TE ATATU BIBLE CHAPEL CONGREGATIONAL REVIEW
TE ATATU BIBLE CHAPEL CONGREGATIONAL REVIEW
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 1 TE ATATU BIBLE CHAPEL CONGREGATIONAL REVIEW Jim McInnes and Sandra Hewlett BACKGROUND Why we conducted the Review 2012 was very much a year of pausing for Te Atatu Bible Chapel and the associated Te Atatu Peninsula Community Trust. Not that we did nothing. The church had no shortage of activity, and the trust brought a building development project to the point of initiation after much background work. However, early in year the elders and trustees felt distinctly that further decisions concerning chapel staffing and the allocation of trust resources should not be taken until we had a better picture of the needs of the community.
We commissioned David Williams to undertake the Community Needs Analysis research to give us a comprehensive understanding of the changing face of Te Atatu Peninsula and its present needs. And yet, with David’s report in our hands later in the year we felt again that decisions concerning the commitment of limited church and trust resources were difficult and premature without also reaching a better understanding of ourselves as a church. Although we were eager to make use of the community research, we paused for a further period of time to undertake a Congregational Review. It was not enough to know our community; we had to also know ourselves.
The Congregational Review is intended to complement the Community Needs Analysis by offering us an equally clear picture of the chapel and its own concerns. Together these two pieces of research on the church and local community place the TABC and TAPCT leadership in a well informed position from which to take future decisions concerning church life and our engagement with the people of the Peninsula. An honest reflection on ourselves and a thorough study of our community have admittedly taken time, but it is arguably time well spent because the elders and trustees can now be certain of much more than they were a year ago.
The 2013 church and trust leadership now have a responsibility to pay close attention to these two research reports, and to take prayerful and considered decisions in light of what they reveal. Church members, to whom the results of the Congregational Review ultimately belong, are asked to pray for the elders and trustees as they lead us into the future.
METHOD How we conducted the Review The TABC elders commissioned Jim McInnes and Sandra Hewlett to conduct the Congregational Review. Fifty eight chapel members participated in a total of fifteen consultative meetings in November and December 2012. The meetings were guided by a set of carefully chosen questions inviting open comments on a broad range of church issue (see Appendix A). Sandra filled a note book, and then typed forty pages of verbatim comments which were examined by Jim to identify the recurring themes. In all, 566 distinct comments were collated, producing a reasonably objective record of recurring themes (see Appendix B).
Throughout this process we sought to avoid paraphrasing or prematurely interpreting what we had heard. Our intent was to be as faithful as we could to what people said, or gave us in writing. The following is a summary of the emerging themes from the review, and an interpretation of these themes by Jim for the purpose of initiating an important conversation around what our people said.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 2 REVIEW THEMES Short list of themes The review data does not easily yield a short list of points, nor should it. The review is best understood and interpreted as in-depth conversations with numerous emerging themes, some of which were repeated by people in different ways. The extensive list of collated themes (pages 13-19) allows us to broadly see what comments and perspectives emerged most often as well as to recognise alternative views and lesser themes. The interpretive summary of the collated themes (pages 3-11) retains the conversational nature of the consultation and hopefully does justice to peoples’ comments.
Any concise summary of findings is limited in value and naturally excludes much of the data. However, a one page summary of key findings is helpful for distilling the recurring themes and ensuring that these find their way into other key documents and discussion forums. If people read nothing else they may at lease read this page. Below is a short list of the most significant findings from the Congregational Review. TABC’s major present strengths are also its past strengths. The top 4 of these are: 1. Openness and acceptance of people 2. Quality biblical teaching 3. Close family-like relationships 4.
Local community focus The church is strongly relational and always has been Authentic relationship require intentional time and effort A minority find it not so easy to fit in or find acceptance at TABC Youth ministry was a historic strength but is a present concern The loss of youth and young adults is distressing for many people We minister to children and older people reasonably well The church is too disordered, informal, loose, and lacking in good communication A handful of overstretched volunteers do most of the church and community work Some feel that others need to take responsibility and get involved in some way However, few people indicated ways they would like to serve that we don’t already of Very few people articulated how the church helps them apply their faith at work or home Home groups are the major church contributor to personal spiritual growth Good teaching and the recent emphasis on spiritual disciplines supports spiritual growth Yet, spiritual growth is largely seen as a matter of personal responsibility There is a general sense of spiritual malaise and tiredness at TABC We should not attempt further community engagement without additional recourses The church has its own needs to address before expanding its community activities Our global mission interests are important to promote and maintain Gathering together for worship, teaching and fellowship matters greatly to the majority A number are concerned with the casual church attendance of others For a few people the Sunday morning service is not of great importance The Sunday service needs attention, change, variety and greater creativity Leadership needs to communicate well and consult the church on key matters People want decisive leadership and a clear sense of direction for the church
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 3 INTERPRETIVE SUMMARY - Jim McInnes 1. CHURCH STRENGTHS Continuity with the past for our top strengths We are a highly relational church, known for good teaching and a community focus. The key strengths of the chapel today are consistent with what first drew people to the church, with one exception – youth ministry – which is discussed under weaknesses. By comparing the 56 comments on what initially drew people to TABC with the 69 comments on our present strengths it is immediately evident that the top four current strengths of TABC (representing half the comments made) correlate to four of the top five reasons people were initially drawn to the chapel.
