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Consultation 2000: Standing Committee Report
Submitted by Pacific Southwest District, pswd-cob@juno.com ~ Published July 12, 2001 ©

....Submitted to Life & Witness by: Karen Walters, PSWD Standing Committee Representative
....Compiled by: Your Standing Committee Consultation 2001 Team: Tim Button-Harrison, Judd Peter, Kim Witkovsky
.....Background: In preparation for Consultation 2000, which occurred on July 12 (2000) in Standing Committee meetings with representatives of the five annual Conference agencies and the Council of District Executives, six questions (see below) were given to Standing Committee representatives to use in their districts for gathering input. Standing Committee representatives from 16 of the 23 districts prepared written reports of these queries to congregations. The subcommittee of Standing Committee assigned to suggest topics and prepare questions for Consultation 2001 decided that a summary of the Consultation 2000 written reports might be useful background material for Standing Committee and the five Annual Conference agencies.
.....Eight of the 16 reports were based on about 160 responses, representing about 100 congregations; there were no definitive numbers mentioned in the other eight reports. For the statisticians among us we acknowledge that our summary responses to the questions are not based on statistically valid analysis of all congregations, let alone all Brethren. It might be best to say that our response is based on the opinions of persons interested enough to respond, who reside in districts represented by Standing Committee representatives interested enough to ask the questions and compile the answers! On the other hand there is a lot of data, and we would be remiss in ignoring it. For example, in many cases Standing Committee representatives chose to feed back all responses rather than to try to summarize them. That gave us the opportunity to review much "raw" data in addition to summary information, which for every question provided a sense of consensus among the responses. That consensus forms the basis for our comments on each question and convinces us that the information is valid and, we hope, useful.

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The six Consultation 2000 questions and our summary responses are:
1...How would your congregation define the mission of the Church of the Brethren for the 21st Century?
Congregations and members define our denomination's 21st century mission in various ways, but each centers our work and witness on Jesus Christ. One person captured the breadth of our mission simply and powerfully, answering, "the Great Commission and the Greatest Commandment." There is a strong sense that our mission must be the Great Commission: to reach out and share the Gospel with all, to invite and welcome new people into our congregations, to make disciples, and to teach what Jesus has commanded. There is also a strong sense that our mission must reflect the Greatest Commandment: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Through these emphases we will be "continuing the work of Jesus" as an evangelistic, mission-minded, service-seeking, peace-making church that calls people to follow Jesus and spreads the gospel through word and action. As we move forward, there is hope we will draw younger people, strengthen families, and cultivate capable leadership. There is hope we will be open to new people and perspectives, even as we continue emphasizing our unique denominational perspective. There is hope we can build trust across our diversity, finding unity in the Spirit as we share Jesus Christ in a variety of ways.
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2...What kinds of programs, resourcing, or support does your congregation need?
While there were many (over 30) types of needs cited, there were only four that were mentioned five or more times. Tied for first place were pleas for help in leadership development (both lay and pastoral) and worship. Just one "mention" short of a three-way tie was evangelism and church growth. Close behind was youth program support. There is certainly a consistency between our congregations' view of mission (question 1) and focus (question 5) and the kind of help they need.
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3...Which denominational programs has your congregation used?
Our congregations use many denominational programs. Those cited include Sunday School materials, Deacon workshops, Covenant Bible Study materials, Congregational Life Teams, Ministry Training programs, evangelism programs, service projects, peace-making efforts, National Youth and Older Adult Conferences, to name only a few. The survey data was not complete enough to draw more specific conclusions as to the relative importance to congregations or the extent of usage of various denominational programs.

4...In what ways are you using Congregational Life Teams in your area?
In 13 of the 16 district reports one or more congregations reported using their Congregational Life Team. Two districts did not answer and one stated that it was "a growing edge for us." Several common uses of CLTs are Deacon training, district and church board meetings and retreats, leadership development at the individual, congregation and district level, curriculum and Christian Education workshops, spiritual growth, worshipful work trainings, goal-setting, church growth and development, and consultation. More unique applications of this special ministry team include new church finance programs, pastoral support, merger discussions, ethics workshops, Web connections and contacts for VBS leadership. A few responses indicate that some are either still unaware of what a CLT is or how to use it appropriately, or have not used their local CLT yet. This feedback seems to reflect varying degrees of understanding and use of the CLTs, possibly due to it being a fairly new denominational program. We recommend that CLTs continue to "spread the Good News"" of their ministry in all districts. Churches which have successfully used CLTs could share their experiences and stories with other churches in the district. In the process more congregations will appreciate the gifts and support CLTs have to offer.
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5...What one thing would you like the Church of the Brethren to focus on during the next decade?
There are a great variety of things that our congregations want the Church of the Brethren to focus on, but leading all other suggestions more emphatically than one might expect was strong support for denominational focus on evangelism and growth. The responses were worded in a variety of ways, but the intent is clear. Some said simply, "evangelism." Others, "growth" or "increase membership." To look at these responses simplistically is not fair to the variety of thoughts and concern that we could see within this one area of focus. Many amplified their responses by using expressions such as, "evangelism in cities and inner cities," "mission-oriented evangelism," or "multi-cultural appeal." It seems clear that if denominational leadership were to respond to this question, our primary focus in this decade will be evangelism. ... We found it interesting that in strong second place, though far behind first, is a desire to focus on our denominational heritage with emphases on peace, simplicity, service, disaster relief and BVS. We submit that it is fair to put these two highest-ranking focuses together in a way that says, "We want desperately to bring others to Christ, we want our churches to grow, but we want to do it with integrity without losing sight of who we are as a denomination." ... In third place is the desire to focus on the Bible. This was expressed with statements such as "more Bible study," "preaching Bible truths" and "relate Bible truth to contemporary ways." ... Next, were several focus categories that were close enough in tabulation to be tied for fourth. They are: a) faithfulness to Jesus, Christ-centeredness, b) build up families and family values in a nation of moral decline, how to live in a post-Christian era, c) spiritual growth, prayer and gifts discernment, d) lay leadership and Christian discipleship.
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6...Do you think the denomination should consider changing its name?
It was difficult to qualify the responses to this question due to the variety of responses and the emotion and conviction with which it was answered. Many of the answers fell at either extreme of the spectrum with emphatic yes's or passionate no's. Although the no's represented a strong majority of the responses, there were a few maybes, who could be influenced either direction depending on the actual name chosen. Some individuals simply asked, "Why change?" Some responses emphasized the need to retain the word ‘Brethren' to keep our ‘historical identity' and a similar number stated that ‘Brethren' is definitely the main word in the name which needs to be changed so that we can be more inclusive and less sexist in our title. One individual stated that it is not our name that should change, but our attitude. Some agreed that a name change could benefit the denomination, but that this was not the time nor should this process be our focus or priority right now. Others inquired whether we would or should associate a new name with a new mission. As we continue on our journey and struggle with the issue of name change, a few specific comments might keep us thinking and praying about this concern... "We need to focus on who we are called to be and not just what we are called." ... "The name is not what draws people to our churches, it is Jesus Christ." ... "We need to know which audience it is to whom we are attempting to describe ourselves. If we're just talking to ourselves (Brothers and Sisters), we know who the Church of the Brethren is. If we are talking to other Christians, again the name probably doesn't matter. However, if we are speaking to those outside of Christianity (which we should!), then our name does really matter." We think this latter point is the main reason for further study of the issue.