July 2007
Creative Outreach

Faith in Action: A Parish Audit

What does your congregation do for others in Jesus’ name? There may be a food basket at the front door of your church. Or there may be an occasional rummage sale, with proceeds going to help the poor. But chances are your congregation — through its past efforts and ongoing contributions — is doing more than you think. Knowing your history is helpful in terms of planning your future.

The Past

  • History: What is your outreach history? Name ten things that have been accomplished through the direct involvement of your congregation. 
  • Member outreach: Members often engage in outreach quietly, particularly philanthropy, in your community and state, diocese and overseas. What have your members, on their own, accomplished over the years? 
  • Focus: Are there broad fields (eg chemical dependency, refugee resettlement, etc.) that have made a real difference in your congregation’s identity? 
  • Impact: How did specific outreach efforts affect your congregation? Did pledging go up or down? Did energy ebb or flow? What can be learned from those past efforts? 
  • The personal touch: Have those who are active in outreach give a five-ten minute talk on what inspires them, why they serve, and what they have learned. 
The Present
  • Your total effort in labor: How much hands-on work is being done in the community, or onsite, in terms of volunteer hours? 
  • Your total effort dollar wise: How much actually goes OUT for current projects (including your diocesan assessment) by both your congregation and individual members? Include funds donated through budgets, endowments and special collections. If you are providing free, or reduced-rate space onsite for community programs, project a fair market rental value. 
  • Your outreach focus: If you have an outreach committee, is it an avenue for bringing life and new energy to the congregation? Or an obstacle that new interests must maneuver through? Those broad fields that made a real difference in your congregation’s identity — are they still the vital need, or past glories that need to be honored, but moved on from or refreshed? 
  • What is the Good News about what you are currently doing? The range of ages involved in service and outreach projects? Are people having fun? (It’s not required, but a light heart certainly can help.) How many people are being assisted because of your Christian commitment? 
The Future
With an eye to the demographics of your parish and the needs of your community... 
  • Share the audit: Let people know the Good News of what you have done and are currently doing. 
  • “Blue sky” it: Take fifteen minutes at a vestry meeting or a retreat and brainstorm — recording all ideas without criticism — of outreach projects that have occurred to people as a result of the audit. Then set the list aside. 
  • Build a list: Ask the congregation for their ideas, and add them to the list. 
  • Pray and wait: At the next vestry meeting, share the list. Pray, asking for God’s guidance. Then move onto other business. 
  • Take a step forward: At the next meeting, identify three outreach priorities for the year ahead, (including at least one new effort) and three that will bear watching for the “back burner.” Commission someone to shepherd each. Step out in faith that the Holy Spirit will guide you. Stay open.
This article is part of the July 2007 Vestry Papers issue on Creative Outreach