HOW TO DECIDE ON MISSION/OUTREACH
Outreach is an essential component of small church community life. Here’s how to decide what mission is right for your SCC at this time.
Small communities exist to help people live the reality of the church as the people of God. The first Christians were known as “those who love one another”. Scripture tells us exactly what that meant: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…All who believed were together and held all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
This is what it means to be a church. Small Christian communities are, in reality, small churches where we share our faith, pray, support one another, continue to learn what it means to be Christian, and help one another in whatever way we can.
As small faith-sharing groups mature into small church communities, as they begin to do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, they should also be thinking about and doing corporate outreach. We carry the bible under one arm, and the newspaper under the other. We decide where and how we need to be active Christians, and we band together to do it.
CRITERIA FOR INVOLVEMENT
The small church can become a powerful agent of new life for parishes, but only if it takes the time for prayerful discernment. In “The Church from the Roots (CAFOD,1989), Jose’ Marins argues that when the decision is made to undertake new ministries, or some change in ministries, “these should be instituted in accordance with the need of the community, and there needs to be some criteria for introducing them.” Marins offers nine such criteria. I have adapted five that I feel are very relevant for us.
First, the gifts given to an individual are given for the use of the community. Therefore, these gifts must be respected and appreciated.
Second, the small church must respond to the needs of the people.
Third, the small church community’s action needs to energize the small church and serve as a vehicle for evangelization.
Fourth, it is important that everything done to help others should also serve to unify the small church. In addition, the SCC community needs to be in constant communication with their pastor.
Fifth, this action should only be undertaken when it seems impossible for the individuals involved to help themselves. The small church community is responding to a particular need. The need does not become the focal point of the small church. The SCC always remembers that, to be a small church community, five elements are essential; this is not a social service group.
A MODEL FOR DISCERNMENT FOR CORPORATE OUTREACH
Discuss the criteria stated above in your meetings. How do you understand them? What does each mean for the
life of your SCC?
Once you are thoroughly grounded in these criteria, you can use or adapt the following process for discerning how your small church community can come to corporate outreach. (I have adapted this model from a process used by Pat Linehan, synod director and former director of small church communities in the Archdiocese of Hartford.)
1. At the close of a bi-weekly gathering, ask all members to bring a newspaper along with their bibles to the next meeting. At that meeting, begin the faith sharing as usual with the opening hymn, opening prayer, Scripture reading, commentary and reflections. Before the reflection period begins, the PF should ask the small church to take particular notice of what the faith sharing reveals in terms of needs in the parish, or town, or state. This can be corroborated with the newspaper. The newspaper will tell us what is of concern to us in many ways, and on different levels. The small church can then ask themselves what the bible tells them about this issue.
2. After the faith sharing, the pastoral facilitator asks for those issues that surfaced. Everyone listens; some agree, some do not. The PF then asks each person to think about these issues during the next two weeks and pray over them. The session continues with the closing prayer.
3. During session two, continue the same process. However, take special notice of what issues have surfaced within the parish or the town. Ask the members of your SCC to pray about these issues, and then proceed to the closing prayer.
4. During the next session the same process is continued. Take special notice of the issues that have come up again and again. Take time to pray about these issues. Ask the small church community to pray about them, and then proceed to the closing prayer.
5. Continue the process during the next session. This time the PF should write all the recurring issues down on newsprint. (These issues should be the consensus of all.) The PF asks for questions and clarifications. Again take time to pray over the list of issues. The PF then asks the small church how they are feeling. If there is a “heaviness” in the SCC, there is a need to question what is happening. If there is a sense of peace, then the small church moves on to the closing prayer.
6. During the fifth session in this process, following the same procedure until you reach the outreach section. Then the pastoral facilitator asks, “As a result of reflection this week on how we, as a small church, can become an agent of change in our parish (town, state, etc.), let’s design a statement that will say what we hope to do. How do you suggest that we proceed?” Each person presents his or her suggestion while others ask clarifying questions. List the suggestions on newsprint sheets.
The PF calls for a minute of silent prayer, and then asks: “What do you think God is calling us to do?” After a short discussion the pastoral facilitator jots down the plan for proceeding step by step, using short sentences. For example,
*Check with pastor (communication here is essential) or civic leadership to see if someone else is doing a similar or the same action, or who needs to be involved.
*Check the parish calendar so as not to conflict with other meetings in case volunteers are needed to help.
The pastoral facilitator asks: “How do you see this plan assisting another group in the parish to discover God working in its midst?” The PF asks the SCC to reflect on the plan and to decide how each one’s gifts can contribute to the plan. The PF reminds the members that each of them needs to come to the next meeting prepared to commit to some area of implementation of the plan. They then proceed to the closing prayer.
7. In session six, the small church community proceeds as usual. At the outreach section, the PF reads the plan, step by step. Then he/she asks if anyone has any changes or additions. Give each step of the plan a starting date and a completion date. Each member of the small church chooses one or two steps of the action plan for which to be responsible. It is important that everyone has at least one part to do and that no one has the entire plan to do. Some steps of the plan may involve the entire small church community, or several members of the SCC, or extra volunteers. Perhaps many volunteers are needed. Make a decision on what steps need to be completed by the following week. The PF asks, “How is our ability to trust important in the outcome of our plan?” The PF asks the SCC to pray in the coming two weeks for those members whose responsibilities will be carried out that week. They then proceed with the closing prayer.
8. Session seven proceeds as usual until the outreach section. Then the PF asks, “How can the small church action be an agent of healing for the parish?” The SCC responds. Then the PF reads the guiding statement for the small church action. Follow this with a moment of silence.
The PF asks those who had a responsibility for completing the past two weeks action steps to update the entire small church. The pastoral facilitator tells the SCC that it needs to know how to proceed from that point. Who does what, etc.? In this way the small church community continues to implement its plan. When the discussion ends, the small church moves into the closing prayer.
This process continues each week until the change has been completed. As each step is completed the PF needs to spend time helping the SCC reflect on the outcome. Questions that need to be reflected upon and answered are:
*Has our intention been accomplished?
*What needs to be changed? Added? Dropped?
*What do we hear the Spirit saying to us?
Make adjustments as necessary. Learn from past mistakes and avoid them when the next plan is devised. Until a plan is completed, the question, “What do we hear the Spirit saying to us,” needs to be asked regularly.
Jose’ Marins sums up this method of faith sharing and prayer this way:
*Situation to see (to analyze comprehensively and from the perspective of the community)
*Reflection to judge (to discern intelligently)
*Action to act (to make decision collectively)
*Evaluation to evaluate (on regular basis and from a global perspective)
*Celebration to celebrate (to give thanks for our meaning of life conviction and motivations).
When the corporate action is completed, the process begins again.
WRITTEN by JOAN BERNIER for TODAY’S PARISH