Frequently Asked Questions

About the Program

1.) What is the New Beginnings Assessment Service, and what is its goal?
2.) How do churches get involved?
3.) What do you mean by, “stuck?” Are we a congregation that should enroll?
4.) Wait, you won’t give our church a recommendation of what to do? Why not?
5.) What do churches receive in this process?
6.) How long does the process take?
7.) What is the success rate for New Beginnings?
8.) What happens if we go through the program and still can’t reach a decision?

About the Process

9.) What should we expect on the day of the assessment?
10.) What do congregations need to have prepared before the day of the assessment?
11.) Tell me more about this congregational report. We already know about our congregation. What function does it serve?
12.) What is the Leadership Training event?
13.) What are house meetings and what purpose do they serve?
14.) What kinds of decisions are made?

1.) What is the New Beginnings Assessment Service, and what is its goal?

The New Beginnings Congregational Assessment Service serves to resource “stuck” congregations to make a decision on a new direction or plan that will carry them into the future. Unlike some church consultant services, New Beginnings does not tell a congregation what it should do. Instead, it paints a full picture of its present condition and offers ideas to prime the imagination of the congregation so that, in the end, the congregation can discern the commitment they feel called to embrace – a decision about what God is leading them to be and do.

2.) How do churches get involved?

The program is set up for groups of churches (linked by regional bodies) to take part in the program together. We hope that churches in these bodies can go through the program, supporting and nurturing one another. Additionally, regional bodies can assist in providing a framework for the program, as well as offer additional resources as necessary.

If an individual church wants to take part in the program, that is also possible. While there are slight tweaks in the program (depending on your denomination), the process itself remains the same.

3.) What do you mean by, “stuck?” Are we a congregation that should enroll?

By stuck, we refer to congregations who, for any number of reasons, have been unable (or unwilling) to make the shifts necessary to offer ministry in 2014. We have worked with churches that have been putting off a decision since 1930, and wonder why they are declining without any rebound. The simple answer to this is that ministry that worked for 1930 doesn’t translate well in the present time – no matter how hard we might try. The world has changed, and vital churches are able to keep up (or be ahead) of that change. While the primary goal of New Beginnings is to help churches get “unstuck,” an implicit goal is to teach churches about keeping pace with the world around them – if they choose to do so. If your congregation fits that bill, or for any other reason is unable to come to a decision about its future on your own, then New Beginnings wants to help your church.

4.) Wait, you won’t give our church a recommendation of what to do? Why not?

New Beginnings believes that the best people to make a decision about a congregation’s future is that congregation. Churches that have not made a serious decision about their ministry in the last several years tend to flounder about, making short-term decisions that they view as long-term solutions. Continuing this habit is understandably exhausting, and leads to congregations perpetuating ministries of the past that have little or no relevance in the current time – least of all into the future. In that light, New Beginnings serves as a guide in the congregation’s process of making a meaningful decision about their future.

5.) What do churches receive in this process?

Congregations receive many tools that can assist them in making a decision about their future. The most individualized piece is a comprehensive report of the church’s present state, including but not limited too: their property, finances, congregational profile, and community demographics. Along with this report are tools for facilitating a six-session house meeting process focused on interpreting that report for the congregation. Ideologically, congregations will also receive valuable training on leading effective change, as well as knowledge concerning the types of ministries that are characteristic of the communities that congregations like theirs can create. Fundamentally, congregations receive the tools that they will need to propel themselves into the future.

More information on these resources, and the process in general, and located below.

6.) How long does the process take?

While this varies from one congregation to another, the “average” length of time between the assessment visit and a decision made is about six to eight months. (This also depends a bit on the timing of the individual phases of the program.) In some cases, congregations are up against the clock – in this case a decision can be reached in as little as a few weeks, but this is not the norm for the program.

7.) What is the success rate for New Beginnings?

Because the goal of New Beginnings is to resource congregations to make a decision about their future, and because once a congregation enrolls in the program, they commit to making such a decision, it could be said that New Beginnings has a 100% success rate. While this is a wonderful marketing line, it does have some truth attached to it. When a congregation enrolls in the New Beginnings program, part of that action is a commitment that a decision will be made. One of the decision types is to, “do nothing.” (See the next question for more information about this.) If, for any reason, a congregation withdrawals from the program at any point, the Do Nothing decision is automatically assigned to that congregation.

More in the spirit of the question, though, a success in the New Beginnings program is for a congregation to make a meaningful decision, and then live into that decision meaningfully. This takes a lot of different forms, and honestly, is more a success for the church involved than on our end. We just provide some guidance.

8.) What happens if we go through the program and still can’t reach a decision?

This happens sometimes, and for a variety of reasons. One of the decision types is to “do nothing.” This could also be called the “status quo,” or the “business as usual,” decision. It might seem odd to enroll in a program if you aren’t going to do anything different afterwards, but hear us out:

There are congregations that have little energy for starting new ministries. The energy they do have is, at times, spent worrying about they fact that they are not doing something new. This is a tiring, stressful cycle that fuels fear and can cause churches to make poor decisions. The issue here is that while these churches exist, they may not realize that it is okay and acceptable for them to serve primarily as a worshipping community with little outreach outside of their current flock. These churches often turn to New Beginnings as a “final step” prior to making that kind of decision. Part of the program is a congregation assessing its energy level for the future, and making decisions based on that outlook. If there is little energy for something new or for major change, then a “business as usual” decision can bring relief to the stress of worrying about their future.

9.) What should we expect on the day of the assessment?

