2022 Church Leaders Event Recap and Resources
"Oh God, What Now?" was essentially the question the Formation Missional Team asked themselves when beginning to plan for a second Church Leaders Event in COVID circumstances. The question eventually became the theme of the event. As many churches find themselves in a season unlike many before, heading into a 'post-pandemic' world with many of the challenges that existed pre-COVID still in view, the Formation Missional Team of the Hawai‘i Conference United Church of Christ, which plans the annual Church Leader's Event, chose to take a different approach in 2022 after much discussion about the needs and capacities of leaders today. Instead of 'nuts and bolts', informational workshops, the team aimed to make space for vulnerable conversations and offer encouragement to those in ministry today. The 2022 Church Leaders Event gathered nearly 80 people for conversations on leading in a liminal season.
Recap of the 2022 Church Leaders Event
Participants began the 2022 Church Leaders Event on February 26 with a time of worship led by Conference Council Chair Eric Anderson, council members Jimmy Aarona, Marilyn Hasegawa, Doug Wooten, and 2021 General Synod delegate Kristen Young who took turns reading—in English, Hawaiian, and Spanish—1 Corinthians 12:12-31 about unity and diversity within the body. Following the scripture was a song based on 1 Corinthians 13 titled "Hymn to Love," which Eric Anderson composed and performed live for eager and grateful listeners. Watch the worship here:
Before continuing with the day's agenda, attendees were asked, "What do you hope to get from our time together today?" Using a word cloud generator (mentimeter.com) attendees anonymously shared their hopes for their time together: inspiration, hope, encouragement, peace, insight, community—to name a few.
In an opening activity, the 80+ participants were put in random groups of five people and given five minutes to briefly meet one another and find out at least one thing they all had in common with each other: "We all enjoy Mexican food & have children" "We all have children," "All went to college," "Music and serving in community" "like to walk!" "music and travel" "A shared anxiety" "earthling" "We all own mobile devices" "Retirement and Gardening!!!!" "We have all been to Molokai and Kauai" "Anxious about our world, but happy to be a part of this community." "Building connections with broader communities" "
Two articles by Susan Beaumont served as a starting point for conversation. Beaumont's articles address how we might approach this period of "liminality"—moving forward in a time of flux, without knowing exactly where we might be going.
Leading in an in-between season "The usual tools of leadership aren’t effective during times like the one the church finds itself in now -- those liminal seasons when the path forward isn’t clear."
Innovating Into an Unknown Future "Plans create an artificial sense of control, but they cannot resolve the deep disorientation of a liminal season—a season in which something has ended but a new thing is not yet ready to begin. In fact, the wrong plan will distract you from the innovation needed to thrive in the next chapter."
Participants heard from four panelists, their own peers, from various Hawai‘i Conference churches and contexts. Associate Conference Minister Jonathan Roach facilitated the discussion, inviting panelists to respond to questions including:
What is the reality you you perceive your church is facing?
What are you most fearful about?
What can we experiment with?
What did you find most helpful in the resources from Susan Beaumont?
What realities are you facing in your church?
Panelists Cassie Chee (M.Div., member of Pearl City Community Church, organizer with Faith Action for Community Equity), Florentino Cordova (pastor of Iao UCC, Maui), Debbie Wong-Yuen (kahu of Kauaha‘ao Congregational Church), and John Carr (pastor of Lihue Christian Church on Kaua‘i) shared their personal responses blended with their churches' realities. It was hoped that these individuals would be able to share the perspectives of the various sizes and congregational makeups of the churches in our Conference.
Attendees appreciated the panelists' sharing: "Each is so open, thoughtful, reflective, human." "Such good and thoughtful insights, many notes." "Awesome mana‘o from the heart!" "Thank you for your candidness." "Mahalo! This has been very helpful." "I’m so grateful, hopeful, and inspired by the incredible contributions of the panelists. Mahalo nui loa!"
SMALL GROUP CONVERSATIONS
After hearing the panelists, participants broke up into smaller conversational groups to answer the same questions. Many of the responses revealed that churches are indeed in various phases of adjustment and some of the ideas that these churches have used sparked hope for some still trying to figure things out.
Click to read SNAPSHOTS of what groups shared:
1. Being in relationship seemed to be the connection with our responses to the questions. Fear might be related to not having enough relationships-membership. We talked about reaching beyond the building or even the UCC. We should build on our strengths.
