South Congregational Church UCC Strategic Plan
South Congregational Church, UCC
Report of the Strategic Planning Committee
Our mission is to be an inclusive community of faith that preaches the word of God teaches the love of Jesus Christ and reaches out to all through the Holy Spirit.
Goals of South Congregational Church
We seek to serve the spiritual needs of all our community through worship and programs that address the needs and interests of all elements and generations. We measure our success by the vibrancy of our programs, the participation of our members and the growth and diversity of our congregation.
In the spring of 2009, the Board of Trustees communicated a concern to Central Board that South Church faced a potentially significant budget shortfall for 2010 and that financial pressure was likely to continue if then current trends prevailed. After assigning the immediate budget issues to the Trustees, Central Board recommended the creation of a Strategic Planning Committee to review the longer term issues facing the Church and report back to the congregation its findings and recommendations.
Members of the Committee were:
Susan Walters Chair
Kimberly Waitt Vice Chair-Central Board
Jim McClaine Chair-Trustees
Lois Dennett At-large
Carolyn Walker Deacons
Ralph Austin At large
Henry Mobley Treasurer
Kristin Miale At-large
Tim Hussey At-large
Work of the Committee
After reviewing the available financial, demographic and statistical data the Committee recognized the need for congregational input as an essential element in the process. That input was sought in several ways. During the winter of 2010, meetings were held to involve the congregation in expressing their thoughts and feelings about the future direction of South Church. At Annual Meeting in January, attendees were asked to submit their ideas for what South Church should do more of. These suggestions were collected and categorized. A special meeting, Congregational Conversations, was held in February. Email interviews of parents with young families were conducted. Finally, a survey was designed and made available at the church for three weeks. The survey was sent out with the newsletter in June to give members an additional opportunity to express their opinions. In addition, the Committee met with the staff members as well as representatives of all the major standing committees of the Church.
Findings of the Committee
In additional to the statistical data, the congregation responded to the Committee’s process with a wide variety of observations and suggestions that were essential to the plan development. This combined input is summarized here. A more detailed analysis is attached as Appendix A.
1. Members of South Church are generally very satisfied with their worship experiences and pastoral care.
The quality of the worship experience was cited frequently as strength of South Church. The music program was seen as central to a vital worship experience and deserved some additional support. There was also interest in additional lay participation in the service.
2. Members of South Church were eager for more fellowship opportunities.
Suggestions focused on both improving the coffee hour experience and offering more out-of-church activities for fellowship.
3. Members valued the support of the church community, but would like to see increased church vitality.
Specific sentiments included an increase in membership, more participation in church activities, better communication about church activities and greater visibility in the community. The Committee also noted that statistical measures of church activity, membership and worship attendance were essentially flat over the recent past.
4. Members see outreach as an important part of the mission of South Church and would like to see more opportunities for local hands-on activities to make it easier to be involved.
Many members specifically requested more local, hands-on mission opportunities.
5. Members of South Church feel that an active Christian Education program for children, youth and adults is very important.
In general, parents were very positive about the current Sunday School program. Many cited conflicts with Sunday morning sports and other family obligations as reasons why they were unable to get their children to Sunday School more regularly. Many offered suggestions for ways to improve Sunday School and other alternatives to meet the needs of young families. Members also expressed a strong interest in more adult classes and discussion groups.
6. Members of South Church expressed pride in church buildings and facilities and felt that they were underutilized by the community.
The Committee concurred with this sentiment but also notes that the present space configuration is not particularly well suited to our programming needs, and that the buildings are care-worn in some of the public areas and expensive to maintain.
7. While members reported feeling comfortable and welcomed in the Church, there is concern that visitors may not have the same impression and may even find it difficult to get basic information about church activities.
Currently, only a small sign in front of the church indicates the time of worship. The sign is not easily visible from the street. While South Church is open to visitors on weekdays and Sundays, it may be difficult for passers-by to realize this.
8. The technology that supports our church mission is woefully out of date.
The computer network is inadequate to meet the church’s needs for effective communication. The current technology may actually impede staff in their work. It also makes it difficult to reach out to members and the wider community through electronic media.
9. South Church does not have a strategy for communicating with the community or an understanding of what message it wants to communicate.
Strategic Objectives and Action Plans
Strategic Objective 1: Worship
Full, vital, energized worship services, lay participation, and varied music are at the center of church life
Scripture: “Sing unto the Lord a new song. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar and all that fills it.” Excerpted from
Worship is not just what we do, it is who we are. Effective worship services are at the heart of the spiritual and communal life of a church. Members of South Church cited worship as a real strength. By focusing on worship and incorporating new ideas, we can build on our strength to ensure continuing vitality. The music program can be broadened to include a blend of tasteful contemporary music and traditional hymns. We are blessed with both a gifted choir director and an organist with a strong repertoire of music from multiple genres to add to our worship. More lay involvement can be encouraged, particularly youth and young families. For younger people to be more engaged it may be important for some young people (20s or 30s) to take on roles in worship leadership.
