Gathering Your Congregation
As you gather for your discernment conversations, you’ll want to consider how you’ll create a safe space for honest reflection and engagement as you listen to one another and to God. This stage of the process helps you develop healthy listening practices and creates a positive environment for the conversations you will have together. No matter what path you ultimately choose, taking the time to discern well will benefit your congregation.
Each congregation is unique and comes to these conversations from a different set of circumstances, so the activities suggested here are customizable. Some congregations will be able to point to examples of having healthy discussions about weighty issues in the recent past. Other congregations, with less practice in having intentional, challenging discussions, may find that they need to spend a lot of time on listening activities so that they can build their capacity to do the work ahead of them. If you think your congregation may need some extra time in order to maintain a healthy, constructive conversation in this process, you may want to schedule more than one session to go through this gathering material.
Checklist for Stage 2: Gathering Your Congregation
This checklist summarizes the suggested steps in this stage of your journey. You’ll find a more complete explanation below.
- Have your council or guiding team meet with your facilitator to determine the number of sessions you think you’ll need to lay a strong foundation for this process through this gathering stage.
- Review the list of activities we strongly recommend in this stage (see the “Summary of Activities” list below).
- Establish dates and times for the selected activities. A retreat setting with 3-4 hours would be ideal to complete the activities in this stage. Alternatively, they could be tackled separately over one or two shorter meetings. However you meet, we encourage you to start these activities with a meal or dessert.
- Gather the necessary supplies for your selected activities.
- Communicate plans to the congregation well ahead of time, finding different ways to convey information so that everyone has an opportunity to hear and participate. Make people aware of these plans a few weeks ahead of time.
- Consider how you’ll incorporate prayer and worship into this stage—in your worship gatherings, in these sessions, and in suggestions for personal and group prayer and devotions as participants seek God’s guidance.
- Print copies of the Table Questions (below) for use during a meal or dessert time that you might wish to incorporate into one or more of the activities.
Summary of Activities
(for important details, click on the links below)
Here are some activities you can engage in as you work through the Gathering stage. Although most of the activities in the other stages are optional, these three activities are necessary for setting the stage for healthy conversations, and we strongly suggest that you participate in all of them.
- Listening to One Another Particularly in today’s North American culture, we don’t often have meaningful conversations with people who fundamentally disagree with us. We’ve lost the skill of having these conversations in a respectful yet helpful way. This activity takes you back to the basics of listening to each other.
- Conversation Covenant Having difficult conversations is hard, especially when you find yourself in an anxious situation. Yet your congregation will benefit from inviting everyone to include their voice in healthy discussions together. A conversation covenant will help you create agreed-upon expectations for entering into these discussions.
- Listening to God Integral to these congregational conversations is a focus on discerning God’s will for your congregation. God speaks to us through his Word, shaping our hearts and minds to be aligned with his will. Dwelling in God’s Word helps us learn to listen for God’s voice together.
(for use during a meal or dessert time)
- What’s your earliest memory of this church?
- What’s something you disagree about with a good friend of yours?
Resources You May Want to Consult
- Blog post: 3 Key Insights for Having Difficult, Honest Conversations by Kathy Smith. A summary of three insights discussed in the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.
- Blog post: 9 Tips for Entering & Sticking with Tough Dialogue. Jeanette Romkema writes about some tips for engaging in tough dialogue, drawn from her experience of 20 years in dialogue education.
- Leadership training: Designed by Pastor Church Resources, The Challenging Conversations Toolkit is a five- to nine-week small group guide that helps members of your church engage with challenging topics. Though designed to focus on the particular topic of human sexuality, the three-hour facilitator training introduces leaders to better tools for all kinds of conversations that acknowledge differences while still pointing to Christ and building up the faith of participants.
- A number of worship resources are available as you work your way through the Crossroads Discernment Process.
These questions may be used by the facilitator when engaging with the group:
- How does it feel to be the listener? What’s hard about listening to one another? What’s hard about listening to God? What did you learn?
- How does it feel to be listened to? What’s hard about it? What did you learn?
- What did you learn from this experience that could help you form principles for having conversations about more difficult topics as you go through this process together? What type of environment creates a safe space for these conversations?
- How can you balance grace and truth in your conversations? What might happen if either grace or truth outweighs the other?
When you feel that you’ve laid a strong foundation of listening to God and to one another, and that everyone involved is ready to enter into deeper conversations, you’re ready for the Engaging the Past stage.
It’s important to celebrate the accomplishment of the progress you’re making. How will you celebrate the transition into each stage? A few ideas:
- Create a bulletin board depicting the stages and an arrow pointing to the stage you’re currently in.
- Create space in a worship service to note the transition into each new stage, to hear a testimony about how God worked among you in the previous stage, and to pray that the next stage will be fruitful and constructive as well.
- Ask an artist to draw the outline of your church logo or of another symbol that’s meaningful to you. Use crayons or markers to color a portion of it each time you make progress, and in the end you’ll have a completed picture.
- Create a “certificate of accomplishment” for each stage. Send it as a PDF to your church mailing list after each stage completion.
If you find yourself stuck at any point, reach out to us—Pastor Church Resources. We’re here to help.
Once you’ve completed this Gathering Your Congregation stage, go to the Engaging the Past stage.
I have used dwelling in the Word in an established church and in a church plant. The dwelling in the Word practice is different from our usual way of engaging the Bible. We tend to do “one off” readings of the Bible in which we study a text one week and then run on to the next one. We seldom stay long enough to ask whether we’re actually doing what a text calls us to. When dwelling in a rich text like Luke 10:1-12, for example, I’ve seen groups ask and begin to discern how to engage their neighborhoods in the way that Jesus calls his disciples to in that text. I‘ve seen groups begin to experience where and how they can join Jesus where he’s at work.
—Rev. Jon Huizenga, pastor of Rise Up Church, Cedar Springs, Michigan