A modest proposal for calculating MaM contribution

I am firstly going to tell you why a funding purely on membership and one purely on income fail.

The simple reason is that people are canny, to use a good northern word. They won’t do anything illegal but if funding depends on either of these they will do their best to reduce the amount they pay by minimizing the funds for this. The way not to have members is to de-stress membership and to rarely ask if people want to become members. The way to shrink income is to put money into trusts for the congregation rather than directly into the congregation funds.

What at present you get in the URC is a swapping between these two methods of calculating Mission and Ministry contributions. I am going therefore to make a sugggestion that is more complex and harder to therefore fix.

The contribution should be worked out as follows

.5*ministry received+ A*(members + (adherents&children)/B)+C*(income)+D*(Financial Reserves)

Let me take each term on its own

Ministry component
No congregation should pay less than half of the ministry it receives in a give year. That is why the first amount is actually calculated from the ministerial stipend. Members get to understand that MaM is tied to the Ministry they receive. There probably needs to be a cost for non-stipendiary ministry put in as well to cover insurance and such.

Membership component.
A is a set amount worked out on the number of members and the number of children and adherents reported. Adherents is the posh name for those who regularly come to church but aren’t members. B will be greater than 1 but less than 5, and weights the fact that there are genuinely less committed members.

Financial component
I have split this into two, income generated in the year. Is the money that goes through the accounts of the congregation as their income. This must include, free will offering, money raised from hire of premises, fundraising and other donation. It may exclude grants from external bodies that are ear marked  specific purposes.

Also I have suggested that reserves which means trust funds and other savings under the control of the congregation should be rated separately. There are congregations with huge reserves and there are congregation with no reserves. Reserves in my opinion actually are a hindrance to mission as they make a congregation feel secure where it is. However I do not think this can be taken at the same rate as the actual income. So I suggest that it is rated at a level no higher than the interest it would get in a normal savings account.

Penalties for not supplying information on time

  1. If a congregation fails to  provide its financial year end, then it will be allocated a sum of twice the (median church income per member)*(no of members)
  2. If a congregation fails to provide membership numbers its membership will be taken from last recorded figures but calculated as membership+adherents +10% for each year since last reporting
  3. If neither figure is returned the first calculation will use the figure in the second calculation to estimate the second.

These figures should usually work out as considerably more than the figures that a congregation would have if it supplied the necessary information.

What should be charged for a synod:
I suggest that at a synod level the MaM should work out as:

Cost of local ministry in synod (excluding all synod staffing)+ Synod costs(including all synod staffing) + central office costs + mission correction.

You have noticed I have split the cost of ministry and mission into three.  I think that needs to happen. We need to know what goes centrally, what is spent at synod level and what is spent on local ministry. It is important because at present the fact that we only have stated amounts for the overally amount, and that if synods appoint a minister to a central role, they get the funding out of the same pot as that which pays for local ministers, means that there is little accountability of synods about this. If they appointed a lay person to such a role they would have to find the money for the post out of reserves. That is wrong. These posts need taking out of the calculation for local ministry and put on their own. We need to have equal funding from central for posts whether they are filled by an ordained or lay person. I would suggest that central office costs are simply divided between the number of synods.

Finally I have put in the mission correction. This is the fiddle factor. It can for instance allow central resources to be directed towards specific work within a synod. It can be used to even out the income of synods from trust funds and the like and it may take into consideration deprivation experienced within a synod.

This amount should be the amount the synod is expected to raise from local churches minus the amount it contributes from its own funds.

Becoming a member of a congregation

Very few people wake up one Sunday morning and decide lets go to church today out of the blue. Even fewer then decide on a random congregation within ten miles of their home for that intial visit to a congregation, and very few decide at the first time of going that this is where they are going to settle. I am stating this as it is something we all really know but it is amazing how many congregations behave as if this is how people should behave.

What I want to do is to try and to get people first to re-imagine the way a person comes into membership.