These are: 1. An openness and acceptance of people (historic x10 / present x8) 2. Quality biblical teaching (historic x9 / present x10) 3. Close family-like relationships (historic x8 / present x10) 4. A local community focus (historic x6 / present x6) This consistency over time across the major strengths is to be celebrated, and not taken for granted. The chapel is clearly a place where people feel warmly welcomed and form close connection with other church members, while also engaging with the wider community. And all of this is supported by good biblical teaching. Several people also commented that in crisis people drop what they are doing and show tremendous support (x4 comments).
Other strengths that span the past and present include: The leadership offered by the pastor (historic x5 / present x3) The vision and leadership of the elders (historic x3 / present x3) The sense of going somewhere together in a dynamic place (historic x4 / present x4) The diversity of our people (historic x2 / present x3) A strongly relational church family Because quality relationships are high on the list of past and present strengths, we can mention here the comments on the specific questions dealing with “Church Relationships” (x41 comments). The same themes of openness, acceptance, and valuable family-like relationships repeatedly emerged here (x17).
We truly prize our sense of belonging and commitment to one another. Small groups, including two men’s breakfasts, play a vital part in this (x5). However, a handful of people questioned whether we are as accepting as we think we are (x3), and suggested that people sometimes stick to who they know (x2). The highlighting of our quality relationships therefore comes with a degree of qualification, and yet the positivity is resounding. We have an authentic responsiveness to one another, and people matter more than anything else to our people, aside from God. On that note, two people astutely commented that our relationships with one another may even come before the collective attention we give to God.
It was also noted that we live busy lives (x2) and that authentic relationships require intentional effort (x2) and unhurried time in one another’s’ homes (x2). There was a call for deliberate pastoral concern for one another (x3). In short, deeply appreciated and largely positive relationships are at the centre of church life for many of our people, but they don’t happen by default and cannot be taken for granted.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 4 2. CHURCH WEAKNESSES There is no way to ask about church strengths without also hearing about its weaknesses. No question asked specifically about TABC’s weaknesses, yet people volunteered their thoughts (x74 comments). The top weaknesses in order are: 1. Informality and disorder (x11 +6-10 related comments in the review) 2. A handful of people do most of the work (x8) 3. The loss of young people (x6) Disorder and looseness In my opinion the two top weaknesses reflect a specific aspect of our church culture and inadequate staffing/leadership.
I will offer some analysis. The top weakness, which people spoke of variously as, “informality, looseness, disorder, and poor communication,” (both historically and today), is very telling. Two reasons were suggested for this general disorder. The first is the avowedly casual and independent ‘Tat North’ culture, where, as with Israel in the book of Judges, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes,” (Judges 21:25). And, we might add, “in their own time”. The second possible reason for our general disorder is also found in the same verse from Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel.” Israel’s lack of leadership led to a state of competing priorities and moral uncertainty.
Perhaps TABC has similarly experienced a degree of confusion and competing interests because of insufficient central leadership. Not that the church needs a ‘king’. There are churches that appoint king-like pastors and suffer in the same way that Samuel warned Israel they would suffer under a king. We would rightly never tolerate such a pastor. Furthermore, as a Brethren church committed to plural leadership we have been well served by our faithful eldership teams. However, it seems clear enough that the genuine benefits of plural leadership in a purely elder-led church have been matched by the disadvantages of not having a pastor.
Not since Brian Hathaway has TABC retained a pastor for a reasonable period of time and seen what kind of leadership a unified pastor and church eldership might provide together. If the Tat North culture and the lack of a dedicated team leader are indeed contributing causes of the disorder that people spoke of, then hopefully this might begin to shift now through a strengthened staff and eldership, and a will on the part of the congregation to address any unhealthy culture of informality. We also need to address any structural issues that contribute to the disorder and poor communication—one of these being a lack of clearly defined roles for staff and poor supervision practices (x3 comments).
The handful of people who do so much already The second most frequently mentioned weakness—the fact that a handful of people have extensive voluntary involvement in church and community ministry, while others have little or no involvement— requires some careful reflection to avoid inappropriate action. Some church members have more available time than others. Many serve in a myriad of ways outside of TABC and our community ministries. Others may be holding back to see where we are heading. All of this needs to be fully acknowledged. There was some fairly blanket criticism levelled at people who do not visibly contribute much time and energy to our activities, which might need tempering.
And yet the basic point is true and worth hearing: half a dozen to a dozen easily named individuals serve to such an extent that without them church activities would grind to a halt. There was real concern with the workload carried by these volunteers and staff. We need to ensure that those we lean heavily on are not driven to exhaustion, and that a wider group of people are encouraged to contribute in ways that make good use of their time and talents, without failing to appreciate where else they serve, or what limitations they may have on their time. The size of the church is clearly a factor at this point, as some people noted (x 4).
There is only so much we can do with a small pool of people. We must guard our busy people, limit what do, encourage others in our midst to serve, and possibly seek additional staffing to keep pace with the work.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 5 A historic strength and present weakness – young people The loss of young people is third on the list of chapel weaknesses (x6), and is the one obvious exception to our continuity with the past. Historically a thriving youth group and local youth work drew people to the chapel, while at present the youth ministry is considered a real concern. The youth group is second on the list of what initially attracted people to the church (x9), yet only mentioned as a present strength by one person. Six people identify youth ministry as a present weakness and another seven say we are losing young people (x13 combined).
