A Church of Encounter – Guidelines for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland until 2020
A Church of Encounter – Guidelines for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland until 2020 takes on the objectives set out by the Our Church strategy until 2015 and addresses the challenges we will face during the years 2016–2020.
The church exists in a rapidly changing world. Although it is affected by changes in its missional environment, the church strives to remain true to its fundamental task; a task of which we are reminded as we prepare for the anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.
The church is a community of encounter. Through their contact with the church, people encounter God and come face-to-face with the reality of their own lives and the lives of those around them. A Church of Encounter encourages parishes to focus on the church’s core message and to live accordingly.
II Change in the missional environment
III Implementation of the objectives of the current strategy
IV The challenges presented by the quadrennial report
The impulse for A Church of Encounter stems from the quest for inspiration and direction in the parishes’ basic work. Its overriding principle calls for parishes to focus on the perspectives of both the people around them and church members, as well as on their own activities at local level. This approach gives the church the necessary tools to respond to the needs and challenges brought on by change and to distance itself from an employee-focused operational culture. The church builds its activities on encounter and relationship.
At parish level the church’s strategic documents are usually addressed first by vicars and then discussed with other employees and elected representatives. A Church of Encounter encourages us to expand the discussion beyond these groups to include every parishioner and cooperative network.
The church is living in an age characterised by structural change and major economic challenges. A Church of Encounter highlights the things that should be held in focus as changes and choices are faced. It is a missional guideline, not an overall strategy for the church. Actual strategy is created at local level.
Each parish has its own missional context, its own resources, and its own special challenges that inform its decisions. A Church of Encounter serves as a foundation upon which individual parishes will draft their own objectives, procedures, timetables, and indicators.
Strategic planning is an ongoing process. A Church of Encounter provides missional guidelines for activities that should be considered each year in advance of any missional and financial planning. AChurch of Encounter is intended to serve as the guideline for the years 2016–2020. At local level, work based on the document should begin no later than the beginning of 2015, so that the relevant decisions can be used to guide the planning for 2016.
A Church of Encounter focuses on communication in line with the directive of the General Synod. The theme of communication permeates the guideline, and it is also discussed separately in this document (in section VI).
As was the case with Our Church, AChurch of Encounter is directed at us. In A Church of Encounter, “us” refers to the whole church and each of its members. Each member is unique and irreplaceable. Together, we are the church.
A Church of Encounter conforms to the Bible, the Lutheran confessions of faith, the Church Act, and the Church Order. The document is not, of itself, an exhaustive theological proclamation, a definition of Christian doctrine, or a comprehensive guide to church life.
Sections II-IV of the comprehensive version of A Church of Encounter provide the background for the choices made, section V analyses the abbreviated version of the guideline, and section VI deals with communication.Readers who do not wish to delve into the background can move directly to section V.
II Change in the missional environment1
The range of perspectives is expanding: The position of other religions and forms of Christianity in Finland is strengthening as a result of migration and general social diversification. Phenomena of new spirituality are mixing with traditional religiousness and other views of life.
Irreligion is assuming new forms and is increasingly engaged in debate with religion. This is especially true among younger generations. Approximately one fifth of young adults now describe themselves as atheist.
Secularisation is visible both as a process that affects our social structures and in a weakening commitment to religious practices and values. The result of secularisation is that commitment to the Christian faith is becoming more the conscious choice of the individual than the result of habit or tradition.
People are distancing themselves from authority figures who seek to guide their choices and values. This increasing independence results in a focus on individualism. Personal experiences and peer pressure affect the choice of outlook more than the opinions espoused by those in positions of authority. The wide range of opinions about life demand that the church and its members be open to dialogue.
Migration: Global migration is reshaping Finland. Both cross-border migration and internal migration present the church with new challenges. Immigration into Finland is increasing. It has been estimated that the number of those of a non-Finnish ethnicity will nearly double by the year 2020, bringing the total close to 350,000.2
Migration affects the different areas of the country in different ways. A high percentage of migration is the result of short-term periods of study or employment. Those immigrants who intend to settle for a longer period often settle in the larger cities. In the Helsinki Metropolitan area, for example, the proportion of the population speaking a foreign language is currently about 10 per cent, and may increase to more than 20 per cent by the year 2030.3 If the church is to remain faithful to its identity, it must develop its hospitality skills, its multilingual approach, and its ability to engage in intercultural dialogue within a culturally diversifying society.
There is an increasing number of different forms of Christianity in Finland. A large percentage of immigrants come from countries in which the Christian faith is a significant element. At the same time, the position of Islam is strengthening. In the near future it is projected that the number of Muslims in Finland will exceed the membership of the Orthodox Church. There has also been an increase in the number of other religions and their adherents.
