“Listen!” Jesus said. “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. . . Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Last Saturday, 58 people representing the congregations from North Prince George’s County gathered for the first regional discovery session of our diocesan-wide strategic planning process, Becoming Good Soil. The congregation of St. Matthew’s/San Mateo provided gracious hospitality, serving us homemade tamales and fruit when we arrived, and a delicious lunch at mid-day. The regional leaders and diocesan staff had carefully arranged the tables and seat assignments to encourage conversation among congregational leaders. There were two translators among us, to ensure full participation for those whose first language is Spanish.
We prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and bless our time together.
Mark Meyer, our consultant from the Unstuck Group, led us through a series of questions and group exercises. He was warm, respectful, and encouraging throughout the day. All those present were fully engaged. The energy in the room was wonderful.
We started by asking ourselves the foundational question of purpose: Why does the Church exist? The varied responses included: to become and make disciples of Jesus, to be a beacon of hope and love, to share the love of God, to serve the Kingdom of God; to build community, seek justice, grow in faith.
Mark then asked us a more practical question: How do we measure parish health? Again, the answers covered a broad terrain: growing membership, the level of engagement in parish offerings, the number of children and youth, recognition in our community, the ways we serve others. The group also recognized that some indicators of health are difficult to measure, such as the depth of our relationships, the presence of the Holy Spirit, individual spiritual growth.
Through the day, Mark gently encouraged us not to shy away from using metrics to assess health. He introduced us to a tool that the Unstuck Group uses to assist congregations in measuring health, what he called the Vital Signs Dashboard.
Over lunch, we divided ourselves into small working groups to engage the four core questions at the heart of our strategic planning process.
In our congregations and in the diocese as a whole:
What is healthy?
What is stuck?
What is unclear?
What is missing?
A scribe at each table captured everyone’s observations and insights. Then we took time to share a few common themes with the wider group. Mark invited us to name ministry opportunities in our congregations, specific outcomes we hoped for as a result of the strategic process, and what we imagined to be God’s dream for our churches and the region.
At the end of the day, Mark asked questions that I think about often:
What do you value most about being a part of this diocese?
What do you need most from your diocese?
This is the format we will use in the remaining seven regional discovery sessions. Next week two sessions are scheduled, for Central Montgomery Country and North Washington, D.C. You can find the full schedule of discovery sessions and registration here.
Please know that we invite everyone from our congregations to participate in your regional discovery sessions. You can also share your views via this survey if you can’t make your region’s session.
After all regions complete the discovery process, two leaders from each region and members of the diocesan staff will spend two days in retreat, distilling all we have learned and articulating as best we can our mission and purpose as a diocese and the most important goals for us to accomplish in the next 3-5 years.
We will bring our first drafts back to regional leaders for further refinement according to each regional context. After we complete that process and have our mission and goals articulated and approved, the Unstuck Group will work with us on issues of structure and staffing. God willing, we will have the workings of a diocesan strategic plan by late fall of this year.
As his final word of encouragement on Saturday, Mark urged the leaders of North Prince George’s County not to wait for the strategic planning process to be completed, but to work now with the palpable energy between the congregations for more fruitful ministry. To that end, diocesan staff will stay in touch with regional leaders after each discovery session to see how we might take the next faithful step in ministry together.
Heartfelt thanks to all who are wholeheartedly engaging this discerning process. You are my inspiration. May God bless our intentions and deep desire to become good soil for the Kingdom.