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Spring 1992 · Vol. 21 No. 1 · pp. 15–25 

Congregational Care Needs and Resources Study: An Overview

Dean Kliewer

Six California Mennonite and Church of the Brethren fellowships participated in a five-year study of congregation care. This report presents selected outcomes: an Anabaptist theology of care (Martens); models of care together with some findings (Dueck); and an exploration of potential gaps in our blanket of congregational care (Kliewer).

To talk about care, study the caring process, or write about it is much easier than to do something about it.

While finishing this paper on the Saturday before Christmas, I was jolted back to reality by a call from my pastor. “Are you coming to help us with the care packages?” were his gentle words. Every year Rotary Club members deliver boxes of groceries and gifts for local families who otherwise might miss some Christmas joy. However, I nearly missed what turned out to be a powerful experience of giving, by being too absorbed in writing about care. Ironical! {16}

The primary study “system” was the local church body.

THE EMERGENCE OF A RESEARCH PLAN

A few helping professionals, seminary and college educators and pastors first met in 1982. We began to explore concerns about the caring process as actually experienced in our congregations and then formed the “Congregational Care Associates” (CCA).

How to organize? We had no money of our own, no staff. So avoiding temptations to become an administrative entity, we encouraged existing agencies to assume responsibility for endeavors spawned by CCA. Inspired by crucial and farsighted small grant support from the Kings View Corporation, CCA launched several creative ventures.

Early on, plans for a Congregational Care Needs and Resources Study (CCNRS) took form. Two group members volunteered to write a proposal. Initially all 126 West Coast MCC-related churches were to be involved, but ultimately six churches participated, all from Central California.

Two primary sources graciously provided funding: Mennonite Mutual Aid and the Kings View Corporation. Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary assumed administrative responsibility.

Volunteers from CCA 1, along with teams from each participating church 2, contributed in substantial ways to make the collaborative undertaking possible. Professor Al Dueck, Dr. Dean Kliewer, and Professor Larry Martens made up the Seminary project team.

THE STUDY PROCESS

Much learning came through the study process itself: goals and objectives, selecting and refining study methods; organizing and networking with CCA members, denominational representatives; and participating with church study teams. As new relationships were established, and as the {17} various study aspects came together, we found ourselves learning unanticipated lessons. Perspectives on our own care needs became a significant part of the whole.

Goals and Objectives

Long-term study goals moved beyond research or discovery alone. The purpose was to “enhance and promote the health, vitality, development, and mission of the church."

There were four objectives, but they did not receive equal emphasis. The discovery-oriented objectives (#1 and #2) initially took priority. We anticipate that soon more attention can be given to objectives #3 and #4.

  1. To network with church leaders, assisting them to identify needs and existing caregiving patterns.
  2. To discover which forms of caring ministries are valued or desired at the congregational level.
  3. Out of an assessment of spiritual/mental/emotional health needs, to explore possibilities for preventing identified difficulties.
  4. To consider how local church leaders and persons involved in several helping disciplines might work together to promote congregational wholeness and wellness.

Action Research Method

Each participating congregation was encouraged to plan and conduct its own self-study. The collaborative evaluation strategy also included consultation support from the seminary study team.

This method is based on Participative Systems Actualization theory (Pratt & Canfield, 1974). As in action research, rather than seeking scientific discovery only, the purpose here was both to measure and promote progress toward the goal of enhancing helping service in the local congregation.

The primary study “system” was the local church body, or more broadly the organic/universal Kingdom of God. “Actualization” here means the fulfillment of the basic purpose for which the system exists. So we sought to help actualize the church, the unit representing Christ’s body. Local leaders examined their own study results, making interpretations for themselves (with help from the seminary team). Most importantly {18}, the process encouraged them to choose to make care-related decisions in the light of information derived from the venture.

