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Features: Consulting, Research, Workshops


Many local churches today feel that something is wrong – that they are missing something. They don’t look the way they did in the past, and they don’t have the energy or resources they used to. They look for easy ways to fix this feeling, but none of them work for very long.

At Church Innovations we know about this “not right, something’s missing” feeling. Thousands of local churches all over the world are feeling it, now even more than 30 years ago when we began to work on ways to respond to what was happening. God is always at work in God’s mission in and for the world. When a church finds their part of that mission, they find calling, purpose, and energy.

Praise for Church FutureFinder cff_logo_gif “Through the CFF process we discovered that we don’t “fit” culturally with the area. Our community has a large immigrant refugee population, and now white flight and Hispanic flight has been happening for ten years and the congregation is still living 20 years in the past.  This has illustrated some of the challenges we face.” “We gained great insights into the difference between how we viewed our missional outreach in the community and how our congregation is actually viewed by the people in our neighborhood. Although we thought we were well known, we were forced to re-examine our methods of outreach.” “My interviews with people helped me name and understand currents moving below the surface in the congregation.  They gave me tremendous insight into the present situation of the congregation.” “Through the CFF process, we learned that we often want to do ministries that do not fit our surrounding community, like reaching out to children or hiring a youth director when there simply are not many families with children in our area; on the other hand there are a lot of people over 65 who are living alone which is reflected in our congregation.” “I’m naturally curious and like getting to know people. But today it’s hard to do home visits as it was in my grandfather’s day. That’s not easy today – it’s inconvenient. This CFF project gave me an entre into their lives – “I’m doing this project and want to hear you on these questions.” “A lot of this I wouldn’t have learned without the project – the specific data, the interviews all laid out – I wouldn’t have seen things emerge from this whole pattern.  We don’t know where people come from and go to and why. People here believe folks are just going to keep coming. I feel there’s been a lot I wouldn’t have been able to identify and work with if I hadn’t done CFF.”
Brian McLaren
Photo by Courtney Perry

Brian McLaren likes Church Innovations for 5 reasons. Here's what he says:

Since 1990, Church Innovations’ research staff has combined both quantitative data and applied ethnography (deep listening) to help congregations discern what God is doing in their communities. This depth of experience has led to refined processes and tools that support congregations and church bodies in their listening and growth. A good portion of the cost of this work is covered through various fees and grants but not all.  We need partners like you who value this work to:
  • fund continuing research
  • make processes and services available to congregations that may not be able to afford them
  • pilot and test new and updated processes and services
  • ensure a solid financial position for the future
Please consider sending a contribution today to: Church Innovations Institute, 3978 W Broadway Ave, Robbinsdale, MN 55422-2275.  If you prefer using a credit card to make a contribution you may do so through PayPal.
Testimonial from Lori Weirsma, Minister of Administration, Church of the Servant, Grand Rapids, MIMay, 2016 Here are my big take-aways from Church Innovations’ We Are Here Now  process:   Church of the Servant was significantly shaped by the Deep Listening to the Spirit and with each other. This listening occurred at every step of the discovery process. Our ministry staff and teams and small groups are carrying this Deep Listening practice forward as part of our culture and life together as a congregation.   Our Steering Team was so grateful and appreciative of our CI Consultant Dr. Pat Ellison. She guided, reassured, reminded and taught us on how to best steer this process in our unique context. Her experiences with working with so many different congregations over this past 25 years were so evident in the wisdom she shared with us.   Don’t rush the process! Our team initially thought we could and should complete the in about 8 months. This was foolish thinking on our part! Our steering team realized with Pat’s encouragement after the Time Line event that we needed time to process and catch our breath and prepare for our Cottage meetings. We ended up completing the We Are Here Now Process with Pat in 12 months.   The We Are Here Now materials are very helpful and led us through the various parts of the process…in between our conversations with Pat.   As the church administrative staff person on the team, I deeply valued Pat’s regular check-ins with me on how things were progressing and what issues needed to be addressed. Her calm tone and encouraging words meant so much as we faced some hurdles in our process. She kept me focused on the next steps. Pat knows her stuff! She knows how to work with all types of groups, behaviors and change.   Our steering team truly respects the ministry of Church Innovations and their coaching staff. The staff is so comfortable to work with and it was very apparent that they deeply love coaching churches.  We truly felt cared for by the staff.     Lori Wiersma / Minister of Administration 3835 Burton Street SE  Grand Rapids, MI 49546 P: <616>956-7611 *Ext. 25  F: <616>956-3269 www.coscrc.org
Testimonial Interview: Church of the Servant, Grand Rapids, MI – conversation between Lori Wiersma, Minister of Administration, and Tracey Gebbia, long-time congregant and Steering Team Member   Where were you in the life of your congregation that you wanted to do a bit of self-studying? Our senior pastor of 32 years was going to be leaving at some point, and we knew of other staffing changes. We wanted to explore and discern where God was going to lead us into the next chapter of our life together. We didn’t think we could do it on our won – we’ve got a lot of smart people here, but they are very busy. We looked outside and thought Church Innovations really fit our congregation with your discovery and discernment process that you outlined. CI does very little of the work – you built a few teams that really did the work. We did have a discernment team set up already that had been meeting prior to contact CI – we spent a lot of time meeting and praying together, but we came to a point of stalling, because we really didn’t know what to do. We realized, and had assistance from council too, to look for an outside source. You say that CI really did little of this work, ha ha, but you provided incredible amounts of structure and guidance along the way that we would not have had. Church Innovations gave us the framework to set up these teams of listening leaders that resulted in the congregational discovery report. The process we were able to follow because of church innovations gave us something to follow that was, although very concrete, also not avant garde in any way – kind of a duh - follow the Holy Spirit. Maybe we could have figured that out on our own, but not in the way that we were directed by Church Innovations. It was a process that was directed the entire way by listening, not just to the Holy Spirit but to each other and all of the work that each of the committees did. Listening to people, to the Holy Spirit in Dwelling in the Word - we did more listening that we’ve ever done in our lives. We’re a lot of talkers here. The deep listening shaped us, and it has permeated through every single bit of the process. You coached us. Between the meetings you kept reminding me what the deep focus was. You reminded me that we would have some hiccups along the way, but you were a very key part of this process. We couldn’t have done it without you. We would have given up long ago.   How about the big meetings? Ah, the Timeline event and communal discernment event The Timeline Event was a very exciting time of getting people together to think and talk about the history of our church. People were able to think back on things that were exciting in the past and maybe personal issues came up that people hadn’t thought about in years.  It created a time of unity. It ended up feeling kind of like a big family reunion, and that was sort of unexpected. It was another time of listening to one another. As a steering team helping to facilitate we kind of had fun sitting back and watching this happen as people came up with new ideas and new things to say and new post-it notes to put on the wall. “Oh this person saw that event as a challenge but another saw it as a beautiful thing and another saw it as sad.” OK. All right. We realized that as a steering team we couldn’t put our own spin on this or that as we were taking our notes; this is what it is. The people are really talking.  This is what’s coming out as they talk.  We have to listen. We have to let it be. That’s what listening taught us. In the Communal Discernment Event it happened again as you came from CI to facilitate that meeting for us.  The big take-away for us going forward is that, since our council practiced Dwelling in the Word at every council meeting, and since council members were participating in those communal events, our leaders now strongly insist we have to carry this practice of communal listening forward. That is happening. It’s already going on since you left us after our discernment event in February. It is so encouraging that people are continuing to listen. We’ve developed a new practice here that is so valuable. It is going to really help us as we move ahead into our next chapter with all the uncertainties ahead. Listening to each other and listening to the Spirit will get us to where we need to be. Were there a lot of big surprises – learning things you didn’t know? Or have you learned more how to come together with new ways of behaving together? The latter – it has been the process and the practices. Our steering team is putting together a historical document – a communal covenant – that is a revitalization of the forming document for our church back in 1972. We aren’t so different from how we were formed back then. We discovered that we have been faithful and want to continue to be faithful to what God is doing for us now and in the future. Now we can include in this document that we have completed this We Are Here Now process, which we have called Crossing Over (though we’re not sure what we’ve crossed over to, exactly) this has not ever been about information; it has been and will always be about communal discernment, as Pat Keifert says. Working our way through Church Innovations’ process isn’t inventing something new. You can’t argue with this stuff. If you are listening to God and the Spirit and Dwelling in the Word and you’re listening to one another, you can’t go wrong. We may have strayed over the years in how we got to certain decisions in our church. Looking back, the communal discernment process and the listening process would have changed things is a positive way. If we would have done that, we would have been in a better place instead of people feeling decisions were top down without people’s input. Discernment and listening made all the difference. Advice for churches thinking about doing We Are Here Now consulting:
  1. Do not rush this! We learned! Pat Ellison was gracious. But at the start we really wanted to be done in 9 months. By the point of the Timeline Event we needed a break to pause, get energy back. This is not a check-off list, it’s a process. It takes time.
  2. But you do have to stay on task and prepare for a lot of work. It’s very much worth it.
  3. Be prepared to face the Spirit and be open. Feel the Spirit moving in your life and in the life of the group. It is a big effort, but a very worthwhile effort. It is spirit driven and God driven, not information driven.
  1. Listening well, deep listening is all throughout the steps of this process. Deep listening is the outcome we do have. It is shaping us as council, transition teams, search teams. It’s an outcome – an unexpected one.
  2. Be prepared as a steering team to face members who really want this to produce bullet points and action points throughout the process. They want to know “Now that you are done, what are the strategic action steps?” No. We came out with God’s direction for us, and we use that direction to shape our plans going forward. You reiterated it to us often when you visited us. God’s direction rather than a strategic plan – that’s new for congregations. People are still looking for a business model that they find strategic. As a congregation we’ve gone through strategic plans. This is not that, and it’s so much better. It will go down as a life-changing process for Church of the Servant.
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