Internal migration requires parishes to reach out to an increasingly mobile population. The movement of young adults is especially challenging for the church.
Information technology is changing our lives: Information technology has an increasingly pronounced place in many different areas of our lives. The line between human beings and technology is blurring. People increasingly live their lives online. Technological development goes hand-in-hand with an individualistic lifestyle. Working life demands flexibility, which technology makes possible.
Social media is changing our understanding of community. Its growth has been considerable, as seen in the rapid advance of the social networking service Facebook. In the ten years since its establishment in 2004, the number of Facebook users has increased to more than one billion. However, it now seems that young people are moving from Facebook to other online services.
The development of social media represents both a great challenge and an opportunity for the church. It offers a range of inexpensive ways to create contacts between people and groups. To keep up with technological development requires continuous learning and an openness to new ways. Social media develops rapidly, but its various manifestations also become quickly outdated.
Technological development is changing the face of communications. Visual effects are increasingly important, video games are more and more popular, and there is thus a growing need to find ways to encourage discussion. Media use is becoming more individual, as more and more content is generated by users themselves.
A changing age structure: The baby boom generation born at the end of the 1940s has moved into retirement. The proportion of the population over the age of 65 is rapidly increasing. In 2010 the proportion of the population over the age of 65 was 17.5 per cent. This figure will exceed 22 per cent by 2020.4
The proportion of the population that is of working age is in decline. The rapid change in the dependency ratio will have a complex impact on the whole of society, including the church. The changes in the population structure will be different in different areas of the country. While Finland’s overall population is increasing, the population in many individual areas within the country is decreasing. In the near future half the residents of many municipalities will be pensioners.
What kinds of change are most obvious in our parish and its area? What special challenges will this pose?
What is the population structure in our area? How does it affect the distribution of resources and emphases of our parish?
Which other religions and world views are represented in our area? What is the parish’s relationship with them?
III Implementation of the objectives of the current strategy
The Our Church strategy comprises six strategic guidelines:
Deepening spiritual life
Caring for the weak and emphasising global responsibility
Deepening of a sense of membership
Carrying the message
Maintaining structures that support church activities
Continuing renewal of the church.
The church’s quadrennial report, The Challenged Church (Haastettu kirkko), and other documents provide information about the guidelines’ realisation in the first half of the strategy period.5
Deepening spiritual life: The services of the church and its role as a pillar of support within the community are valued. However, in the last four years there has been a decline of ten per cent in those identifying these as reasons for belonging to the church. The proportion of infants who are baptised dropped from 84 to 75 per cent between 2008 and 2013. The proportion of couples getting married in church also dropped, from 60 to 49 per cent. In 2011, however, approximately 95 per cent of all deceased persons had a church funeral, a decline of only one percent. More than two thirds of deceased persons not belonging to the church had a church funeral. Innovations such as wedding night events, in which the church offers free wedding ceremonies to multiple couples on the same night, and baptism days, in which the church baptises many children on a single day, have become popular events and have received a great deal of attention in the media.
The number of people attending worship has decreased. This is largely accounted for by a decrease in the number of infrequent attenders. Infrequent participation has become non-participation. The experience of those attending worship has improved. Where there has been a development of a sense of community and involvement, a visible increase in the number of churchgoers has been seen.
There has been a decline in religious practice, as well as in religious upbringing.
Caring for the weak and emphasising global responsibility: The work of the parishes and church in helping those in need is a significant factor in people belonging to the church. The parishes have actively responded to crisis situations.
The number of clients seeking family counselling and pastoral care in hospital has increased. The number of client contacts in diaconal work has decreased, despite the fact that the need for diaconal assistance has not diminished.
The Common Responsibility Fundraising Campaign is the largest annual national collection campaign in Finland. In 2010, following the earthquake in Haiti, the collection started earlier than scheduled and brought in a record 6.8 million euro. This was against the trend of an otherwise slow decline in the campaign’s results.
Participation in mission events and ongoing mission activities has decreased, as has the number of mission employees. International diaconal work is being given an increasing share of the overall funding allocated to missionary work and international diaconal work.
Deepening of a sense ofmembership: The membership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is still high by international standards, both numerically and as a proportion of the population. The percentage of the population that are members has, however, fallen rapidly, particularly among young adults. This presents a considerable challenge for the future of the church.
There has been a gradual decline in the number of members who are strongly committed to the church. In 2011 only 19 per cent of members said they would not consider leaving the church in any circumstance; the corresponding figure was 38 percent in 2007 and 41 per cent in 2003. The proportion of those who consider it likely that they will leave the church has nearly doubled in four years, from 5 to 9 per cent.
There is a disparity between the reasons people belong to the church and the church’s own self-understanding. Our Church emphasises spiritual reasons for belonging, such as faith and worship, while members emphasise help for the elderly and disabled, the ceremonies of the church, and cemetery maintenance.