We invite Deacons to initiate conversations about the nature of worship and their role in creating rich experiences, so that we as a congregation may continue to grow in worship together.
We recommend that a worship committee comprised of the pastor, representatives from Deacons and the Music committee, and a cross section of the congregation be established. The committee would meet regularly to seek ways to ensure greater lay participation as well as to generate new ideas that might strengthen the worship experience and broaden its appeal.
Strategic Objective 2: Fellowship
Christian fellowship welcomes visitors and engages members in varied activities for all ages
Scripture: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home, and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”Acts 2:46.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unawares” Hebrews 13:2.
Welcoming visitors includes both physical and human elements. Thus, changes to the church entry such as re-organizing the vestibule and including signs with information of importance to visitors would be helpful. Designated church members can be responsible for providing a personal welcome, determining interest in church programs and making the appropriate introductions to other members and staff.
We invite Deacons, Fellowship, and the new Ambassadors group to hold conversations about how their roles in welcoming visitors and supporting their interest in South Church may overlap and reinforce each other.
Members of South Church would like to participate in a variety of fellowship events outside of regular church hours. Some activities might appeal to and welcome all age groups. While some young families may feel less comfortable attending events that seem to involve older individuals, the multi-generational nature of our church community is an asset. At the same time, some activities especially designed for young adults and young families may be desirable.
Strategic Objective # 3: Community
South Church communicates its identity and activities widely as an integral part of the community.
Scripture: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
We believe there are individuals within the community who will welcome the spiritual nourishment our church can provide, but may not be aware of what we have to offer. We recommend that South Church utilize a variety of means to raise its profile in the community, communicate with , and inform members of the congregation about worship and other activities.
At the current time, communication with the community is based on sporadic newspaper articles and announcements. The website has not been updated regularly and provides little information about programs. The only sign on the front of the church does give the name of the minister and the time of worship, but this sign cannot be easily read from the street. Communication with members is based on announcements in the bulletin and from the pulpit as well as a paper newsletter.
We would like to see the development of a communications plan for South Church. We should discuss the relationship between evangelism and communications. Part of the plan might include the establishment of a church ‘identity’ or ‘brand’ that communicates what makes South Church unique. More visible signage in front of the church building would welcome visitors to worship. A temporary sign board could be used to raise community awareness of church events and activities.(See Strategic Objective 7) Systems should be developed to ensure that church activities are listed in community calendars and covered in local media. However, reliance on traditional media is not sufficient. Informational brochures can be distributed through public forums such as community bulletin boards. An updated website with meaningful information for members and visitors should become an important means of community outreach.
Strategic Objective 4: Outreach
Church members engage in a variety of mission activities, both hands-on and financial support.
Scripture: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
“Missions are to a church as oxygen to a fire.” (E. Bruner)
There is strong interest among South Church members in hands-on local service opportunities. While mission trips to more distant areas, provide inspiration for all and opportunity for some, many individuals would participate if the service were closer and the time commitment less. Suggested service opportunities ranged from participation in Habitat for Humanity, beach clean-ups, to adopting a church in a more needy area in Maine. Outreach activities can be multi-generational in nature and tap into the strong interest in service of the youth in the church. Another option for Outreach is to encourage education about service and giving through movies, presentations, and discussions of issues of social justice and giving.
Outreach also oversees the donation of substantial amounts of money from the church budget and endowment funds. If the Outreach Committee provided more information about our underlying philosophy toward outreach and the particular gifts and the recipients to the church community, members would have a greater awareness of and commitment to financial outreach. This information could be communicated through an updated website, the newsletter, and presentations during Sunday worship.
Strategic Objective 5: Christian Education
Child, youth, and adult programs support the spiritual development of our multigenerational church community.
Scripture: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by Him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the Word of God. “ II Timothy 3:15.
An effective Christian Education program was repeatedly identified as critical to the mission of South Church. It was also seen as essential for attracting and retaining younger members and strengthening our identity as a multi-generational church. We currently have a creative, energetic Christian Education Director and a locally designed curriculum for Sunday School.
Parents noted many strengths of the current Christian Education program for children and youth. However, attendance has tended to be higher in the fall, with 10-15 children attending Sunday School. A larger number attended during the weeks prior to the Christmas Pageant, including children of non-members. Attendance has been tapering off to very sporadic in winter and spring. Parents noted many conflicts for busy families that keep them from attending more regularly. For some families, Sunday morning represents the only unstructured time they have during the week to be together. Other churches, both in our area and nationally, face the same challenges in a rapidly changing society that does not support church attendance.