This shift from historic strength to present weakness helps explain the level of feeling concerning our youth activity. It is worth recognising, however, that because many of the present congregation arrived during the church’s heyday as teenagers, young adults, or young parents, there was naturally a strong youth and young family focus at the time. Since then the core congregation has aged, without seeing a large subsequent influx of young people or young families. The church has therefore gone through a demographic shift, and as the congregation has aged its needs have shifted to some extent.
Youth work has remained a priority, and been fairly well resourced until recent times, but any young people in our midst today are in a church that is quite different from the TABC of twenty years ago. Yet, people rightly recognise that effective youth ministry is fundamental to the growth and vitality of the church, and they long to see this. Achieving this will require a full recognition of who we are today and then some wrestling with how we can best serve church and community young people, given our present resources and church demographics. Concern for young people dominates the Ministry to all Ages responses We can deal at this point with the two questions relating to “Ministry to all Ages” because two thirds of the comments we received related explicitly to high school and intermediate age youth ministry (x27 of 42 comments).
Most of these comments expressed concern. Between emphasising the vital need to rebuild what has been a past strength of this church (x8), and lamenting the recent loss of young people (x13 comments including remarks on TABC weaknesses), and the loss of Steve Murray (x2), we have at least 23 combined comments highlighting youth work as a problem. People note that we have an aging congregation with visibly fewer young people in our midst. We are deeply concerned about young people detaching from church and potentially abandoning their faith. In some cases this concerns family members and is highly personal.
Many people would desperately love to see a turnaround in this. Our young people matter immensely to us as a church. Furthermore, the church identifies itself as having always prioritised youth ministry. Two people acknowledged that we presently do some good youth work, and it can be said that that between mid 2012 and early 2013 high school youth ministry has strengthened under Vanessa Rackich’s dedicated leadership. But at the time of this consultation there was a very strong theme of lament for the loss of youth and young adults, and deep concern at the decline of our involvement with young people.
It is one of the most painful issues for TABC. Although people mostly wanted to talk about youth as they responded to the “Ministry to all Ages” questions, people took time to acknowledge that we currently minster reasonably well to: Children (x4-6) Adults (x2) Young adults (x2) Boys at ICONZ (x2) Men through breakfast groups (x2) Mums at Mainly Music and Mainly Mums (x1) Older folk (x1)
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 6 3. SOME SURPRISES Few comments on Christian service At this point we can incorporate the few comments we received on the two questions relating to “Christian Service”. They were few indeed (25 comments in total). Five people mentioned various ways they were involved in church life; five more noted other contexts for their Christian service. But, to the question asking if there were ways people would like to serve that we should know about, there was strikingly little response, and the few who did respond were almost exclusively older members of the church who are quite involved already.
Perhaps people wanted to speak about other issues. It is difficult to know what to infer from silence. If we take the responses at face value, we would have to say that we simply do not have people putting their hand up asking for opportunities to serve. That is concerning. It may be that everyone has enough on their plate, or are already engaged in serving others either within the church or elsewhere, and have no need for further opportunities. Who knows? Either way, the absence of comments should alert us to the fact that there are few people consciously waiting in the wings for someone to invite them to use their passion and talents in new ways.
Perhaps some other avenue, other than a consultative review, might trigger fresh offers of Christian service. Let’s hope so. Even fewer comments on faith at work and home If we though there were few comments regarding Christian service, there were even fewer in answer to the questions about “Faith at Work and Home” (x8 only). Three to four people felt the church equipped them well for living their faith at home or work, and two people noted that TABC had done this well in the past (referring to Martien Kelderman’s emphasis). One person noted that we don’t do this very intentionally today. Evidently we don’t, given the sparse responses.
To the question asking how we might equip people to live their faith, only one person responded. If we thought we were good at equipping people to consider how their faith relates to work and home life we might need to think again. Either people make their own connections from church teaching and worship to home life and work, and feel no need to state how well we enable this to happen, or, alternatively, we lack a conscious intentional focus on helping people apply their faith. Presumably they would be able to tell us how we do this, and how we might do it better, if we actually did it. I suspect we are looking at a real gap here.
Interest and ambiguity around spiritual growth There was a moderate level of response to the two questions concerning “Spiritual Growth” (x49 total), but still slightly less interest than anticipated. Aside from identifying home groups (x5) and quality teaching (x4) as two contributors to spiritual growth, a number of people considered spiritual growth to be their personal responsibility and not the responsibility of the church (x4). There is of course some truth to this perspective, but there is also perhaps a lack of recognition of ways the church can actively contribute to the spiritual growth of individuals.
Having said this, people did pick up on the recent teaching emphasis on spiritual disciplines (x4), and the proposal that we offer mentoring/spiritual direction (x4), as ways the church could foster spiritual growth. There was also a positive recognition that serving others contributes to spiritual maturity (x3), and that any opportunity to pray together helps people grow spiritually (x4). Two people said they were spiritually supported in other contexts. Sadly, two others said they are not growing spiritually, or don’t find the church spiritually supportive. It is important that we recognise that the relational home group environment is the single biggest current contributor to spiritual growth for those that are growing.
