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Naming the Present


If you’ve ever walked into a large shopping mall, airport, or amusement park, you’ll have seen a map that identifies your current location: “You are here!” Knowing your starting point allows you to get your bearings so that you can chart a course to your destination.

So far in this Crossroads Discernment Process, you’ve focused on the past. Now you’ll focus on the present.

Chances are that the present is tense. There are questions in the air. Wonderings. That’s why this discernment process is under way. It was important for you to think about your past: who, what, where, and how you were. It was important to speak the truth about the good and the not so good of the past. Ultimately it was important to sense the grace of God in your past—and now you need to consider the truth and grace of God in the present. This involves the important work of self-examination as a church community.

This brings the community to a vital conversation about stewardship: How well are we making use of the resources God has provided? Resources include people, gifts, buildings, time, and energy. Is our current use compellingly fruitful, or can we imagine better ways to use these resources? When we talk about stewardship, we are talking about how God has blessed us in order to bless our surrounding communities and the world. So how has God blessed us, and how are we blessing others? What’s God doing in our presence and with our presence in the world? His mission and ours need to be in harmony.

The truth is, people aren’t always in sync with what the orientation map says. They may even disagree with the people standing beside them! Which way do we go from here? Ahead? Left? Right? Back? And on which level are we standing? How do we interpret the map together, so that it really does help all of us?

Checklist for Stage 4: Naming the Present

This checklist summarizes the suggested steps in this stage of your journey. You’ll find a more complete explanation below.

  • Review the highlights of the previous stages of gathering and exploring the past.
  • Review the list of optional activities you could engage in (see the “Summary of Activities” list below) and make selections that seem helpful and fitting.
  • Establish dates and times for the selected activities. 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 this Naming the Present stage.

  1. Listening Groups A process by which congregational members and regular visitors are provided an opportunity to share their experiences and perspectives on the life of the congregation.
  2. Appreciative Inquiry A way of thinking about the positive resources that exist in your congregation. This approach helps you think about the present in a way that is rooted in thanksgiving in God’s provision, rather than focusing on a perception of scarcity or lack (“the church down the street has this ministry and that program”).
  3. Naming Losses, Fears, and Hopes This circle conversation activity will attend to the real and present emotions within the group.
  4. Review Current Realities Before doing this activity, you’ll need to collect church membership data. This activity will name dynamics at work in the present. It uses Congregational Life-Cycle teaching, The Life Cycle and Stages of Congregational Development , and the current demographics of the congregation.
  5. Who Is Our Church? A winsome way to think about who your congregation (the body of Christ) might be as you consider it to be an actual human person (body)—and how that might inform your present understanding, as well as future needs.
  6. Community Demographics Engaging in a demographic study of your community can give you ideas about how the community has changed and how you can connect with your neighbors. It can also help you decide how to use your resources to serve the community.

Table Questions

(for use during a meal or dessert time)

  1. Describe a moment when you especially sensed God’s presence in your life through the ministry of this church.
  2. Describe a moment when you sensed that God was using you to bless someone. Share what was going on inside of you at that moment.
  3. Describe a moment when you sensed God at work in one of your fellow church members. What did that spark in your own soul? 

Resources You May Want to Consult

  1. Diagnostic Tool: The Life Cycle and Stages of Congregational Development by George Bullard. This tool can bring clarity to a group’s self-awareness regarding their relative age and the potential work necessary to regain vitality.
  2. Survey: The Healthy Church executive survey will allow the congregation to see, with some clarity, the church that exists in the present rather than the church as it once was.
  3. A number of worship resources are available as you work your way through the Crossroads Discernment Process. 

Reflection Questions

While participants engage in one or more of the above activities, the facilitator may use questions like these to draw together important findings and themes:

  • If “here” is where you are—where exactly is that?
  • What’s it like to be “here”? How are you being blessed? How are you experiencing “lack”?
  • Who is “here”?
  • How is God “here”?
  • How are you being instruments of blessing beyond your church family?
  • From what narrative perspectives are you telling the story of “now”? At best, this means that we integrate the perspectives below* so as to be hopeful, honest, and balanced. This involves teasing together the perspectives that, at worst, can isolate and dominate:

*Heroic perspective—focusing on what needs to happen to save the church.
Victim perspective—focusing on being in such a sorry, sorry state. Woe is us.
Villain perspective—focusing on the idea that this church needs to close its doors—period.

Next Step

When you feel that you’ve engaged the present well, you’re ready for the next stage of this process: Discerning the Future

It’s important to celebrate the accomplishment of the progress you’re making. How will you celebrate the transition into each new stage? A few ideas:

  • Create a bulletin board depicting the stages and an arrow pointing to the stage you’re 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 Naming the Present stage, go to the Discerning the Future stage.