Measuring Congregational Care

The New Testament church once confronted, and promptly chose to repair, a gap in its system of care: Greek widows were receiving less than Hebrew widows (Acts 6). For us today, gaps in our care system may not be as easily discovered. Thus an intermediate study objective was to construct both a care model and a measure of the experience of giving and receiving care in a congregation.

Definitions and Instrument Construction. We first sought to form explicit notions about what congregational care is. How does pastoral care mesh with congregational care? How might we distinguish care coming from among pastors, deacons, or church school teachers? How to study care provided by other informal helping sources (relatives, friends, neighbors, etc.), as well as by more formal helpers (e.g., physicians, nurses, and mental health specialists)?

The form of the inquiry, even the nature of the study, was shaped directly by congregational representatives. There was much learning from that process. One church group wanted a special focus on the care of youth. Another contributed a valuable set of items on congregational goals and purposes.

Two instruments for data collection were developed. Interviews, following a prescribed format, were conducted (see Exhibit A). A dialogue around the prescribed questions typically required 40-90 minutes. Interviews were conducted with forty-three members from four of the six churches. These parishioners were carefully selected to represent their congregations. The second instrument was an extensive survey requesting over 360 pieces of care-related information (see Exhibit B for a sample of the self-report items).

Study Demographics and Limitations. A pilot study was conducted with one church where 205 persons responded to the survey and 20 interviews were conducted. The primary study involved five churches, yielding 328 survey responses and 23 interviews. About 60% of the membership from each congregation completed the survey.

A number of caveats which limit the study must be noted. The sample was by no means random, thus it cannot represent {19} all West Coast Anabaptist churches. Only Central California churches were included. There were unequal numbers of survey respondents from each participating conference group. Although only one Mennonite Brethren Church was included in the major study, Mennonite Brethren church members represent almost 60% of the total sample. There also was a very heavy Anglo bias, in that 95% of those responding to the survey identified themselves as Anglo. Most participants came from urban rather than rural areas. The respondents were also more highly educated than might be expected among more typical West Coast Anabaptist church members.

The response from parishioners was based on self-report, not on “outside” or “independent” observations. In both the survey and interview, respondents described their own experience. Despite these caveats, our findings are instructive in that they accurately reflect the experience of parishioners from the six congregations. 3

Caregiving Consultation and Follow-up. An Inter-Church Consultation on Caregiving was held May 31 - June 2, 1990, in Fresno, California. The consultation was co-sponsored by the Brethren/Mennonite Mental Health Awareness and Education Committee; Kings View Hospital and Foundation; Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary; and Mennonite Health Services. Representatives from five denominational groups participated in the consultation: Brethren in Christ; Church of the Brethren; General Conference Mennonite; Mennonite Brethren; and the Mennonite Church. Along with a discussion of Anabaptist theology and values related to caregiving, there were four major consultation objectives:

  • To examine findings from the Congregational Care Needs and Resources Study (CCNRS).
  • To identify and evaluate existing caregiving training programs.
  • To discern the need for an Anabaptist and Believers Church caregiving training program.
  • To initiate plans to adopt or develop a training program for Anabaptist and Believers Church congregations.

One conclusion arising out of the consultation was that Anabaptist values do not appear to be adequately represented in published materials available on the subject of congregational care. This finding led to a consensus that the matter {20} should be pursued. Consequently a task force was appointed made up of representatives from each of the four denominational groups. After several task force sessions, and a thorough review of both the literature and other available resources, a recommendation emerged that an Anabaptist resource be developed designed to train laypersons in congregational caregiving. This resource is to supplement the Gibble (1989) monograph, Called to Caregiving: A Resource for Equipping Deacons in the Believers Church, which was developed by the same denominational groups, and published by Bethany Press. 4 A proposal for congregational caregiving training has been completed and is now being tested by denominational and seminary leaders. The report presented in these pages is one stage in a larger project with several phases.