Once again, it is the close relationships and time in one another’s homes that people point to as most impacting on their spiritual growth.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 7 Spiritual malaise A number of people commented on what is probably best described as a kind of spiritual malaise at the chapel. Fourth on the list of present weaknesses was the comment that we are not as open to the Holy Spirit as we once were (x5). Others mentioned that we have lost a sense of purpose and spiritual vitality (x3). This theme came through often enough to make mention of it. Some long standing members feel spiritually tired and heavy (x2), or are just hanging in there with church life (x2). Two prayerful and well respected older church members stated simply that we have lost our first love and need spiritual renewal.
I note this theme because there was a fair warning from a number of people that we can do all we like to better organise ourselves – and we definitely need to – but true vitality within a church is a gift from God that we must collectively and individually hunger and pray for. This is an important prophetic reminder for us of what makes a church. The Spirit of God is the life of the church. 4. CAUTION AND COMMITTMENT TO MISSION Strong cautions concerning local engagement The three questions concerning “Engaging the World” attracted 47 comments, showing a reasonable interest and understanding of the chapels’ connection with the local community and with global mission.
However, a fairly strong criticism and a warning came through in response to the question concerning engaging our local community. There was criticism once again of those in the church who sit back while others visibly engage with the community (x5). Certain named individuals were recognised as putting in a lot of energy (x3), and concern was expressed over some peoples’ workload (x2). The same theme of a few overworked people surfaced here. Three people commented that we are quite involved in the community already for a small church, and three more said that the church has its own pressing needs to attend to first.
We were warned to only do a few things well and not attempt everything (x2). The message that emerged concerning our local engagement was that too few people do too much, we shouldn’t be in any hurry to attempt new community initiatives, we should celebrate what we do already, and we must attend to the needs of the church as much as to the community around us. Maintain our global mission interest To the question of global mission there were comments from a few keen people (x16 in total), who emphasised the importance of maintaining and even strengthening our global mission interests (x5). Those who responded stressed the need to support those we have sent out (x3), and to keep the church informed of what they are up to (x3).
There was a healthy understanding that the definition of mission has broadened over time to include a local focus (x2), and that short term-missions are also valuable (x1). The recent enthusiastic attention given to the Cambodia short-term mission team bears witness to this. Global and local mission truly matters to TABC which has a rich history of sending and supporting people in contexts both foreign and closer to home. But, any traditional emphasis, such as God’s heart for global mission, will only remain a church focus if it is continually brought to our attention. With the disbanding of the Missions Board we now have to give fresh consideration to how we do this.
Thankfully a good number of our people don’t need convincing of the value of mission. We simply need to find the most appropriate ways today to encourage ongoing global and local mission interest, involvement, prayer and material support.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 8 5. LOTS TO SAY ABOUT SUNDAYS We nearly didn’t ask We considered not including questions about the Sunday gathering so as to ensure that we heard from people on other matters, and because Sunday matters less to some than to others. But it is just as well we did ask about our gatherings or we would be missing a quarter of the comments we received. The total number of comments collated in response to our two “Gathering Together” questions (x131 combined), are more than those combined for the nine questions dealing with Spiritual Growth, Christian Service, Faith at Work, and Engaging the World (x129 comments).
This says quite a lot about how we conceive of church, and about where our connection with Church takes place for many of us. Clearly we wanted to talk about gathering together, and particularly about the Sunday service. The information we gathered regarding Sundays in particular, and about gathering together in general, is vast and varied. First, the importance of gathering together and the reasons why we do so... Gathering together is vital for the vast majority A large number of people felt that gathering together as believers for worship is essential (x17), with an unknown number of people preferring Sunday as the time to do so (the data is unfortunately not clear enough to determine this – sorry).
A number of people see attendance at Sunday worship as a discipline and a matter of obedience to God (x7). These people are also concerned about the casual attitude towards church attendance displayed by others (x5). All told about 25-30 people strongly voiced the importance of regularly gathering together. Reasons for gathering include: to meet with a wide group of believers (x4); to be taught from scripture (x4); and to model church participation to the next generation (x2). Three people stated their enjoyment of the Sunday services, and two stated that it strengthens them in their faith.
But not for all Now the dissenters. Two people would happily ditch the Sunday morning service altogether. One person only attends from a sense of begrudging duty. Another questions the value of the service in relation to their faith journey. And one person stresses that not attending church does not equate to an uncommitted faith. The dissenting voices are important for us to hear because they voice genuine concerns, questions, frustrations, and alternative possibilities with respect to the status quo. All up about eight comments called into question the relevance and importance of the Sunday service.
Over against this about forty five comments stressed the importance, benefits, and discipline of attending the corporate gathering. None of this indicates what people do or don’t appreciate about the Sunday services, or what they would like to see change. This is dealt with next. These initial comments simply distinguish those for whom gathering together as we do is relatively “sacrosanct” (to quote one person) from those who say that the Sunday service is “not sacrosanct” (again the words of one of our people). Possibilities for when we gather A few offered comments on when and where we should gather (I apologise for not being sure of how many who treat the service as sacrosanct would like to keep it on Sunday morning—probably the majority, but we can’t be certain).