I would suggest that there are two initial ways that a person may come into contact with a congregation. One is through a cultivated presence of the congregation, this covers everything from church noticeboards through social outreach to overt evangelism. What it does is make people think “Oh there is a church there!” The second thing is that the people either meet somebody or become aware that somebody they already know goes to that church. This tells them that “people like us go there”. Having been a church member I know there is nothing special about church members, but to the outsider I suspect they often feel like people from another planet. So for a person to consider going to a congregation they have to know something about the congregation and know somebody who belongs to the congregation.

There is however a third thing and that is there must be something that makes them think that Christianity is something they want to investigate or be involved in. If you want religious language some nudging of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that can simply be the feeling that those people who go there are nice people to know I would like to get to know them better but for the most part, people who decide to come through the doors on a Sunday to worship will have some idea that Christianity maybe for them. It maybe that there needs to be a social life to the church that gives a space where people who do not yet have this inkling that Christianity may be for them but who value the friendships they are developing with members of the congregation.

Of course the Holy Spirit can and does use members, there possibly also needs to be encouragement for people to share about their faith with this group. Now I do not mean that members need sermons telling them they must share their faith or else, but that there needs to be some sort of reward for people who do share about their faith. Now I am not sure how this is built in, the old evangelical practice of testimony, at its best gave people a space to try this out that was relatively non-threatening, i.e. the congregation are hardly going to be put out because you talk about God, and often brought rewards in their standing with the congregation. Some congregations might find it useful to have something to give someone and others may find that perhaps faith sharing groups might be useful as a place to share ones faith and to learn to share with others. Actually a good one, is to develop the practice of speaking of the times you see someone else sharing their faith.

Then comes the actual day the person decides, there are going to be reasons why they choose your congregation and the reasons are not probably going to be the ones you’d theoretically liked. They liked a Sunday lie in and your service was the one that allowed them that, or the opposite effect, that your service was early enough that it did not mean that the whole of Sunday morning wasn’t spent at church. It could be that a member is prepared to meet them and walk in with them, or even that they felt that so many people went to your congregation they would not be conspicious. 

However thats just the first week. This is when a welcome matters and that people are given the tools not to feel that they stand out like a sore thumb amongst the regulars.  Sometimes that might mean someone to explain the service to them, sometimes that might mean the quality of the greeting and sometimes that actually might mean that they don’t want any attention at all.

Often people then think the journey is over.  They have a new member but there are a lot of people who will drop out of church going at this point on. What you need is a culture that openly looks to integrate people into the congregation. That gives positive messages not just to the people who come in, but also to the congregation about the people who come in. How many churches could tell you how many attendees have started coming regularly in the last six months unless it is none? Do you make a point of noticing that a person has stopped being an occasional visitor and has started becoming regular. Do you know if such a person is someone who has had previous connections with the Christian faith (maybe someone whose active involvement with a congregation has lapsed but now wants to take on a new commitment) or is looking at it for the first time? How do you celebrate their coming in as part of the fellowship? How do you make sure they are visible to long term members and welcomed? I am not suggesting at this point particularly that they need to come into membership, but it is time they went on the adherents role! and that in itself is worth celebrating.

Then from there to church membership! Again positive work both on involving and educating them into the ways of the congregation. Time to them to evaluate properly whether they do want to belong and time for them to think about what it means to belong.

If a person has been attending regularly for two years then the question really needs to change as to why they are not member and there are legitimate reasons why not. However do congregation even know when someone has been attending for two years or does it all go unnoticed?

I hope what I have outlined is a process that is lot more complex than what is normally supposed. I also hope I have made clear that this process needs a lot more than just straight evangelistic technique, that both the congregation and the individual need to work at making this a path that is celebrated and seen as bringing rewards. Congregations are quick to seize on either the difficulties of new people, who don’t do things the way they always have been done, aren’t as reliable, meaning haven’t been attending for as long or perhaps are demanding meaning needing care and attention. If they do recognise people then it is more likely to be as somebody who helps us keep things going rather than an individual who will enrich the life of the congregation.

