 Corinthians 12). These gifts enable us to take part in the purposes of God, the manifestation of his life in the world.
In the book of Genesis we are told that “the Spirit of God was moving over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruah, which also means “breath”. This image of the breath of God touching the void shows that the creative action came from the depth of God’s own life, it imparted something of God’s own self. Now, through Jesus, we have been allowed to share in this same Spirit: “He breathed on them, saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). It is our task and calling to live our lives in the Spirit. In part, we can do this by looking for the signs of life in our church communities and actively nurturing them.
Considering the NCLS Core Qualities is the beginning of such a process. It is the start of an active seeking out of qualities, events, practices and structures in a church community and bringing them into focus for storytelling, reflection and planning. St Paul commended this process of looking for life to the community at Philippi:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things...and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8,9)
First and foremost, then, planning involves identifying what already gives life to a church and encouraging churches and individuals everywhere to be fully connected to Jesus, the true vine and source of life-giving nourishment. It is only by recognising the truth of Jesus’ words that “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) that churches will be able to find the wellspring of life.
Parishes and churches that make a commitment to planning find it integral to their way of life and not an optional extra. In short, planning harnesses aspiration and inspiration. It ensures that vision, discernment and the realising of potential are consistently renewed as a church moves forward together.
Stewardship of Life:
The God of life has entrusted life to us. We have been gifted with talents that we are called on to use so that life will flourish in our church communities. Planning is part of our responsible living out of this stewardship of life. Planning in a church community:
• takes a pro-active stance towards the future, rather than letting ourselves be shaped passively by external forces
• draws individual wisdom and imagination into a communal vision which all can own
• builds community motivation for action because the vision is shared
• focuses resources on the highest priorities.
Our gifts bring responsibility; they contain a clear call for us to do more than just muddle along in the present. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”. A planning process helps us to set directions which make the most of the gifts God has entrusted to us. In other words, we are likely to be more effective in the way we go about mission and ministry if we engage in planning. When destinations and directions are clear, we can focus our gifts, energy and material resources on them.
An Appropriate Response to Change:
One of the hallmarks of our age is that it is a time of rapid change. We have all experienced the impacts of technological change, changes to the workplace, the family, social values and the place of the local community in our lives. These many changes have not left the church untouched; many churches find themselves on the margins, looking for new ways to reconnect with the wider community.
Planning is an appropriate response to such change. It encourages us to take stock, to seek to understand the community that we wish to serve and to work out new ways to reconnect. It helps us to establish new directions and to be engaged in an ongoing process of reflection about them.
A Life-giving Process:
The planning process itself can be life-giving. Most congregations and parishes find that when they begin a time of planning, new energy is released as people begin to step back from day-to-day activities, take an overall look at church life and begin dreaming of the future. Bringing people together in consultations and gathering large groups for visioning can be stimulating experiences which draw people into a unique communal space.
Many dioceses, synods and regions offer planning resources to their parishes and churches, including processes, consultants and facilitators—in these cases much of the groundwork is already in place and local churches can readily tap into it.
Usually the planning process is something that people get into easily and find that it quickly absorbs their interest and imagination. When people know that the planning is for the sake of the kingdom of God and will foster life in their local church community, they also find that a deeper part of themselves is engaged.
Church planning can be seen as a prayerful, participative process by which people define themselves as a faith community and identify the vision and action which will enable them to shape their future, in the light of the Church’s mission.
A process of planning engages your NCLS results and helps churches to take action steps in order to effectively realise a church’s potential for the future. This involves preparation and commitment and seeks to involve the whole church in the journey forward.
Informed Decision Making:
The information collected from thousands of churches who took part in each National Church Life Survey over the years, contributes great wisdom to the question of “How can my church be more healthy, vital and grow?”
Learning from the experiences of other church leaders can give a church greater confidence in the decision they make. We encourage churches to deeply reflect on the research findings in their Church Life Profile and accompanying resources, in order to inform their plans for the future.
Our belief is that planning should be about the search for life within a church. Planning is part of our responsible stewardship of gifts and talents that God has given us so that life will flourish in our church communities. Building on the past strengths of a church can be a springboard into the future and the planning process itself can be life-giving.
Tailored to Your Needs:
NCLS Research acknowledges that many factors make each church unique and that planning can be done in different ways, so we provide a options that can be tailored to suit. The Church Life Profile can readily be used in conjunction with any of our suggested options, or other planning resources. Whatever approach is adopted, planning should be done in a way that suits the culture of your church and the people who will be involved. If you decide to follow one of the processes outlined by NCLS, you will need to adapt it to suit your church. Planning can be carried out by individuals, by church leadership, by planning teams and by whole congregational assemblies.
To help you decide the best planning process for your church, consider what your churchgoers are ready for. We also provide some planning principles and a theological reflection for you.
We offer a range of planning options for leaders to use with their whole church.
NCLS Church Life Profiles can also be used in conjunction with other planning packages.
A practical workshop exploring your 2021 NCLS results and resources
Innovating during COVID-19 restrictions
The feedback from their churchgoers, on the question of ‘spiritual gifts’ over two National Church Life Surveys in 2016 and 2021, has inspired one church to act.