Completed by Carol R. Lyon
The purpose of the First Christian Church Elders’ Survey is to find answers to questions about the church and its members. This information will, in turn, facilitate the completion of the Local Church Profile before beginning the search for a settled pastor.
I have analyzed the questions from the Elders’ Survey. There were 27 respondents who provided approximately 300 individual responses to the survey questions.
There were many similar responses which made the analysis straightforward and concise. The same themes of our church reappear. It is possible that individuals who participate in the life of our congregation might have anticipated many of the responses. Most importantly, the survey did highlight some salient characteristics of the congregation and significant guidance for the future. This summary was completed using qualitative/narrative research methodology to identify themes and subthemes.
The respondents were almost equally divided between those with United Church of Christ background and those with Disciples of Christ background. Some indicated no affiliation or affiliation with both denominations. More than half of the surveys were handwritten. Thanks to Eric Hays-Strom and the Reverend Donna Cavendon, the surveys were scanned and sent to me via email. This summary provides clear answers to many questions on the Local Church Profile. As I submit this summary, it is also my impression that many of the suggestions by the respondents to enhance our church life have recently been implemented.
Findings and Reflections
We are a congregation that cherishes involvement in the church.
We value the love, kinship, fellowship and support of our congregation.
We value community outreach.
We are open to groups and other denominations using our church.
We value our social justice focus and activities, notably work with refugees.
We value our open and affirming stance.
We want to grow and attract new and perhaps younger members.
We value the history of our congregation and those who led us in the past.
We have many older members who can no longer participate.
We have so much to offer in our church, why can’t we attract more members?
We continue to help members find ways to fit in, feel loved and grow.
We wish for better communication within and outside of the congregation.
We are mainly progressive, but need to acknowledge those with less progressive views.
Tell me a story about the best time you have had in our church. Looking at the entire experience, recall a time when you felt most alive, most involved, or most excited about your involvement. What made it an exciting experience? Who was involved?
The exciting stories of our congregation highlight the meaningfulness of involvement and kinship in church and outreach activities. It was noted that we have a historical foundation of participation in peace marches and social action. Respondents were thankful for those senior members who were involved in the congregation over the years because they encouraged them in church activities such as participation in social action, plays and meaningful worship experiences. Many of these long term members are deceased. Several respondents told stories about being involved with the following activities: Serendipity (women’s group), dinner for eight, cooking club, adult classes, book club, boards and committees, singing in the choir and enjoying our music ministry. Members were most excited when mingling with those who have similar interests. Being an elder is exciting. Some listed the importance of being able to have a place to worship and pray for others. Some suggested that when they joined the church several years ago, there was more vitality with a choir and opportunities for youth. It was also noted that it could be hard to get excited about the church as a person can get too bogged down with responsibilities. Involvement is definitely a highlight of being a member of FCC.
Values: Let’s talk for a moment about some things you value deeply; specifically, the things you value about yourself, about the nature of what you do in the church, and about our church as a whole. Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself – as a person and also as a part of this church?
Members of our congregation value their abilities to be caring, welcoming, friendly, communicative and non-judgemental. Individual respondents indicated that they were organized, creative, visionary and willing to help others. Some valued historical knowledge of the church. Several indicated that they were persons of faith who were willing to explore new horizons about spirituality.
When are you feeling best about your church involvement? What about your church tasks themselves do you value?
The broader themes of involvement revolve around participating on the church board, serving as a deacon, teaching Sunday School (in the past) and participating in discussion groups. Individually members enjoy helping with surveys, helping on workdays, helping others with grocery shopping, taking pictures, working on the web page, helping with household tasks, working with refugees and organizing activities. However, several respondents indicated that they were now too old to participate as they have in the past. On the other hand, it was expressed that new members might be searching for a way to be involved.
What do you value about our church?
Most importantly, members value the inclusiveness and open and affirming position of the church. This is demonstrated by the friendliness of the congregation and our outreach to the community, especially through social justice. Members appreciate those who volunteer to keep the church and its building up and running so we have a place to worship, have weekly communion and belong. Several noted the kinship nature and sense of peace in our congregation.
What is the single most important thing our church has contributed to your life? To our community?
The individual respondents value the love and support of the congregation, the spiritual support, acceptance of all, having a place to worship, finding solace and using the labyrinth. In the community, respondents value our social action focus and use of our building and garden area by many groups. Members value the accumulation of small things that make us who we are as a congregation. In essence, the church is there for its members and the members are there for the community.
What do you experience as the core values of our church? Give some examples of how you experience those values.
Once more our social justice focus is valued. We specifically value the HIV food pantry, allowing community groups and other denominations to use our church, working with refugees and the community garden. Being inclusive and friendly are important. We follow Christ in our worship and lives and have a strong theological tradition which still allows an open communion table. Taking care of and accepting each other are attributes. We are described as progressive, but it was noted that not all are equally progressive.
What three wishes would you make to heighten the vitality and health of our congregation?
The three wishes deal with the growth of the church, attracting and retaining members, and securing a settled pastor. The most noted wish is retaining members. Consequently, I have taken the liberty to list or combine suggestions that fall under these categories rather than summarize. They are not ranked in any order.
Attracting new members
Find a way to reach out to the university community
Attract younger members and young families
Have a positive vision for the future
Seek church growth because we believe others need what we share
Reach out to those who left and find out why
Organize more social events
Explore more avenues for spiritual development
Provide a more organized coffee hour
Show more organization in general and less flying off the seat of our pants
Demonstrate consistency in worship service
Facilitate better communication with and between members
Spread out the workload
Seek more diversity in music, maybe form a contemporary band
Work on a mission project such as helping a family or building tiny houses
Beautify the sanctuary: fix up the baptistry and display more fresh flowers
Spend less money on the physical plant of the church
Focus our attention on only a couple of social justice issues
Collaborate with other religions and denominations
Securing a settled pastor
Find a pastor who can understand what we represent
Hire a pastor with a family
Hire a pastor according to the size of our congregation Full time? Part time?
Let’s talk about Membership. What does membership mean to you?
Membership means commitment, pledge support and faithfulness. It means allowing for individual growth both intellectually and spiritually. It also means promoting the church to community. One person summarized it well by saying, “Membership means I’m a part of the group and contribute to the group in various ways”.
What does it mean for you to be associated with this community?
Association with this community means being a part of a strong support system that takes a stand on issues and works with others. It means being part of a non judgemental church family where we can meet and get involved. However, it is important to keep our individuality. Attending FCC means having a religious and spiritual homebase. We want this community to survive and thrive as an entity that exemplifies what can happen when people of all backgrounds work together for the common good. (There was some ambiguity as to whether this question referred to the FCC community or Las Cruces. Most assumed it meant being a part of FCC).
Which denomination do you identify with?
UCC: 10, DOC 7, Both 3, Neither 4, Some gave no answer
How do you see yourself fitting in here?
Some new members wonder how they fit in. Some of our seniors need to find new ways to fit in. We need to continue to demonstrate caring for each member as often there are individual needs to be fulfilled within the congregation. Some need to know more about the traditions of each denomination so that they can fit in. FCC provides a comfortable setting for attendees to find a place to fit. Those who want to be spiritual leaders may do so. Those who want to be occasional worshipers feel good. Those who want to be involved are able to do so. As a result of our inclusiveness and open mindedness, fitting in is a term viewed differently by each member.