Of those who explicitly commented on the time of the service three don’t feel it needs to be on Sunday; three have other things they would rather do on Sunday; two feel Sunday morning is the best time; two say any time on Sunday will do; two say changing the time won’t make any difference or will only work for some people; and one would like the service in the afternoon. Two more would like to be outside on sunny days. One says the gathering does not have to be weekly.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 9 There are clearly an assorted number of possibilities here, and it is obvious that we have a few people who would like Sunday freed up from a church service—presumably for family, rest, or recreation. This should not surprise us, given how busy many people are. Perhaps it is fair to say that the importance of gathering is more strongly emphasised than the when and where of gathering. It seems that when and where we gather is more a matter of practicality and of necessarily pleasing the majority. To truly determine if Sunday morning is the most practical time for the majority of people we would need to poll the church separately on this issue, but it is realistic to assume that it probably is.
The Sunday service needs attention Sixty one people offered comments relating to what we should do when we gather, or on what is and isn’t working regarding the Sunday service. The top three themes were: 1. The need to make some changes to the service (x14 assorted comments) 2. The need to improve the quality of worship (x7) 3. The importance of food in bringing people together (x5) The Sunday service was generally considered a chapel weakness by three people, and a larger number cited specific problems with it. The top grouping of comments relating to what we do when we gather stressed that some change would be welcome (x14).
This included the suggestion to vary what we do when we gather (x7), accompanied by the criticism that the services are outdated or boring (x5), and better suited to older people than young people (x2)—once again raising concerns about the disengagement of young people. We could add to this the call for greater creativity (x4), and for increased congregational participation in church services (x3). However, one person dislikes forced interaction. Pleasing everyone should therefore be no one’s ambition, especially where we learn that one person likes to see the kids running around, while two others would prefer they were seated.
Different preferences are inevitable in a diverse community church, but some themes are frequent. A mandate for change The second most frequent comment on the services was the need to address the poor quality of some of the worship (x7). Our people are relatively understanding of the fact that we are under resourced to do all things well (x4), and that we can’t compete with other churches on some fronts (x2), particularly the area of worship, but it is evident that we have some issues to address around the quality of worship. Overall, the mandate to bring change and variety to the Sunday services gives us permission to explore new possibilities for what we do when we gather.
This mandate is promising and gives us permission to experiment, but it demands a realistic consideration of resources. We must avoid promising what we can’t deliver. We should also note that some consistency in the Sunday service is valued (x3) to counterbalance suggestions of complete variety, and that the services are presently a bit loose (x2), reinforcing again the need to tighten up what we do together. The comments concerning food (x5) are a reminder for us of the importance of hospitality, and of the role of food in facilitating true fellowship. All in all, lots of comment. For many—though not all—the Sunday service is their primary participation in church life, whether we like that fact or not.
Many tolerate aspects of the service that they find dull or frustrating, but some problems potentially push that tolerance towards its limits. There is much we could do better, and there are ways we could experiment or be more creative within our gatherings. Efforts are being made to involve creative people more in Sunday worship, but our keen creative people are stretched thin. We face real challenges lifting the corporate gathering to a new level, or even attempting new things in a well managed way. However, we now know that many of our people value the Sunday service and they want it to be as good as it can be.
We also know that they are fairly flexible when it comes to change. So, there is plenty to be grateful for, even if there is also plenty to work on.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 10 6. TO THE LEADERS Tell us and ask us Lastly, our people called for good leadership. They thanked us for consulting with them (x4). To our question asking what the ideal church leadership would look like we were asked to communicate well and keep people informed (x3), and to consult on major decisions (x3). We were also asked to lead decisively (x2). Plural leadership still matters to our people (x2), and the present team of elders are affirmed as faithful (x3), but also recognised as overstretched (x2). We were reminded by people that there is a biblical model for separating management from pastoral eldership in Acts 6 (x2).
Those who proposed a separation of pastoral and managerial leadership duties will be pleased to see the present re-structure of the TABC leadership (in April 2013). During discussion of church weaknesses it was suggested that the chapel has drifted along for some time without an adequate sense of vision or direction (x3). This general lack of direction, coupled with the memory for some of a time when the chapel was flourishing, meant that quite a number of people looked back to former times, rather than forward to the future. Two people commented specifically on this chapel tendency to live in the past, which was quite apparent during a number of the review meetings.
Hopefully clear future direction from the leadership will help shift this tendency to look backwards and focus us on where God is taking us. Mutual trust needed A number of people suggested that past eldership teams, and the church as a whole, handled some difficult issues poorly (x5), which is a serious matter for church leaders to consider. There has at times been a breach of trust. But I would add—if I read the church leadership correctly—that the trust has sometimes been strained in the other direction also. Leadership can be a thankless task as one person noted (someone not in leadership), and leaders are too easily made scapegoats by frustrated church members.
Congregations and their leadership teams will make mistakes, and as fallen human beings we are prone to lack grace all round. The preservation (or restoration) of trust and the exercise of forgiveness is vital for any healthy relationship between a church and its leadership. Let us commit ourselves to one another as leaders and people and pray for one another as God’s redeemed church. SUMMARY A strong sense of ownership Most members of TABC care deeply about the church and about one another. Their enthusiastic participation in the review process alone demonstrates this, let alone their passionate articulation of what they think and feel concerning numerous dimensions of church life.