The challenge is to make it possible for people to assemble a route into a congregation and when they appear to be doing so, to create ways to support them in so doing.

Why Congregations might not want growth.

It is always assumed that growth is good and that congregations are always in favour of growth. I have come to the conclusion that a congregation may well be cautious about growth and that the reasons they are cautious are powerful reasons.

Firstly the easiest one to get hold of. Growth implies change. It is highly unlikely that if you attract new people to join you that they will be exactly in the same mould as current members. Simply because if they were the chances are they would already be members. Now it is true that the people comining in will change to fit in with the congregation, but to a lesser extent the congregation will have to change to fit with the new members. However many people in the church look for to the church as a place of stability in a world of change. The idea that new people coming into the church will change how the congregation does things, is not attractive.

Secondly new people within the congregation are very likely to reset where the power exactly lies. This may be because they happen to relate more easily to one group of current members than another. This may be because they have specific skills, this maybe because they naturally do things differently and thus question the common place assumptions of the congregation. When power starts to move between people it is an uncomfortable experience.

Thirdly size makes a difference to how you can do things. A congregation that likes to do things together, to involve everyone and does not like to be separated up, is going to find it has it increases size to over one hundred it is harder and harder to do things that way. This is because humans do not sustain endless relationships but normally about 150. You simply have to work much harder to be tight knit sort of congregation if you have 150 members than you do if you have 50 members. I suspect congregations over 250 simply don’t function that way.

Fourthly outreach seems to me to entail a level of being open and vulnerable, that a congregation has to be open to rejection by people outside it, to being told it is not wanted and probably to having things not done how it would like them if it is truly to engage with people who are outside the church.

What exactly do we mean by “welcoming and friendly”?

Let me be clear as far as I can ascertain all United Reformed Churches are “Welcoming and Friendly”. By this, I don’t mean all congregations claim that. All congregations of all denominations claim that. What I mean is that from my own experience, I can only think of one congregation I have ever heard of as being unfriendly and that was a decade before the report. Also, I have been reading Mystery Worshipper reports on Ship of Fools it seems to be a constant theme when talking about a United Reformed congregation.

I have sort of felt that when the growth experts, go on about how a church should be welcoming and friendly at least as far as the URC is concerned, they are preaching to the converted. We have sorted what being welcoming is at least as far as the reports go. People are not being turned away from the United Reformed Congregations in vast droves because the congregations are unwelcoming. It is not just a matter that congregation have to more welcoming and people will flood in. If I could suggest anything to the church people interested in Evangelism it would be that they let go of being a welcoming and friendly congregation and concentrated their efforts elsewhere. Being a “Welcoming and friendly” congregation only matters once you have people coming in. If those people never come in, then it does not matter how you perfect your skills at being “friendly and welcoming” you will not recruit anybody.

However, my view is changing. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that all United Reformed Churches are doing their best to be welcoming and friendly and for the most part succeeding. What I no longer believe is that all United Reformed Churches understanding “Welcoming and friendly” to mean the same thing.

So does a church being welcoming and friendly mean:

  1. that others in the congregation recognise you, are mildly interested in what is going on in your life and are ready to chat when you meet
  2. that the congregation provides happenings on a daily basis so that you never need to be lonely but can always go down to the church and chat with somebody
  3. that they keep a note of when you are not in church and check how you are when you are absent for a couple of weeks
  4. that you find it easy to form friendships with people there
  5. that they are ready to help you out even if this is your first visit to the congregation.
  6. that someone greets you at the door and someone talks to you at your first visit.

I guess that the list could go on. The point is not that one of these is correct and the others are wrong but that people will construct being a “welcoming and friendly” congregation to be those of the above that they are good at. Some congregations will even decide that certain of those behaviours are anything but welcoming and friendly.