It is sometimes really good to step back and reflect on the distance we have come as a congregation here in deepest, darkest Dibley. When we moved out of our building almost four years ago we opted for an afternoon service time as a compromise to offend everyone equally and maximise the number who would continued to attend. yes, we've lost about 6 folk as a result but we've also gained two regulars and has a few who were 'in transit.' Despite everything, it has worked.
However, recently there has much grumbling among the 50-somethings who feel it takes too big a chunk out of their day, argue (without evidence) that it hampers mission and would like it reviewed. At the same time, being more charitable, we have become a far more frail group of people and somehow a little more open to each others needs as well as out preferences. Against this background, we've just entered out first service time review for about 18 months! When we left the building they were initially every 6, and before that of course about once every new building...
I had some very mixed feelings about how the discussion would go, because I knew there were strong views and that a few folk could dominate if given half a chance. So, I split people in to groups of 3 or 4 to discuss pros and cons of different sections of that day 'morning' 'afternoon' and 'evening' and then in a plenary got them to share what was good and bad about each. Some did not get the idea straightaway, in response to 'what is good about option x' telling me why they didn't like it, but we got there, with people telling each other why it might actually be good to have services at different times and why their own favoured times might not be so good.
Next I invited anyone to share any ideas, however daft they might be, of ways forward and one person suggested we could meet at different times on different weeks - on a planned basis - suggesting two weeks morning and two weeks afternoon (winter) or evening (summer). She did a great job, was really positive in describing her idea, and as one of the more traditional folk had more credibility than I'd have had making that suggestion. I'd like to say everyone was delighted and saw all the potential but they didn't. In local fashion, every possible pitfall and problem was quickly identified and voiced BUT - and this is the good bit - the idea was not dismissed out of court. Although most people present said they'd prefer a morning service every week, they recognised that they were not entirely representative of the full membership and that it would be good to canvass everyone who worship with us on their views before progressing too much further.
What really delighted me was the draft letter/poll prepared for circulation tomorrow by the person whose idea it was. Titled 'How Bold Are We As A Church?' it then goes on to ask 'As a church are we prepared to try something innovative and different?' WOW! I am fairly sure that five years ago no one would have ever said something like that in a church circular and now it arising quite naturally 'from the floor.'
Recently I commented to a friend that we've change from, when I arrived, being a church 'where don't do that' through being one where people asked me 'is it alright if...' to one where now people are starting to say, in an open but confident way 'it's alright if I do this isn't it?'
I'm not going to pretend everything in the garden is roses or that I never wish I could find that missing page from Leviticus that gives the appointed leader the mandate to knock heads together every now and then, but in terms of measuring something of the distance we've run, I reckon it's not half bad!
As for the service time review - I won't be surprised if it sticks at 3pm weekly for a good while yet! (Notwithstanding that we can't change anything before January due to existing commitments....)