High school youth have been very engaged in hands-on mission projects, especially the biennial trip to work with a homeless program in Washington, D.C. In 2010, 14 students went on the trip, which had a powerful effect on participants. Tapping into this interest in service by clearly identifying the spiritual and biblical basis for hands-on mission can engage children and youth in very meaningful ways.
Given these conditions, how do we engage our children in true instruction in the Christian faith? Many parents had ideas for changes, even dramatic restructuring, of the current program. We recommend that a committee be formed, under the auspices of the Christian Education Committee, to research effective programs and generate new ideas for meeting the needs of families in our community.
The committee might include the Christian Education Director, some members of the Christian Education Committee, and one or more individuals with expertise in instructional programming. We recommend that the committee spend a year reviewing the data collected for this report, conducting research into effective programs, visiting effective programs, seeking out and using training resources in the New England region, and reviewing our current program, and developing new Christian Education programs for children and youth. To do this the Christian Education Committee and Director should be able to call on the help and insights of others in the church as well as request additional financial resources.
Other church committees can support Christian Education by offering experiences that include children and youth. Multi-generational outreach opportunities and fellowship activities clearly help to build a sense of belonging to the church community.
Adult members of South Church are also interested in more opportunities to learn about their faith. More classes and discussion groups can be scheduled. These do not have to be the responsibility of the Director of Christian Education.
Strategic Objective 6: Leadership
Clear governance structure supports the programs of the church
Scripture: “God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…then forms of assistance, forms of leadership.” (I Corinthians 12:28)
Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed. Proverbs 15:22
Generally the structure of the Church’s governance serves us well, but our committees are no stronger than their members and we have not always been effective in matching the needs of individual committees with the skills of its members. We recommend that the Nominating Committee be expanded to include the respective Chairs, and that each committee provide the Nomination Committee with a definition of its needs, that the nominating process start earlier in the year and be more aggressive in its recruiting. We would like to see this process expanded to include all the standing committees of the church,
We also feel that careful attention should be paid to ensure that clear and open structures for communication are in place. These structures should support reciprocal communication among congregation, church committees and organizations, staff, and pastor about church activities, the decision making process and strategic planning.
Strategic Objective 7: Resources
Well maintained buildings and facilities, finances, technology and staff support church programs.
“Repair my church”- the words of Christ to Francis of Assisi
By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3-4
While Church members rightly express pride in our facilities, in some cases we do not use the space effectively, and the configuration does not always lend itself well to our programmatic needs. In addition a number of elements of the Strategic Plan have implications for our facilities which need to be taken into account. The funding of ongoing maintenance and upkeep remains an issue. We recommend the development of a process for reviewing our facility needs, assessing use of our current buildings and facilities and making recommendations for changes as well as ongoing maintenance and repair.
The Board of Trustees can provide invaluable assistance in welcoming visitors to the church and in raising community awareness about South Church activities. Making signs on the outside of the church more visible, as well as adding a temporary sign to announce special events, will make access easier for community members and potential visitors. Improvements to the entrance, vestibule, downstairs hallway, and fellowship room will also make the church more inviting to visitors .
We recommend that the Church encourage wider community use of its facilities, when possible and when consistent with our primary purpose, as an effective way of strengthening community perception and ties to the church. In addition, we recommend a study of the possibilities for developing additional financial support through more intensive use of our facilities.
The strategic planning process began with a concern about our financial security and our ability to continue to fund our programs. A number of the recommendations will likely require additional funding, particularly those applying to music and Christian Education. In addition, while we have made strides in regularizing the funding of our maintenance, our buildings continue to be expensive and may also require some modifications to better support our programs. While we will and should continue to rely on our member support, it appears likely that we will need additional funding at least over the near term.
We believe that the Church’s budget should reflect adequate funding to support our programming objectives and communications with the congregation regarding the Church’s stewardship needs should be expanded to more clearly and forcefully explain that connection.
The Church’s technology is antiquated and, in its current condition, barely supports efficient daily operations. It is certainly unlikely to be sufficient to support any expanded communications program. We should develop a comprehensive technology plan,addressing particularly those elements that affect our member and community communications. The computer network should be updated as soon as possible. Additionally, developing an effective website and utilizing other social media may require an outside consultant to set up a system that can then be maintained in-house.
Buildings and Facilities
Implementation of Strategic Plan:
Monitor, Measure and Reflect: Determine appropriate measures to ensure we stay on track, address realities of church life, and discern God’s will.
Scripture: The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty. Proverbs 21:15
A process to continuously review the strategic plan, monitor its implementation and recommend any appropriate modifications is needed. No plan is better than its implementation and all plans should recognize that needs change with circumstances and as activities are put in place. Sustaining this process and assuring it continuing meaningfulness, particularly in a body whose leadership changes frequently, requires that the process be institutionalized within the church’s governance structure.