The level of participation in the review is an encouraging sign of the commitment of TABC congregants. Sandra and I noted a deep sense of ownership among people within the chapel. They were more than willing to reflect deeply and thoughtfully on church strengths and weaknesses, challenges and possibilities, past and present. This sense of ownership means views are held strongly and feelings are expressed passionately. Strengths are truly celebrated, while weaknesses are truly lamented. The level of ownership is an evident plus, even if it means the odd occasional pitched battle. If indifference ruled the day we might as well close the doors, but precisely the opposite is true.
Impressive patience and strong impatience with the place and its people often co-exist in the same person because of the typical level of personal investment in the chapel. Members long for the church to flourish. They naturally search for a way forward together in authentic relationship with one another, and faithfulness to God. We sensed a strong will to journey forward together as a family of faith, even if no one quite knows what landscape we are moving into.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 11 Obvious strengths and weaknesses There is no denying that some areas of church life are strong and healthy, namely relational dimensions; and some areas are weak, particularly our level of disorder. The major strengths and weaknesses were stated so often that we needn’t ask again for some time what we might focus our attention on. We now know. Some evidence surprised us, particularly the lack of expressed connection between faith and work or home. Other themes we anticipated, especially the concern about losing young people. Looming larger than anything else was the volume of comments concerning the Sunday service, which says that for quite a number of us Sunday is the primary form of connection with church.
The church leadership had hoped that this wasn’t true, but the comments suggest it may be. And yet clearly there are others who give ample time and interest to church and community activities throughout the week. Limitations The picture is diverse, but the emerging themes are clear. So too are the warnings to those who take decisions around the allocation of limited resources. Where we might have been tempted as a church and trust leadership to initiate various church or community initiatives, we hear a clear note of caution. And if we hoped to coax a dozen new potential volunteers out of the woodwork to lend their weight to our activities we might be waiting a while.
We will have to fully appreciate first the limitations on available finance and voluntary labour, without retreating from a position of faith that invites God to supply all that is necessary. We may also have to more fully appreciate where else people dedicate their time and energy and financial means in ways that are glorifying to God, yet not directly associated with the church or trust. Our view of the Kingdom must be broad and holistic. And yet we needn’t be entirely pessimistic about potential growth or new possibilities in TABC/TAPCT. If we heed the cautions, but at the same time offer the kind of humble empowering leadership and direction that are being called for, who knows what might emerge in our midst? Especially if we invite God to take the lead.
Changes ahead It feels very much as if we are a church poised for change. I don’t say that lightly, because as some people noted we may be adventurous by Brethren standards but there is still a natural degree of resistance to change. It is also too easy for a church leadership to make ill-thought changes that do more harm than good. However, almost everyone agrees that change we must! Not in the fundamental DNA of who we are and what God has given us as distinctive TABC emphasis, like our prized relationality, or our emphasis on community, or our plural leadership; rather, by discerning what holds us back and by unshackling ourselves from any kind of hindrance, like a culture of excessive informality, or over- commitment in areas that are under resourced, of a lack of coherence and centrality within the valuable plural leadership model.
In all this nuance truly matters because we could toss the baby out with the bathwater. If tensions run high at times it is because we have already embarked on a necessary process of discerning hindrance from helpful characteristic. What gives this process some promise of success is the strong call for carefully led change, and the profound commitment of many TABC people to this church and to God’s work within it. Not to mention God’s own commitment to his church and his kingdom purposes—which is what truly gives us hope.
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 12 APPENDIX A: REVIEW QUESTIONS Why Te Atatu Bible Chapel? 1. What attracted you to Te Atatu Bible Chapel in the first place? 2. What do you think TABC’s present strengths are? Spiritual growth 3. How does TABC support your spiritual growth? 4. What else would help you to grow spiritually? Church relationships 5. On a scale of 1-5, how important are TABC relationships to you? (1 is low; 5 is high) 6. What would meaningful relationships at TABC look like to you? Christian service 7. In what ways do you serve others as a Christian? 8. Are there ways you would like to serve that we should know about? Faith at work and home 9.
On a scale of 1-5 how well does this church equip you to live your faith at work or home? 10. How else could the church equip you to live your faith?
Engaging the world 11. On a scale of 1-5 how responsive do you feel TABC is to concerns beyond our doors? 12. How should TABC engage its local community? 13. What interest should TABC have in global mission? Gathering together 14. On a scale of 1-5 how important is the Sunday service to your faith journey? 15. When, how, and why should we gather as believers? Ministry to all ages 16. What ages does TABC serve well? 17. How could TABC serve all ages better? Church leadership and your final say 18. What would the ideal church leadership look like? 19. What else would you like to tell us?
