Benchmarks for Vitality

Developing a Covenant Partnership Agreement Between Churches of the Presbytery of Denver and The Presbytery’s Long Term Initiatives Work Group 

An Introduction to Developing A Covenant Partnership Agreement

In a spirit of support and cooperation, the Presbytery of Denver has empowered the Long Term Initiatives Work Group (LTI) to enter into covenant partnership with individual sessions for the purpose of working together to enhance the vitality of both a church’s and the Presbytery’s ministry and mission.  A “covenant partnership” means a relationship of mutual involvement between two parties in which each makes a good faith commitment to work in specific ways for the good of the partner as well as itself.  This particular partnership includes the possibility of LTI providing financial support for churches that participate with LTI in such a covenant partnership. The larger part of establishing a Covenant Partnership Agreement with financial support is the context of LTI and a session working together to increase the effectiveness and vitality of a particular congregation and of the Presbytery.

Developing Benchmarks of Congregational Vitality: The Basis for a Covenant Partnership Agreement and Financial Assistance

In order to develop a specific Covenant Partnership Agreement in which LTI contributes financially to the ministry and mission efforts of a church, LTI needs to learn more about the church’s life. LTI has developed the Benchmarks of Congregational Vitality document which follows. This document is a list of statements and questions which must be answered and returned to LTI in order for covenanting conversations with the session to begin. Such conversations will lead to establishing a unique Covenant Partnership Agreement that will be tailored to the needs of each church. LTI appreciates the significant effort that is required to provide answers to the following questions and LTI believes that the process will be productive for each session.

As you review these questions, you may discover areas of your church’s life that are not being tracked statistically. We encourage your church to begin keeping numerical records along these lines not primarily for LTI’s purposes, but for the purpose of giving your church’s leadership important information that can result in increased effectiveness and vitality in your congregation’s ministry and mission efforts and thereby can bless you with a sense of fulfilling God’s calling to your church.

Thank you for helping us to get to know your church through this process. LTI will be praying for your congregation, asking God’s Holy Spirit to bless you for all the ways you are a blessing to your parishioners, to your community, and to the world.

Meeting Crisis Needs for Financial Assistance

Having outlined the process for a long term initiative for covenantal partnership and financial assistance with churches, LTI is also aware that, in unusual circumstances, churches may face emergency crises which require financial support beyond the means of the church’s financial resources. When such crises occur, LTI strongly urges the pastor and/or member(s) of the session to call for assistance. A process of emergency assistance that waives the steps described in this document can be expedited with the approval of the Presbytery Council.

Steps in the Process of Developing a Covenant Partnership Agreement

  1. The session of a church passes and forwards to LTI a resolution of petition for establishing a Covenant Partnership Agreement, including the amount of funding assistance requested. Prior to the session developing such a petition, informal, exploratory conversations between pastors/elders and LTI/Presbytery staff are encouraged.
  2. LTI reviews the resolution and sends this document and the Benchmarks of Congregational Vitality to the session for completion.
  3. The session answers the questions and statements in the Benchmarks form and returns the completed document to LTI. It is important that churches not become discouraged if specific answers are not available. Such an eventuality will hopefully lead the session to weigh the importance of beginning to keep such records. It would be helpful to LTI to know why the requested information is not available.
  4. LTI reviews the completed Benchmarks of Congregational Vitality information and then develops and mails an initial response to the session.
  5. Upon reviewing the LTI initial response, the session sets a meeting with an LTI-appointed liaison. At this meeting, the session and its LTI liaison begin discussions that will lead to the eventual formation of a Covenant Partnership Agreement.
  6. The Covenant Partnership Agreement must be approved by LTI and is then reported to the Presbytery Council. 

The Basis for an LTI-Session Covenant Partnership Agreement 

At its Retreat in May, 2004, the Council of the Presbytery of Denver developed a list of vitality areas in church life. At subsequent meetings, LTI developed questions and statements about each vitality area (each one is a heading in bold italics). A session’s answers to these questions and statements will provide helpful information about the current vitality in a church as well as about areas in which vitality can be enhanced. The answers will also provide the basis for dialogue between a session and an LTI liaison and for the eventual writing of a Covenant Partnership Agreement. Please answer each question and statement as best as you can and return this document to LTI at the Presbytery Office. Thank you for becoming our partner!

Stewardship Plan

(1) What stewardship plan has your church followed for raising pledges of time, talent and treasure in each of the last five years?

