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By Rev. Canon Dr. Stephen Hendry

Is your church a safe place to ask questions?...

These may be questions about your future, about your mission, or even as simple as, “if we weren’t here tomorrow, would anyone notice?” Asking questions is fundamentally essential to discovering God’s purpose for your church.

Life and ministry in a post-Covid world bring a renewed necessity for congregational coaching. Is your congregation looking for a deeper experience of vocation and mission in your life in Christ? Congregational coaching may be able to help….

Experience has taught me that a daylong session can result in new awareness and insight that may bring out a willingness for cautious, careful, compassionate change benefitting the whole community. Often the coach’s job is to listen, learn, and lead life changing conversations.

Sometimes, it really helps a congregation to invite an outsider to help ask the challenging questions that reveal the very best of the congregation’s life together as well as open dialogue about the growing edges in each community. Coaches come alongside a congregation to ask the best possible questions with the hope of clarity of thought immersed in prayer and a willingness to engage in significant transformational dialogue.

One of our talented and capable coaches, Matthew Kieswetter offers the following reflection on coaching: “One of the key things coaches do is encourage congregations to assess their life and situation as it is in the present moment. To be clear: as it is now, and not five years ago, or six months ago (though we might make reference to those earlier times). For instance: what are some positive steps your congregation has made in the last few months, or what are the signs of life and hope? Are there any new challenges now being faced? Is anything more clear than it used to be? And, are there any earlier concerns that can be let go?”

Each coach brings a unique perspective to the coaching experience. Helen Cole’s creative and positive presence lends itself beautifully to the experience. Helen is deeply aware of spiritual vitality and anointed ministry. She encourages churches to ask this question: “How do you describe God’s hopes and dreams for the future of your Church?” This may well be one of the fundamental questions that needs to be asked by someone leading a coaching session in any parish across the Diocese.

Shirley Sewell is one of the well respected coaches in our Diocese. Her words of inspiration and encouragement are appreciated wherever she goes. She believes it is essential to ask the question, “Where do you see God in all of this”? She also believes, “... that if the Anglican church is to survive, we have to be far more open and diligent in sharing our faith among ourselves so we are comfortable sharing it with others. I cannot extol the virtues of "The Way of Love" and "Revive" as an intentional way to do this”. One of her particular gifts is to encourage a question such as, “Please share with an elbow partner something you were thankful for this past week followed by, what was God's part in all of this”? Coming to a discussion about the future of a parish, immersed in an attitude of gratitude for the blessings in your life, is essential.

Coach Cheryl Highmore encourages the practice of ‘storytelling’. During this process the following questions are explored within the church community. She expresses the importance of hearing, even truly listening, to each person’s story and therefore developing a better understanding of the people and their future needs. She would include the following questions:

1. What are your best memories of this church?

2. What are your worst memories?

3. Are your needs being met in all these: mind, body and soul?

4. Is this church part of the community?

5. How would you describe your church to strangers?

6. What is the Spiritual life of your church beyond Sunday?

7. What are your hopes/desires/fears for your church in the future?

Paul Townshend is the Chair of the Congregational Coaching Team.

His years of experience in the education system and in congregational life equips him well to propose the following questions in a coaching session:

What are our strengths? What are our challenges? What are our opportunities?

What are the most important things for us to do? Why? How are we going to do them? When?

Paul would encourage large and small group discussions, with everyone providing input, helping to discern the most effective way forward for the parish.

Some of the coaches reflect similarly on the importance of asking congregations about their hopes, desires, and fears about their future church. Also, most feel that identifying the challenges a church is facing, is an essential talking point on which congregations should reflect.

What a privilege it is to work closely with coaches that believe congregations can grow in healthy relationships, professional competencies, anointed ministry, and traditional Anglican values. I am always engaged when working with one of our coaches whose desire it is, for a congregation to experience authenticity, integrity, and mutual respect.

Is it time for your congregation to ask the important questions that bring new health and vitality to your parish?

Rev. Canon Dr. Stephen Hendry is the rector of St. George's of Forest Hill, Kitchener, and Regional Dean of Waterloo.