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 13 APPENDIX B: COLLATED THEMES FROM THE REVIEW COMMENTS Themes Repeated Why Te Atatu Bible Chapel? What attracted you to Te Atatu Bible Chapel in the first place? 56 total An open and accepting church 10 Youth group and thriving youth work 9 Friends with some people who already went 8 Community focus and activity 6 Brian Hathaway’s leadership and teaching 5 It was a dynamic and growing place at the time 4 Good teaching 4 The elders had a vision and led well 3 Diversity of people 2 Young families 2 Responsiveness to the Holy Spirit 1 Sunday school 1 The music 1 Why Te Atatu Bible Chapel? What do you think TABC’s present strengths are? (What keeps you here?) 69 total Quality teaching 10 Close relationships / like a family 10 Accepting and friendly place / quality people 8 Local community focus and activity 6 In crisis people drop what they are doing and help 4 It feels like we’re going somewhere lately 4 The current elders serve us well 3 Plural leadership 3 Jim’s leadership 3 The diversity of people 3 Authenticity / you can be yourself 3 Biblical focus and knowledge 2 The many theological trained people who can teach 2 Social events with food 2 Openness to the Holy Spirit 1 Our work with young people 1 Home groups 1 Pastoral care 1 Corporate worship 1 Our informality 1
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 14 Te Atatu Bible Chapel Present and past weaknesses of TABC (not one of our questions but lots said) 74 total Informality / looseness / disorder and poor communication (past and present) 11 A few people do most of the work (a few people named repeatedly) 8 We are losing young people (also frequently noted under youth ministry) 6 We are not as open to the Holy Spirit as we once were 5 Some past issues were not handled well by leaders (or the church) 5 Too many people have left / we are below critical mass / we risk losing more 4 No clear direction or articulation of vision for some time / just drifting along 3 Staff have not had clearly defined roles or good supervision 3 The chapel has lost a sense of purpose and spiritual vitality 3 The Sunday services are struggling / not going well 3 We are not as accepting as we think / have not always felt accepted 3 People stick with who they know / relationships could go deeper 2 People are generally tired / feeling heavy 2 Only just hanging in at the church / not sure where else to go 2 The present elders are overstretched 2 There is some resistance or reluctance to change 2 Looking backwards as a church (particularly to Brian Hathaway’s day) 2 Unattractive and/or poorly functioning building 2 Catering for all ages and diversity can be difficult 2 Staff and volunteers have not always been supported to try new things 1 Leadership has come under too much criticism at times 1 Not all employed people do their job 1 Sin and idolatry in our lives holds us back 1 Spiritual growth How does TABC support your spiritual growth? 28 total Home group or breakfast group 5 Quality teaching 4 I’m responsible for my own spiritual growth 4 Teaching about spiritual growth and spiritual disciplines 3 Providing an opportunity to serve 3 I’m spiritually supported in another context 2 Church does not support me spiritually / I’m not growing spiritually 2 Worshiping together 2 Church services 1 Times of prayer with others 1 Through relationships 1
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 15 Spiritual growth What else would help you to grow spiritually? 21 total Times of prayer together and teaching people to pray 4 Spiritual disciplines / retreats 4 Mentoring / spiritual direction / someone asking me where I’m at 4 Giving me the chance to serve others 3 Relevant teaching / focus on scripture 2 Seeing God at work and hearing from him personally 1 Foster a climate of growing deeper in Jesus 1 Being able to ask the hard questions 1 Trials grow me 1 Church relationships How important are TABC relationships to you? 15 total We/I have longstanding valuable relationships with people at TABC 4 Church relationships are very important to me 3 Perhaps we are more committed to each other than to God’s purposes 2 4 on a scale of 1-5 2 5 on a scale of 1-5 1 We are a bit disconnection from one another 1 People care about you more if you are involved in the place 1 Some older chapel friends have passed away over the years 1 Church relationships What would meaningful relationships at TABC look like to you? 26 total Like a family: genuine, a place of belonging, committed 4 Everyone would benefit from a small group (North/South mentioned as example) 3 Pastoral care and concern for one another / missed when not around 3 Openness about failings / authentic 3 Inviting people into our homes / visiting people in their homes 2 People live busy lives and have little time for relationships 2 Authentic relationships require intentional effort 2 Women could do with something like the men’s breakfasts 2 Social activities and fun together 2 Intergenerational and multi-cultural 1 Appreciate one another for who they are not just what they do 1 We need a greater selection of home groups 1
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 16 Christian service In what ways do you serve others as a Christian? 14 total I/we are very involved with church (various examples given) 5 In my place of work / home 2 Through other Christian ministries 2 Through local social/service groups 1 Being involved gives me the opportunity to grow 1 Church is about who we are not what we do 1 By giving meals to people 1 By mentoring others 1 Christian service Are there ways you would like to serve that we should know about? 11 total The whole congregation needs to take responsibility to serve 2 The needs of older people noted (St Margaret’s and elsewhere) 2 Various outreach possibilities suggested 2 I’d like to disciple /mentor others 2 Don’t just see people as volunteers, care about their needs also 1 We are pulling back as we get older 1 Praying for/with others 1 Faith at work and home How well does this church equip you to live your faith at work or home? 7 total The church has done this well in the past (e.g.
