Case Study: Passionate Spirituality at First Presbyterian Church of Byron

byron-2In May, 2008, the Membership Committee of First Presbyterian Church of Byron invited 30 church participants to participate in a Natural Church Development Survey.

Natural Church Development is a new approach to improving the health of Christian congregations, and it has been used by a wide variety of churches around the world with notable success. Their pastor, Jim Renfrew, received NCD training in Chicago and has been consulting with other congregations in the Presbytery about using NCD.

Our survey indicated that the “Maximum Factor” is “Loving Relationships”, which means that the healthiest part of Byron’s ministry involves the positive experiences people in the congregations have in forming friendships that demonstrate the loving nature of Jesus Christ.

The “Minimum Factor” was “Passionate Spirituality”, and the NCD strategy invites the congregation to focus its attention on fostering “Passionate Spirituality” in the life of the church.

Upon hearing this information in July, Session acted to introduce a series of worship enhancements that would allow different people to more deliberately express their faith—and in so doing increase our Minimum Factor.

A first change was adding a series of opportunities for church members to share personal stories about their faith during worship.

In September, five people shared wonderful stories about their favorite church hymns:

  • In the Garden
  • I’ll Fly Away
  • Amazing Grace
  • Onward Christian Soldiers, and
  • They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.

In October, three people were invited to share personal stories about how their faith has led them to participate in different important community projects:

  • the Genesee County Fair,
  • Alcoholics Anonymous, and
  • a Community Health program.

More opportunities were offered for worship participants to share their spiritual passions during the year.

Recently testimonies about “My Bible” have been woven into Sunday worship. It seems people are more willing to share when asked to speak about a specific topic, like

  • My favorite hymn,
  • a mission project that I love,
  • the story of my Bible
  • My prayer life, or
  • my calling as an elder/deacon

These are often scattered through the service.

A second change in worship involved a major reconfiguration of Christian Education. Beginning in September the program shifted from weekly Sunday School for children to a monthly “Growing in Faith” program for all ages.

The “Growing in Faith” program schedule on the second Sunday of each month begins with a 45-minute worship service, followed by a one-hour program that includes children and adults.  During the first year, the theme of these programs was based on significant stories found in the Old Testament Book of Genesis.  The educational portion of each day is led by volunteers.

The reasons for making this big change were:

  1. difficulty in recruiting enough teachers to run a weekly program;
  2. the desire of teachers to participate in worship with their spouse and/or family;
  3. the recognition that there not enough educational opportunities for adults;
  4. a concern that children may grow up thinking that worship is only for adults; and
  5. a desire, instead, to offer worship for the whole family.

With children regularly in worship, leaders are now challenged to offer a worship experience that not only tolerates their presence but celebrates their involvement.

A third change in worship involves the way the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.

The most obvious evidence of change is there is no longer a bulletin insert with a set Communion liturgy. Instead, Communion is a theme that is part of the service from the opening Call to Worship to the final Blessing.

In this way, the congregation can enjoy Communion without needing to focus on the printed words in the bulletin, but instead focus on the table, bread and cup, and the faces of other people around as the sacrament is celebrated together.

On several occasions the congregation has been invited to come forward to stand around the table. The congregation has come to enjoy communion as much more than a liturgical routine, but a real celebration of Jesus Christ.

A fourth change involves the presence of the choir during worship.  The Choir no longer sings every Sunday, but two or three times a month.  Because the commitment is not so heavy now, additional new singers have joined.

This spring a Lenten Study and Prayer booklet was developed. There were a variety of thoughtful and prayerful entries from worship participants.

Submitted by Rev. Jim Renfrew