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Weteriana House
50 Langdons Road
Christchurch 8053

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PO Box 931, Christchurch 8140

T. (03) 366 6049   I. 0800 266 639

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Small strong churches wave of the future

Imagine your local congregation not as a traditional church but as a caf? where people meet for conversation and community.

This is the vision of Dr Kennon Callahan, an American church consultant who was in New Zealand last month to share his thoughts on creating strong, healthy church groups.

Kennon believes the advent of the technological age in the 20th century has brought radical changes in human relationships and churches must adapt to them. Whereas institutions became the primary means people organised themselves in the 19th and 20th century, increasingly they do so through informal networks and groupings.

Institutions are like marathon runners, Kennon says. They think long-term and practice on regular weekly, monthly, or annually. The small-scale, family-like networks he sees as the way of the future are more like sprinters. They operate in short-term bursts and focus on one-time or seasonal events.

Kennon urges congregations to become excellent sprinters as well as solid marathon runners.

“A convergence of paradigm shifts has taken place that necessitates the changes I am talking about. One is the change from institutions to movements. The Methodist Church began as a movement and I hope there is enough institutional memory that we can return to it.

“Another paradigm shift that has implications for congregations is the greater focus on compassion rather than commitment. Others shifts include developing theologies of tension rather than maintenance and an emphasis on creativity rather than control.”

Kennon listed the eight activities of small strong congregations: mission, sheparding, community, self-reliance, worship, creating teams, holding property, and giving.

Those who attended his two day workshop in Christchurch worked with a partner to identify the five of these that are their congregation’s strengths. They were then work with their congregation to expand one of these and add one new strength.

The point he says, not to attempt to do everything but focus on the things your congregation is excels at and not be afraid of mistakes. The way to do this is often through one-off projects.

The Canterbury synod of the Methodist Church organised Kennon’s workshop. Superintendent Rev David Bush says 140 people from a range of denominations attended the event. Most were from the greater Christchurch area but people came from as far afield as the West Coast, Nelson, Timaru, and Ashburton.