Martien Kelderman) 2 Church equips me for ministry / witness in my place of work 2 4 on a scale of 1-5 1 3 on a scale of 1-5 1 We don’t do this very intentionally at TABC 1 Faith at work and home How else could the church equip you to live your faith? 1 total There are hard challenges for us at home 1 Engaging the world How responsive do you feel TABC is to concerns beyond our doors? 4 total Working with the community is essential 1 3-4 on a scale of 1-5 1 3 on a scale of 1-5 1 Mainly mums noted as an example 1
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 17 Engaging the world How should TABC engage its local community? 27 total Quite a few people do nothing / only some serve the community 5 Certain people put a lot of energy into programmes/activities (two people named) 3 We are very involved in the community already for a small church 3 The church has its own pressing needs to meet first 3 Just do a few things well 2 Concern for staff workload (overworked staff named) 2 Ensure there are no strings attached to secular funding 2 No one church can do it all / be selective 1 Use the strengths and passions of all church members 1 Church members can engage others personally, not just through programmes 1 Rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us in what to do 1 Change the name of the church 1 Does our church really reflect the community around us? 1 What do mainly music mums want from a church? 1 Engaging the world What interest should TABC have in global mission? 16 total Keep or strengthen our global focus / don’t lose it 5 Support those people we have sent out as missionaries 3 Keep the church informed of our missionaries 3 Mission is now understood as local, not just global 2 TABC has an active interest in overseas mission 1 One couple are considering serving as foreign missionaries 1 The short term mission trips are valuable 1 Gathering together (General comments on why we gather) How important is the Sunday service to your faith journey? 54 total Gathering together for worship is essential / Christians have always gathered 17 Attending Sunday worship is a discipline / or a matter of obedience to God 7 Concerned about the casual attitude of others towards church attendance 5 The importance of connecting with a wider group of believers 4 It is important to hear the word of God / to be taught 4 I enjoy the Sunday services 3 We model something for our children / grandchildren when we go to church 2 The Sunday services strengthen my faith journey 2 The Sunday service is not sacrosanct / kill Sunday morning, it’s dead anyway 2 The Sunday services are suited more to older people than young people 2 I go on Sunday out of duty but I don’t want to be there 2 I’m questioning the place of Sunday service in the faith journey 1
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 18 Not coming to church does not equal a non-committed faith 1 People go to what they want to and to what they value 1 Importance of 3 on a scale of 1-5 1 Gathering together (Comments about when and where we should gather) When, how, and why should we gather as believers? 16 total Sundays does not need to be when we meet 3 I have other things I would like to do on Sunday morning 3 Sunday morning is the best time / or probably the best time to meet 2 Changing the time won’t make any difference / or will only work for some people 2 Anytime on Sunday will do / let’s try meeting at different times 2 Let’s meet outside on nice days 2 Let’s do something on Sunday afternoon involving food 1 Gathering with the wider church does not have to be weekly 1 Gathering together (Comments about what we should do when we gather) When, how, and why should we gather as believers? 61 total Vary what we do when we gather / make some changes 7 Some of the worship is poor quality / or hard to participate in 7 Food is important when we gather / it brings people together 5 Our services are outdated / boring / they need to change 5 We could be more creative (recalling Space) 4 We are under resourced to do things well 4 We need some consistency/structure in what we do when we gather 3 Encourage greater congregational participation and interaction 3 Other churches are livelier and attractive / we can’t compete 2 The chance to talk with others on Sundays is valuable 2 Prophetic words are an important part of gathering to hear from God 2 We need to be praying together / include a time of ministry 2 Keep the services tight / they can get too loose.
2 Link the community in more to our gatherings if we can 2 Kids need controlling a little more / they can be distracting 2 I like seeing the kids freely doing their thing 1 Some people like to be anonymous / don’t force interaction 1 The Sunday service requires a lot of work from people 1 Perhaps TABC could shut up shop / or merge with others 1 Young people are disengaged in the Sunday services 1 We used to have youth services (a good thing) 1 Have a good kids programmes for visitors to church 1 We need to hear testimonies of God at work in people’s lives 1 Have shorter sermons 1
Te Atatu Bible Chapel 2012 Congregational Review Summary 19 Ministry to all ages What ages does TABC serve well? 15 total We minister to children well (key volunteers named) 4 We serve adults well 2 Young adults is going well (key volunteers named) 2 ICONZ is great / boys well served 2 The men’s breakfasts are great for adult men 2 The ministry to mums and kids is strong 1 We work best with the oldies and the young ones (not so well with in-between) 1 Acknowledge our older people more 1 Ministry to all ages (Comments on youth ministry in particular) How could TABC serve all ages better? 27 total Youth ministry needs re-building / it is vital / it is part of our history 8 We have lost young people and are missing a generation (youth and young adults) 7 We lost something for the young people when we lost Steve Murray 2 We need to mentor young people, not just entertaining them 2 We still do some good work with young people 2 Young people may simply want to go elsewhere 2 We enjoy combined events, well planned activities, studies (say the young people) 1 Tell the church what is happening with the young people 1 We did better with younger teens than older teens till recently 1 We need to link older and younger people 1 Church leadership and your final say What would the ideal church leadership look like? 24 total Thanks for undertaking this consultation process / it’s valuable 4 Keep people informed / communicate 3 Good leadership is consultative / especially with major decisions 3 Present a clear vision and direction / lead us 2 Take management off the church elders (as in Acts 6) 2 Plural leadership is important 2 Leadership needs to be authentic 1 Involve younger people on eldership 1 Have elders lead according to their gifting and passion 1 Encourage passionate people to coordinate areas of interest 1 Take care of what we have at church 1 Exhort, encourage, show kindness 1 I’d like an elder liaison person 1 Remain biblically focused 1