The concept of a church being “assessed” can seem a bit daunting. While it is not necessarily a pain-free experience, it is not something that is meant to cause great amounts of anxiety.

Your assessor will arrive at the church at a pre-determined time (usually in the afternoon, but morning assessments can be scheduled.) While the order of the day may change a bit, this is the usual agenda:

– A tour of the building (led by a member of the property committee or similar body);
– A financial review (led by the treasurer, or a member of the finance committee or similar body);
– A review of the church calendar (with a knowledgeable member who can help explain what is on it);
– A window tour of the community (a parishioner, with abundant local knowledge, drives the assessor around town);
– A meal with the pastor and stated clerk (no-host, meaning everyone pays for their own meal);
– An Appreciative Inquiry session ( a congregational feedback session that will help the assessor further grasp community identity, culture, and involvement.)

The usual time frame for this process is from 2pm-9:00pm. If multiple people are involved in meeting with the assessor, it should be the assessor who does most of the days work, and not a single representative from the church.

10.) What do congregations need to have prepared before the day of the assessment?

Yes! While the assessor will provide the forms necessary for these tasks, a congregation will need to provide the assessor with:

– A participant roster (This is a form provided by the assessor that you will fill out.)
– A calendar review (Another form, provided by the assessor.)
– Your church’s calendar (in whatever form it appears.)
– Income and Expense reports for the last three years.
– A current Balance sheet.

11.) Tell me more about this congregational report. We already know about our congregation. What function does it serve?

The New Beginnings Assessment reports are individualized documents that seek to paint a broad yet detailed portrait of your congregation. From a program standpoint, this document gives your congregation a foundation from which to build a future story. To understand it practically, lets look at it from a real-world perspective:

Lets say a congregation has been around for 100 years, and it currently has five members. Two of them have been members for 50 years (their parents family started the church), two more have been members for 5 years (they relocated to the town), and the last remaining person has been a member for just a few months. If you ask each person to tell the story of the congregation, the first two will be relying on family lore and personal experience, the second two will be relating what they have heard from the first two, but could perhaps be working from a skewed institutional history passed down to them. The remaining member will be relying on the few months of personal experience as a guide to the welcoming nature of the congregation, but will be relying on the other four for specific details. All five, it must be said, will be relying on personal opinion and individualized narrative.

While the ability for each person to describe the story and their experience of the congregation certainly shows a good level of commitment to the community, all of them are functioning on different levels of understanding about who and what the congregation is about. The Congregational Assessment report seeks to place all five of these members on an equal playing field in terms of up-to-date statistical information, reliably accurate institutional history, and contemporary community analysis that will serve as a backboard for the house meetings and future development of a congregation’s new beginning.

Additionally, these reports offer your congregation a “visitor’s-level” view of the experience of worshiping with the congregation. How easy was it to find the parking lot? (Harder than you might think!) The bulletin says an event was happening in the Angel room – was the assessor able to find that space easily? (Again, harder than you might think.) Your child, who is wheelchair bound, needs a ramp to get into the sanctuary – was one available? (You get the idea.) This is invaluable information for congregations who want to be welcoming, yet may have some unrealistic assumptions about how welcoming their building is to first-time visitors.

It is often the case that when the congregation reads their report, the feedback from the leadership is, “there is nothing new here!” This is actually a good thing, as it means that the leaders of the congregation are keeping tabs on that church. While this may be the case, it is often the people in the pews who say, “I didn’t know that!” The report levels the information field, so to speak. This is not to say that the leadership of a congregation keeps information from the congregation, but rather to provide a common opportunity for knowledge from which to base discussions about the future.

12.) What is the Leadership Training event?

This training is for congregational leaders in preparation for their serving as house meeting leaders. This training helps them to interpret the report, understand congregational dynamics involved in making decisions about the future, and proving space for leaders to begin thinking about implementing the New Beginnings house meetings in their churches. Congregations receive their Congregational Assessment Reports and House Meeting Leader Guides at this event.

13.) What are house meetings and what purpose do they serve?

The New Beginnings assessors do not construct a report detailing recommendations for a church’s future ministry. Their job is to help churches get a sense of the systems involved in their community, and lead them all the way up to the point where the congregation can make new ministry decisions for themselves. The house meetings are where this happens. Through a six-session meeting format, small groups gather in an effort to move their faith community forward.

They begin by working to interpret the report, then move into looking more closely at their community, then into determining their response to this current situation in the form of a decision.

14.) What kinds of decisions are made?

Each congregation makes a unique decision about their future, but the decisions can be broken down into a number of groups based on the decision strategy:

Mission Redevelopment – This is by far the most popular decision, and it is the hardest. This is a decision by the congregation to begin to revision their mission outlook by taking on a new ministry effort or focus, and living into that decision with modern systems and challenges driving the changes needed to meet that effort or focus. This decisions typically takes 5-7 years to live out.

Redevelopment – This decision strategy is for congregations that need a major structural revisioning, including relocating, restarting, or a number of other redevelopment processes.

Closing: For congregations that have few remaining resources or little energy to continue their ministry, one option is to dissolve and leave a legacy. There are several ways that this can occur, and in many ways can provide resources for others interesting in starting new ministries in your area.

Doing Nothing: The decision here indicates that the congregation will proceed as they have in the past – maintaining the status quo. This decision can bring comfort to congregations that stress over their inability to reach out in new ways but can maintain their current ministry to themselves and some others. Additionally, this decision is automatically given to congregations who cannot, or are otherwise unwilling, to make a decision. The time period for this action is determined by the local congregation and their regional body.