ENDNOTES

  1. CCA members to whom special thanks is due include: John Bergey, Al Dueck, Ruth Enns, Will Friesen, Jim Gaede, Arthur Jost, Kathryn Klassen Neufeld, George G. Konrad, Larry Martens, Duane Oswald, Harlan Ratmeyer, Ruth Ratzlaff, Kevin Schellenberg, and James Wenger.
  2. Four denominational groups were represented: Mennonite Brethren (Dinuba and Fresno [Butler]); General Conference Mennonite (Mennonite Community, Fresno); Mennonite Church (Paso Robles Mennonite); Church of the Brethren (Cornerstone Community, Reedlev, and Modesto Church of the Brethren).
  3. A copy of an informal publication, “Congregational Care Needs and Resources Survey: Preliminary Summary,” which includes an analysis of the findings and the 12-page CCNRS Survey booklet, may be obtained free of charge upon written request from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, 4824 E. Butler, Fresno CA 93727.
  4. Information pertaining to the work of the task force may be obtained by writing to: Jay Gibble, General Secretary, Brethren Health and Welfare Association, Parish Ministries Commission, Church of the Brethren General Board, 1451 Dundee Avenue, Elgin IL 60120.

SOURCES CITED

  • Dueck, A., Kliewer, V.D., Martens, L. “Congregational Care Needs and Resources Survey: Preliminary Summary.” Fresno, CA: Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, 1990.
  • Gibble, Jay. Called to Caregiving: A Resource for Equipping Deacons in the Believers Church. Elgin: Bethany Press, 1989.
  • Pratt, S., & Canfield, ML. “The Participant Systems Actualization Contract” in Guttentag & Struening, eds., Handbook of Evaluation and Research, Vol. 2. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1974. {21}

EXHIBIT A: CONGREGATIONAL CARE INTERVIEW OUTLINE

Individual and Social Character of the Church

  1. Comment: This church is like a family. These people are like my brothers and sisters.
  2. Would you identify this church as a caring church? Why? Why not?
  3. How do you see the church serving the needs of the congregation?
  4. What kinds of groups do you have in the church? How do these groups function to meet the needs of the congregation?
  5. Is your congregation involved in caring ministries to people or agencies outside the congregation? Give some examples.

Needs of the Congregation

  1. Can you share stories of people who have had needs in your congregation?
  2. Can you share a story about how you have felt a need to be cared for yourself? What needs were met at those times?
  3. Can you give examples of times when problems in the church might have been avoided if caring had been available (or available sooner)?
  4. Are there some needs in your congregation which go unmet? Would you identify some of those needs?

Who does the caring?

  1. In what ways do you participate in a group in your congregation? What kinds of caring does that group provide?
  2. Can you name people in your church who are recognized as caring persons? What do they do?
  3. On what kinds of caring does your pastor focus (or do members of your pastoral team focus)? What does the congregation expect of your pastor(s)? What caregiving {22} do you expect of your pastor(s)?
  4. Are some needs met by people from outside this congregation? Who are these caregivers? Under what circumstances would the church recommend a person to a caregiver from outside the church? Are there some care-givers the church might feel uncomfortable with?

Personal Caregiving

  1. With what caring ministries have you been directly involved? What kinds of caring have you given?
  2. If you were sick, what kind of caring would you expect from the church? E.g., if you were really depressed?
  3. When you feel that someone needs some care or help, but do not feel you can provide the care yourself, what have you done? Can you give an example?

EXHIBIT B: CONGREGATIONAL CARE SURVEY (Sample Questions)

Here consider those in our church fellowship, but exclude members of your immediate family. How often have you been helped, and how often you have helped others? Use the following scale, circling the letter which shows about how frequently each example in items 6 and 7 happened during the past year:

A — Very often—twice a week or more
B — Often—about once a week
C — Biweekly—about every 2 weeks
D — Seldom—about once a month
E — Very seldom—less than once a month, or not at all

