Congregational self-study discussion guide

Ministerial transitions give churches the chance to remember who they are and what they’re about apart from the personality and passions of a settled pastor. Below are some questions that congregations can consider to unearth compelling stories, core values, hopes, fears, and dynamics or situations that need resolution. As these conversations take place, they have the equally important effects of creating understanding and building relationships among the participants.

Looking backward

  • When have you been most confident that God was moving in and through our congregation?
  • What was the most difficult time in the church’s history? What did we learn, and how did we change? What healing work remains to be done?
  • Over our church’s history, what have we lost?
  • What has changed since the last time our church searched for a minister? How does that affect what we’re looking for in a minister now?

Looking inward

  • What are the stories we tell about our church? How do they affect engagement, spiritual growth, and service to others?
  • What ministry, ritual, symbol, or event best captures the spirit of our church?
  • What scripture(s) or hymn(s) come(s) to mind when you think about our congregation?
  • What are the gifts and challenges of who we are and where we are?
  • What polarities (tensions that can only be managed, not eliminated) exist in our congregation?
  • What do we expect of church members?
  • What are we afraid of?
  • What are the reasons a minister would want to become our minister?

Looking outward

  • What do our neighbors say about our church? Who are we to our larger community?
  • Who are our congregation’s partners in ministry?
  • What are the gifts and needs of our larger community? Where might our congregation come alongside those already doing great ministry and/or meet unaddressed needs of our neighbors?

Looking forward

  • What are the things we cannot imagine ever doing or not doing?
  • Who are we becoming as a congregation? What is yet possible?
  • What is God’s dream for our church?
  • What in our church needs to die so that our church can live more fully?

The questions above are a sampling of conversation starters. Choose a few that work best for your context, or create your own. The questions can be used in a variety of ways. For example:

  • Ask one discussion prompt at the end of worship each week. Invite worshippers to stay in their seats for 15 minutes to respond in the whole group or in smaller clusters.
  • Hold small group gatherings and pose a selection of questions.
  • Host one or more congregational potlucks and have participants consider the questions around their tables.
  • Have a day-long retreat that weaves worship and/or recreation elements through the discussion pieces.

Whatever format you choose, a best practice is to mix up discussion groups so that participants can hear from people they don’t associate with on a regular basis.