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Cascadia District Local Church Assessments

How Are We Doing at Being Church?

May 31, 2018

It has been almost a year since I was appointed to be the District Superintendent of the Cascadia District. One of the first things I was told by the folks who oriented and trained me was that the “DS is the chief missional strategist” for the district. All the district superintendents together with the bishop form the missional strategy team for the annual conference.
I’ve kept this in mind as I have learned about each church, its congregation, and the pastors of this district this past year.
Just to remind us all, here is what our Discipline says is the mission of the church:
¶ 120. The MissionThe mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.
This is the mission for which I am to develop a strategy in the Cascadia District. It seems fairly straightforward, after all we’ve been doing this for over 2000 years as Christians and over 230 years as Methodists in these United States. But as I have reflected on this role, prayed about it, and wrestled with it with my cabinet colleagues, I have found that what appears simple isn’t at all. There are many reasons for this reality but one that seems to stand out to me is that we really don’t know what we are working with.
One of the keys to developing a good strategy is knowing what assests and resources you have to work with. As I have led charge conferences, visited pastors, attended worship, and worked with people and churches in our district, I have found that we do not have a good sense of what it is we can bring to the work of transforming lives and the world in the post-modern, nones- and dones-dominated culture in which we live.
Individual churches, pastors, and lay people have some sense of this, but most of us do not. We continue to do what we’ve been trained to do and what we have done for a couple of generations at least. What we all know is that these things aren’t working, they aren’t helping us to make great strides in accomplishing our mission.
So, in an attempt to fulfill my primary task as a district superintendent – to be the chief missional strategist – I am going to embark on an effort to help each local church assess where it is at in its ministry and mission, and what it brings to the work of partnering with God and Christ in transforming lives and the world. My goal is to then take this information and use it to develop a strategy for fulfilling our mission in Cascadia District.
There is a process described in the Discipline which I will use as the jumping off point for this assessment work. Here is that process in part:
¶ 213. A Process for Assessment of Local Church Potential—Since every congregation is located in a community in some type of transition, every local church is encouraged to study their congregation’s potential… 1. This study shall include, but not be limited to:
a) unique missional opportunities and needs of the community;
b) present ministries of the congregation;
c) number of leaders and style of leadership;
d) growth potential of the surrounding community;
e) fiscal and facilities needs;
f) distance from other United Methodist churches;
g) number and size of churches of other denominations in the community;
h) other items that may impact the church's ability to fulfill the mission of the church as stated in Chapter One, Section I.
Since there are 49 congregations or new starts in the district, it will take me some time to work with each congregation.

However, in the mean time, every congregation and its leadership can begin its own assessment process. What assets do we have? People, financial, property, connections, relationships with other organizations, etc.? Who is it that lives in the immediate area of our church building? What shops, stores, and business populate our community? What do the people who are our neighbors need? How can we partner with them and other organizations and churches to meet these needs? These are the questions to begin asking, but to get the answers you will need to step out of your church doors and into the neighborhood and develop relationships with those who “are the people in your neighborhood”(to quote a song from Sesame Street).
I look forward to this work. I hope we can discover all sorts of things. I believe we have tremendous assets to work with. I think there is reason to be hopeful that as we move forward we can strengthen our partnership with God and Christ and that we can truly transform lives and the world – fulfilling our mission as disciples of Jesus Christ.
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Tim Overton-Harris
Cascadia District Superintendent