  1. About how often did people other than my immediate family help me? How often did someone help you, or did they try to make life more pleasant for you, over the past year? Circle the letter (A-E) that best shows how often you received help. Also, feel free to add an example to the list, then rate your addition. {23}
70. A B C D E A person was right there with me (physically) in a stressful situation.
71. A B C D E Someone let me know that I did something well.
72. A B C D E Someone told me that I am OK just the way I am.
73. A B C D E Someone made it clear what was expected of me.
74. A B C D E Someone complemented me and really meant it.
75. A B C D E Someone suggested some action that I might take.
76. A B C D E Someone loaned or gave me some money.
77. A B C D E Someone provided me with some transportation.
78. A B C D E A person helped me understand why I didn’t do something well.
79. A B C D E Someone listened to me talk about my private feelings.
80. A B C D E Someone expressed interest and concern about my well-being.
81. A B C D E Someone told me that she/he feels very close to me.
82. A B C D E Someone taught me how to do something.
83. A B C D E Someone gave me feedback on how I was doing.
84. A B C D E A person admonished or confronted me.
85. A B C D E Someone joked and kidded to try to cheer me up.
86. A B C D E He/she pitched in to help me do something that needed to get done.
87. A B C D E ____________________________

How Did Help Come To Me During The Past Year?

From which source, and how did you typically receive help with those needs or problems where you circled an R among the four lists in questions 1-4?

  1. From which human source did I RECEIVE the most help with the needs or problems I marked with an R on pages 2-3? Please mark only one alternative with an X. {24}

    __ a. My spouse, or a very close friend helped me
    __ b. My family (other than spouse) helped me
    __ c. Friends in the church helped me
    __ d. The deacons helped me
    __ e. The pastor helped me
    __ f. A helping professional helped me (doctor, counselor, therapist, etc.)
    __ g. Other source (please specify) _______________
    __ h. I did not receive help
  2. What kind of help was MOST EFFECTIVE when I needed help in the past? Mark only one.

    __ a. That the helper was there with me, and listened
    __ b. That the helper gave me encouragement
    __ c. That the helper admonished or confronted me
    __ d. That the helper gave me practical advice
    __ e. That the helper took some action for me (e.g., found me a job)
    __ f. Other kind of help (please specify) _______________
    __ g. There was no effective help

Is This A Caring Church?

Before each statement circle the letter (A-E) which best shows how much of the time you feel the sense of belonging and family feeling expressed below.

A — Almost always
B — Often
C — Sometimes
D — Seldom
E — Almost never

A B C D E 14. I feel that being part of this church is like belonging to a caring family.
A B C D E 15. I feel accepted by people in this congregation.
A B C D E 16. I feel included in the life and ministry of this church.
A B C D E 17. I am able to share my needs and concerns without fear of judgment.
A B C D E 18. I am able to receive care from others without feeling a need to return the care.
A B C D E 19. My friendships with people in the church are more meaningful than friendships I have outside the church. {25}
A B C D E 20. People in this congregation encourage one another.
A B C D E 21. I feel accepted and affirmed as a person even when things haven’t been going well in my life.

What Are Our Pastors Like?

Pastors carry out their ministry in many ways. Please circle the letter (A-E) which best shows how much each statement sounds like members of our pastoral team.

A — Very much like our pastors
B — Somewhat like our pastors
C — Don’t know if this is like our pastors
D — Not much like our pastors
E — Not at all like our pastors

A B C D E 36. (Members of our pastoral team) encourage and motivate people to be involved in community caregiving.
A B C D E 37. Encourage the identification and use of people’s gifts and talents.
A B C D E 38. Listen to people and respond to their needs with caring love.
A B C D E 39. Seek to encourage feelings of self-worth among all of us in the congregation.
A B C D E 40. Share in specific ways the fact that they are human.
A B C D E 41. Know how their roles fit in with the ministries of other church members.
A B C D E 42. Show concern for community problems by working with others to help find solutions.
A B C D E 43. In preaching, they consistently relate the message of Scripture to the needs of the people and the world.
Dr. Dean Kliewer is a psychologist in independent practice in Reedley and Fresno, California.

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