2. Some of our commonalities are senior demographics and a diminishing youth participation. A need for discernment. Ways to reach out and to use technology.
3. The group was mixed in terms of church sizes. The panelists reflected feelings that they identified with. One small Hawaiian church member was surprised by expressions of grief and fear. Smaller churches may be insulated from some of the experiences of larger churches. All expressed concerned about youth and were concerned that the attempt to recruit youth might be an attempt to get youth to do what we want them to do as opposed to God converting them. Our calling may be not to grow the church but to be the church. The Conference might help our churches with what this event is doing: encouraging hard conversations to take place.
4. The reality of the churches is similar. Concerns were for youth, fear of no youth...no next generation. Concern for kupuna who are shut in at home. There was concern for building maintenance. Grandchildren helped grandparents with technology. The challenges of changes in regulations due to COVID. We need to give ourselves permission to dream big—to dream God’s vision. Part of the ministry has lost enthusiasm and excitement. We need to give ourselves permission to get excited and to experiment. We need to give ourselves permission to fail and to share our stories, study, testimony, and doubts. Lent has traditionally given us time to meet and worship outside of Sunday services.
5. The group learned that the third quarter for youth in school can be a downer. There is loss of membership, loss of youth, and less leaders. We are experiencing burnout. Smaller churches don’t have some of problems that larger churches have. There is fear that people will be very happy staying at home rather than gathering in person for worship. Some who have hearing loss can benefit from the virtual technology. Churches have not been able to do what they were doing before. Some have after school programs. We must think outside the box. The technology has brought people together from far and wide, and we need to continue using that technology. We need to have people share those ideas and not be fearful of failing.
6. Main things: diminishing membership and youth participation. We talked about how the church is not the building but a ministry that takes place. We talked about the irrelevancy of the church in today’s society. Pressure on pastors and leaders. How the church can experiment. Every church should have a transitional team. We should really support our pastors now. We should do what we can and say, “enough is enough.”
7. Kaumakapili is working on moving to a social supermarket. Waiola wonders how to celebrate their 200th anniversary next year. They have lost people. Central Union has acknowledged that they are searching for a lead pastor and also looking for themselves. They celebrated 74 weeks of food distribution. Will people really come back to gather in worship? Crossroads worries that families have not been served well, and small groups could not meet in person. Crossroads is planning its 100th anniversary next year, and they have a new half-time family pastor. One feared that we might fall back on old habits. We need to continue listening to one another. We need more of these conversations in our churches. Half of our group is in churches looking for a settled pastor.
8. What is the reality that we perceive in our churches? Phrases: Leadership will be critical in the future; group discernment will be critical; creating a sense of place again; attracting young people. Are we creating our own demise with the overwhelming maintenance of our buildings? Surprised by the mention of fear. Leaders are overwhelmed. Kūpuna are not always tech savvy. Raising leaders from within. We need to be the one to unlock the church.
9. This group discussed much as others. We want to honor our past but not be afraid of letting it go to move into the future. Like Peter we may be called to step out of the boat. “Relax. God’s got this.” How do we invite young people...to do things our way or show us how me might do things differently?
10. We had wonderful conversations. In addition to what has been said, we experience both the joys and challenges of this season and trying to discern God’s voice in all of this. We are almost more bombarded by media—onscreen—both a joy and missing in-person gatherings. Sharing: Books that we are reading. “Recover” spoke to us. We musn’t RE-cover the things we have learned including some very difficult lessons. We want to commend this way of gathering especially the breakout groups. We need to bring random groupings to have conversations and share.
11. Our group had discussions that were similar to what has been reported. Realities: generations have faced problems and adapted. Being in a liminal space has been going on for a number of years. Trends and shifts in society have been going on, and the pandemic accelerated it. We were fearing the loss of connection. We need to let go of self-preservation and move into ministry. We need to really invest in youth and young leaders.
As our time together came to a close, we looked back at the word cloud of our hopes for the day that we shared at the beginning of our time together. In four hours of conversation with our neighbors from sister churches, there was much inspiration, encouragement, hope, community, understanding, support to be found.
Mahalo to the many leaders of our churches!
RESOURCES for Church Leaders View our playlist of past videos compiled for various church leaders.