By Brian Donley
Money is usually the first thing that comes to mind when the subject of stewardship is mentioned. In fact “stewardship Sunday” triggers an “up-and-down” response. The congregation will either be “up in the mountains” or “down at the beach.” Stewardship and finance are synonymous terms in the minds of most congregants. Yet our meeting has found stewardship involves more than financial matters.
God assigned stewardship responsibilities to Adam, “The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and care for it.” (Genesis 2: 15) Adam was given stewardship responsibilities of the resources God provided. Stewardship responsibility involves the entire spectrum of this sacred trust including our consumption and distribution of its bounty and its preservation and planning for future generations.
Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting in Trinity, North Carolina, realized future generations needed the current generation to steward every resource provided to us. In 2009, the pastor, Randy Quate, sensed the meeting had reached a plateau in congregational growth and development. He felt the church was at a crossroads and it was time to consider the direction of the Lord. This “felt need” was also shared by the elders. After much prayer and study they all came away convinced stewardship was a responsibility to participate with the Lord. Stewardship was the means to find God’s way forward.
We realized we needed help. Sometimes an observer from outside our safe circles of fellowship will help us see clearly. The leadership determined the best way for our meeting to gain a good assessment of present reality was to engage the services of an outside, unbiased, professional who could examine our past, our present and perhaps help us find God’s way forward. Sometimes our good intentions make us blind to the things we would rather not see.
The first step in the strategic planning process was to assemble a team of willing volunteers from the meeting to become a part of what was dubbed, “The 20/20 Planning Team.” Each member of the committee was asked to commit to the planning process and participate in periodic meetings throughout the planning year.
The next step involved an extensive survey, the Transforming Church Index (TCI), to be administered by the consultants. The TCI analyzed five key indicators of church health; how church members relate to each other, the church’s genetic code, the church’s leadership, how the church relates to the local community, and how church members think about the future. (Transforming Church, p. 9) Of the 250 surveys sent 188 were returned completed, providing the consultants with a great database from which to assess the church’s health.
However, our meeting’s health could not be determined by internal standards alone. We also needed to see the demographics of the community in which Poplar Ridge Meeting was centered. On a map the consultants drew a 12-mile radius around our church. Public records provided information about our community’s population, ethnicity, generational grouping, trends, family structure, education, employment, lifestyle diversity, faith preferences, expressed concerns, values, church preferences, and giving potential.
Armed with this vital information the team was faced with an even more important decision — what to do with the mountain of data.
The 20/20 planning team was divided into five different work groups. Each group worked diligently on one priority. The five priorities were based upon critical needs found in the TCI survey and anchored to the new mission statement: 1) Ministry to Children and Youth, 2) Ministry to Single-Parent Families, 3) LIFE Groups (small groups), 4) Music and Worship, and 5) Campus Facility/Space Issues.
Poplar Ridge Friends is now following the approved strategic plan and the 20/20 Planning Team meets quarterly to assess progress on each of these five priorities. A designated representative from the team reports back to the monthly meeting on the findings. Over the course of the next ten years the meeting hopes to meet the objectives established for each of these priorities. We will then begin another “stewardship” meeting to determine where God is taking the Meeting from 2020 and beyond.
A familiar story from the Talmud tells of a man walking down a road and noticing an elderly gentleman planting a carob tree. He asked the elderly man, “How long will it take for that tree to grow?” “Seventy years,” replied the old man. “How do you know you will live that long?” asked the traveler. “I don’t,” came the reply, “but just as my grandparents and parents planted for me, I am planting this tree for the generations to come.” That is an example of “stewardship,” it can also be an example of strategic planning.