(2) What is the numerical ratio of actual giving units over the number of active members in your church?

General Budget

(3) Provide a report of your fiscal year-end income-expense position (your “bottom line”) for each of the last five years.

(4) What plan does your church follow for budget preparation, approval and review?

(5) What are the factors that explain your increasing/decreasing total amount of dollars given and your increasing/decreasing number of pledging units?

(6) Submit a copy of your church’s current fiscal year budget.

Membership Shows Growth

(7) List the number of active church members at the end of each of the last five years. How often, over each of the past five years, have you “cleaned” your church rolls?

(8) To what factors do you attribute your membership’s growth/decline over those years?

Worship Attendance Shows Growth

(9) List the average Sunday worship attendance (not including Easter) for each of the last five years.

(10) To what factors do you attribute your worship attendance growth/decline over those years?

(11) Which style of worship service has the highest average attendance in your church: contemporary, blended, traditional, other?

Per Capita Giving

(12) Submit the amount of per capita giving you have forwarded for each of the last five years. In each year’s amount, also submit the amount that your church was due to pay based on the rate and number of active members.

(13) If you gave the full amount due, what were the factors that enabled you to do so? What factors prevented your church from meeting your obligation to our governing bodies?

Mission Giving – to Presbytery, Synod and General Assembly

(14) What amount did you give for undesignated mission giving to higher governing bodies for each of the last five years?

(15) What are the reasons for those amounts increasing/staying the same/decreasing?

(16) In what national or international mission work did members of your church personally participate in each of the last five years?

Local Mission Giving

(17) What amounts did you give for local mission outreach for each of the last five years?

(18) What are the reasons for those amounts increasing/staying the same/decreasing?

(19) In what local mission projects did your members personally participate in each of the last five years?

Involvement in Covenant Communities, Mission Partnerships, Task Forces and other Presbytery and Governing Body Positions

(20) Describe the ways your church and its leadership have worked over the past five years in Presbytery through Covenant Communities, Mission Partnerships, Task Forces, and/or others Committees or positions in the Presbytery of Denver.

(21) Describe the ways your church members and staff have worked over the past five years in Synod and General Assembly positions.

Programs of Discipleship and Spiritual Growth

(22) In whatever ways you count attendance at educational/discipleship/spiritual growth classes/events, list those numbers for each of the past five years.

(23) Explain why attendance at these classes/programs/events has increased/stayed the same/increased over the last five years.

Christian Fellowship

(24) Describe your church’s programs in Christian fellowship and the attendance in those programs in each of the last five years.

(25) Over the past five years, has the number of and attendance at these increased/stayed the same/decreased? To what factors do your attribute the variances?

Physical Plant Maintenance

(26) Describe in brief the maintenance/preventive maintenance plans that are in place for the good stewardship of the church facilities and major equipment.

(27) What percentage of your church’s total operating budget has facility maintenance and repair been for each of the last five years?

(28) Do you have a building fund repair/replacement reserve fund? What dollars have you added to such a reserve over each of the past five years through depreciation funding, special fund drives, income off endowments, etc.?

Mission Statement

(29) Please submit the mission statement of your church.

(30) On what date did the session approve your church’s mission statement?

(31) How often, over the past five years, has your church’s session assessed and/or revised your mission statement? List the dates and summarize the changes that were made.

(32) List the places your mission statement is published and name three ways your mission statement has been used to plan, implement, and/or evaluate church programs in the past two years.

Baptisms

(33) Submit the number of the infant and adult baptisms for each of the last five years.

LongRange Planning/Strategic Planning

34) Has your church completed a long range/strategic planning process in the past five years? When was the last long range/strategic plan completed?

(35) List the strategies/goals-objectives that were produced from the long range/strategic planning process.

(36) How has your church implemented/met those strategic/goal-objective outcomes?

Questions for Self-Reflection and Assessment

(37) What benchmarks not mentioned would you include that portray the health and vitality of your church? Describe how your church is meeting these benchmarks.

(38) How would you measure the congregation’s willingness to both grow and change in order to enhance its vitality?

(39) What signs of change do you see in your church and in your surrounding community?

Your Financial Request

(40) What amount of financial assistance are you requesting from LTI?

(41) What are the specifics of the project(s) for which you are requesting financial assistance?

(42) What is going to be your church’s contribution to the completion of this/these project(s)?