Over the year 2017, the Synod Council, along with Bishop Riegel and DEM Waldkoenig, held a number of “Listening Post” meetings. Our intent was to listen to our synod members, and we indicated we would summarize what we heard. This report includes the summary of our listening, but I also want to share an important step our Synod Council is taking to address many of the comments.
The most critical step addresses the issue of communication, and giving attention to our synod’s communication process, we formed a Synod Communication Task Force. The members of this task force include Vicar Lindsey Beukleman, Pastor Linda Muhly, Pam Pritt, Stephanie Setley, Joe Solberg and Paul Wangerin, and one of our first steps was to send a survey to our synod members to address both how and what to communicate within our synod. We had an excellent response to this survey with over 480 responses. At the time of writing this report, we are in the process of compiling the results of the survey, and I intend to share more about this in my verbal report at the Synod Assembly.
Following is the “Listening Post” summary report I wrote for the Synod Council in January, and as a part of my verbal report I will also share some of our next steps to the comments/requests we heard.
Summary of Messages Heard in Our Synod Listening Post Meetings …
-14 Listening Post Meetings were held with an approximate attendance of over 210. This number does include repeat attendees …
-Following are the messages/suggestions we heard when we asked what can the synod do to assist/support the congregations. The comments are organized into six different categories, and it is important to be aware that some comments fit into several different categories, most significantly the category of communication …
-Building a synod communication strategy is most important (a Communication Task Force has been working on the for several months now). This strategy will need to include … many forms of communication … categorizing the various types of messages and fitting these to the appropriate audience … include a system of networking, not only between the synod and the congregations (having a congregation communication coordinator), but also between the individual congregations themselves.
-Communicating many of the aspects in the other categories will help to effectively carry out those suggestions.
-Communicating the best practices and the good stories of what is happening of congregations within our synod. Various best practice ideas are listed in “best practices” section.
-Communication needs to be clear and when schedules are stated, all effort to keep to the schedule is important.
Resources, Training and Best Practices
-Synod can be helpful in providing ideas and resources for such areas as:
- help with stewardship programs
- raising up new leaders … helping to identify and to train
- building a lay visitation program
- equipping for evangelism – strategies, resources and training
- are there resources or ideas to help small congregations
- resources and ideas for effective Bible study programs or other educational activities
- resources for working with specific age groups such as aging, millennials, etc.
- resources and best practices for confirmation programs
assistance and resources for the very small congregation whose future is in jeopardy
-Sharing and communicating best practices for any of the above areas
-Sharing and communicating best practices and effective activities taking place within synod (such as First, Parkersburg and its Garden, the Blessing Boxes at Mountain Parish (???) or the coordinated community activities among the Eastern Panhandle churches)
-How can we best “keep telling the story”.
Mission / Vision / Strategic Directions for Synod and Congregations
-Does the synod have a mission/vision as to who and what we want to be … as a synod? And can these be assistance in helping congregations, council presidents, pastors on developing and living out a congregational mission?
-Our mission needs to include supporting each other. How can this best be done and communicated?
-The most important mission of the congregation is to preach, teach and share the Gospel.
Encouraging Congregational Partnering and Ecumenical Activities
-This includes sharing and communicating various activities taking place within synod.
-Building opportunities to more effectively connect congregations to each other.
-Encourage coordination among churches in areas such as joint/shared Bible studies or educational activities.
-Sharing resources and activities ecumenical in nature.
Philosophical Issues and Questions
-Define “church” in the 21st century, and struggle with who we are and to whom do we minister.
-Our work is to preach the Gospel in a variety of settings (congregation, community, within community of drug abuse, etc.) How can this best be accomplished?
-How can we / do we keep the church relevant today? How do we / can we most effectively minister to the various segments of the population – aging, millennials, youth, etc.
-What is / where is the critical mass of various age groups? How does this speak to where and how a congregation places its emphases?
-Where is the synod on the question of starting new congregations or new ministries?
General Questions and Thoughts
-Consider a “Synodical Call for Prayer” … for xxx weeks on a specific topic, possibly starting with looking for what God wants us to be/to do.
-Most important thing is sharing Jesus around the Gospel.
-Town Meetings such as these are very good ways to keep the synod/Synod Council/Bishop/DEM visible to churches, congregations and members.
-Campus ministry is important, and yet non-existent at Marshall. Local attempts to build visibility at Marshall has met roadblocks. Can Synod provide assistance in this area?
Next Steps ??????
The above are comments heard without judgment, response or solutions. There clearly are a number of items that can be addressed in the near term. Others can be addressed over time. Still others may not be possible at all. The Synod Council now needs to consider priorities and next steps as well as how we will communicate and keep before the synod what we have heard and what actions we are taking in this area.
For discussion at the January 20, 2018 Synod Council Meeting.
Paul Wangerin, Synod Vice President