A simple toolkit to help you understand your local congregation and the community you serve
Local churches of many denominations find increasingly that they need to engage in some form of appraisal of their surrounding community and their own congregation. The underlying purpose of this is to provide a firm foundation for longer-term planning for community-based mission. There are four significant elements to this:
- Gaining an accurate picture of the nature, state and population of the local communities served by the church(es). This will include an understanding of what needs are most acute there, and what resources or facilities already exist to help meet those needs.
- Gaining an accurate picture of the resources, abilities, gifts and people present within the local church(es). This will enable an assessment of what may and may not be realistic for the local church.
- Investigating what possibilities exist for partnership with other local bodies, agencies or organisations – whether church-related or otherwise.
- Realistically assessing in what areas and in what ways the local church(es) can and should engage with and serve their communities.
This process - of auditing or profiling - can be a crucial tool in equipping a local church for the mission God is calling it to in its locality. However, many of the pre-existing resources to assist in this process are poorly suited to rural churches: (Find our evaluation of some of the better known ones here)
- Many rural churches tend to have quite small congregations, which may put quite a burden on the church to perform an effective appraisal. Some of these resources assume the existence of a substantial pool of volunteers.
- In significant numbers of rural churches there is little history of lay engagement in mission, with an accompanying view of mission that is seldom community-based.
- Very few of the resources actually available are designed with rural churches and rural communities in mind. In fact some are very clearly aimed at, or assume, urban contexts (e.g. in terms of services or access).
- As a result of this, many of these resources make it difficult to incorporate important aspects of rural churches and communities in the appraisal process. E.g. multiple churches; dispersed and small communities; hidden rural disadvantage; the significance of an inherent ecumenical dimension in rural mission.
As a consequence of this, and as a result of research conducted by the Arthur Rank Centre (ARC) and published in “Resourcing and Training for the Rural Church”, we have had a bespoke but simple toolkit developed to assist just these sorts of rural churches to equip themselves for community-based mission. (This also fits in with a number of other new resources produced by the ARC – e.g. a local church training course in rural evangelism.) The full toolkit is available as free downloads.
This resource has been prepared for the Arthur Rank Centre by Stella Collishaw. Find out more here about the work that Stella does, her motivation for preparing this toolkit and the help she received in doing so.
This toolkit has been designed to be used by any rural church - or group of churches - even if they are small or remote. It can be run over a period of 6 weeks (which need not run consecutively) or longer, and can be facilitated by lay people within the church. Ideally it will eventually involve all the members of a local congregation in the process of preparing for mission and improved community engagement; but the core of the process can be achieved by a smaller, representative group from within the church(es). It is also designed to encourage partnership between different churches, within the same denomination and ecumenically, and partnership with non-church bodies. The end result of the process should be one or more priorities for action, in which the local church can engage realistically with the community it serves.
There are four key aspects to the process enabled by this toolkit:
- Appreciating your own Church(es)
- Investigating your Community Context
- Deliberating over what has been Discovered
- Germinating a Plan
The Complete Toolkit (as a zip file)
Individual Elements of the Toolkit:
- Toolkit - Participants Notes
- Toolkit - Leaders Guide
- Week 1 Appendix - Appreciate Your Church
- Week 2 Appendix A - Listening to the World
- Week 2 Appendix B - Investigate Your Context
- General Appendix - Surveys in Detail
- General Appendix - Welcome
- General Appendix - Church & Community Questionnaire