I greatly appreciated the attendance at the congregational planning day on Saturday 17th February. Over a hundred of us were there, making for good planning and giving a substantial feedback to the officebearers as we give a lead in shaping Sandyford’s life.
I thought it would be important to share the leading aspects of the input you gave. Here are comments made by a significant number of members, along with some individual suggestions; the elders and outreach committee will be looking at the responses over the next months.
1. What are we good at as a congregation?
The main features you identified were: welcoming and speaking to people at services, but the need to do this in greater depth; the emphasis on prayer, preaching and hospitality; the singing; the lunches; caring for and supporting one another; missionary support.
2. What could we do better?
Welcoming strangers and following up new people; integrating newcomers and helping them find a role, especially those from non-university and non-professional backgrounds; more contact with people other than on Sundays, for prayer, fun, friendship; contact with the local community; ‘I don’t know who does what behind the scenes’; communicate the needs within the congregation; sharing our strengths with other, struggling congregations; be alert for absentees and follow up the reason sensitively; better mixing of ages; more opportunity for reflection and meditation; create opportunities to discuss the sermon; praise with more life in it.
3. What could we do to develop our life and witness?
Deepen our prayer life individually and corporately; house groups for Bible study and prayer; could we once a month on Wednesday evenings have a simple shared meal before the prayer meeting; more events to invite non-Christian friends to; focus on our key responsibilities.
4. What could we do to widen the sharing of the work?
Approach people for specific tasks – makes them feel valued and included. Be alert to new people who could be involved. Indicate regularly where the gaps are, and look at gifting; publicise details of church activities and photos of leaders and the help that is needed; elders could indicate areas of need to members on pastoral visits.
5. What makes me feel at home in Sandyford?
I’m glad to say there were large numbers of positive response in answer to this question. They said especially: A general sense of fellowship and warmth, and the sense of God’s presence; I have felt included by being asked to do things; knowing people are praying for you; sound preaching; being accepted as I am.
6. How could we help people feel more at home?
Some said they do not feel excluded. Some suggestions were: vary the format of the midweek meeting for study and prayer; can we make opportunity to speak about God working in our lives; better interaction across the ages; committees should be more open in their communication.
Phil Steed’s remarkable pointers about missionary support deserve more space on another occasion but just a little reminder: gifts and letters sent little and often is better than a big thing just once a year. Ask what sweets or postable items they like, for example packet food unavailable in their country of work; make a note and ask later what happened when they share prayer news; they are busy people so an email doesn’t need to be long!; keep copies of their prayer news and ask after people for whom they ask prayer, by name. It will be a long time before I forget his telling us of the suicide of the missionary who returned home after the road accident death of his wife and children only to find his home church too busy for him and not remembering details of his work situation. We owe it to our overseas members not just to have but to show them our sincere and pains-taking interest.
In the afternoon session we briefly reviewed progress made as a result of our first planning day held 16 months earlier in October 2005. We gave opportunity for individual feedback; among the dominant items were:
Concerning worship: there was appreciation of most aspects including the preaching; both older and newer hymns; the ministry of Maggie Craig’s screen; the atmosphere of honouring God. Suggestions included: drama linking with the sermon or as an outreach tool at guest services; inclusion of set items such as saying the Creed; would appreciate quiet in the sanctuary for prayer before the services. Most of the other suggestions cancelled each other out, which is not surprising and leaves all sorts of issues freshly with me where they belong anyway: eg some prefer the minister to do everything while others like the shared lead.
Concerning fellowship: there were all sorts of useful suggestions we will look at. Could we have tea and coffee before services; more organised arrangements for pastoral care; encourage hospitality; ‘vastly improved with the introduction of Wednesday groups;’ church family weekend away. And one rather stimulating and moving one: ‘would really love an older, wiser Christian to take me under their wing for Bible study and prayer – many students feel this way.’ Older members, are you alert to this?
Concerning prayer: the importance of the prayer meeting was recognised; lots of people around the world depend on it. There were all sorts of specific suggestions about Wednesday evenings including: the groups are very helpful; prayer news sheet is appreciated; start with a time of thanks and praise; and suggestions on how to divide up the time.
Concerning outreach: again a string of comments such as the value of Sunday lunches; could we have more evangelistic events and the likes of our musical evenings to bring friends to; the personal involvement of others brought me to Sandyford; Sunday duty teams please ensure proper welcome including showing people to a seat and following them up afterwards; would appreciate more feedback from committees about their plans. One point I thought significant: ‘I long for us to be less busy so that we can welcome folk to our homes: newcomers, single, lonely.’
There were some additional comments. ‘I think we need to worry less. There are a lot of fabulous things about the church and we need to remember that too!’ ... ‘This has been a great day for hearing everyone’s ideas’; appreciation of Sarah Hay providing the crêche.
Finally I respond to one worry expressed about outreach which I think has an answer: the difficulty of our being a gathered congregation for inviting friends and neighbours. Correct me if I misunderstand but it seems to me this is an attitude thing. We would not feel the centre of town was too far to travel to invite friends to join us for a meal, and they would not turn down an invitation to a concert on the grounds ‘it’s rather a long way.’ The fact is, city people travel the width of the city and further any time they wish.
Very few of us travel for more than 20-25 minutes to reach Sandyford; that’s not long for a church family we are enthusiastic about. As you know, I travelled from the far end of Maryhill Road as a student to find a teaching ministry; its benefits were such that, in God’s good time, that wee mini-van used to deliver a bundle of students tumbling out of the back Sunday by Sunday. I wouldn’t have dreamt of apologising about the distance to travel and would suggest that if we don’t see it as a problem it doesn’t need to be one.
Which perhaps leaves us with an opportunity?
C Peter WhiteView All Letters