The input of members is essential for some of the church’s work. Confirmation school reaches more than 80 per cent of the relevant age group, and a large percentage of those attending confirmation school continues to serve as tutors for future confirmation groups. The number of volunteers taking part in diaconal work has increased. Approximately 50,000 voluntary music enthusiasts participate in the musical work of the parishes.
The 2010 parish elections attracted a 17 per cent turnout. This represented an increase of 2.5 per cent over the previous elections. They were also the first in which the minimum voting age was lowered to 16.
The ideal set by Our Church was that each member should have a positive encounter with a church representative not less than five times a year. This goal was achieved for every tenth member. Almost half of the members were met a minimum of once during the year. Two thirds of members who view it as likely that they will leave the church have not been contacted in any way by the parish in the past year.
Not many members participate in the planning of worship, in spite of the interest indicated by a project to develop voluntary activities. Parishes that have developed the involvement of parishioners in such planning have achieved positive results.
Carrying the message: The church’s online communication has improved. The Hengellinen elämä verkossa (Spiritual Life Online)project has enhanced the church’s online presence. As part of the project a total of 1200 parish employees were trained to do online work.
Religion and the church have been frequent topics in the media and public discussion. Strong criticism has been directed at the church. A number of media crises have led to significant waves of people leaving the church and discussion about the church’s capacity to deal with these crises. Part of this discussion has concerned who can best serve as the face and voice of the church.
Maintaining structures that support church activities: In 2012 more than one third of parishes showed a negative margin and two thirds had a negative result in their annual financial statements. Personnel expenses totalled about 61 per cent of operational costs. As a proportion of church tax revenue they reached about 72 per cent in 2011. That proportion will increase if the number of personnel remains essentially the same and church tax revenue decreases.
The financial situation of the parishes has deteriorated and there is a greater disparity between individual parishes. In some areas it has proven difficult to recruit employees.
The number of parishes has decreased from 515 in 2008 to 428 in 2014. Mergers have had no clear impact on the participation of parishioners one way or another. Employee opinions regarding the changes have been conflicting.
Efforts to meet the challenges posed by this development have been made primarily through broad structural reform.
Continuing renewal of the church: Approximately 86 per cent of parishes feel that the strategy has had a significant or some degree of impact. About two thirds of parishes have drawn up their own strategy. A large percentage of these have drawn up a missional environment analysis. Less has been done to clarify the expectations and wishes of parish members.
A range of operational policies and strategy documents have been drafted on the basis of the Our Church strategy. The Our Church strategy has also inspired numerous undertakings intended to support the church’s strategic and forward-planning work and individual priorities.
The three-year initiative entitled Pyhä (Holy) advanced the implementation of the strategy by emphasising the core task of the church, promoting cooperation between various fields of work, and providing support for church employees.
A project to develop the voluntary activities of the church was implemented between 2009 and 2012. Parishioner engagement was increased by the formation of voluntary action teams within parishes. In each action team, parishioners and church employees jointly planned and put specific voluntary activities into effect.
Worship life was developed through the project Tiellä – På vag (On the way to developing worship), which was conducted between 2011 and 2013. The parishes involved in the undertaking developed their own worship life in the manner most appropriate for their own context. The communal and participatory aspects of worship were key focal points for overall development.
The Hengellinen elämä verkossa (Spiritual Life Online) initiative began in 2009. The initiative emphasised cooperation both within the church and with external parties. Towards the end of the initiative the focus on developing the church’s overall online work changed to a focus on developing the online work of individual parishes.
The church’s member information system was developed in the course of the KITKE project, which gave rise to the Kirjuri (Scribe) database system. The HETA project focused on developing church personnel and financial management. The Church’s Service Centre (KIPA) was established to centralise all the church’s economic and payroll administration.
The process of structural change within the parishes is now being guided towards a new, flexible parish union model that caters to local needs. In 2014 the General Synod was tasked to enable the initiation of the activities of new parish unions between 2015 and 2019.
The quadrennial report underlines the importance of turning the guidelines for activities into concrete missional objectives for the parishes, church organisations, and the central administration.
What have been the areas of priority in our parish in recent years?
What has been achieved by the choices made?
IV The challenges presented by the quadrennial report
The Challenged Church and the comments of the Church Council’s Futures Committee on it have highlighted current challenges. Some arise from outside the church. Both the New Atheism critique and the phenomenon of secularisation question the place of religion and the church in public life. Municipal mergers and financial challenges are forcing parishes to make structural changes.
Many of the challenges faced by the church, however, stem from its own internal development. The connection of the Finnish people to the church has weakened rapidly in recent years in terms of their commitment to church doctrine, activities, and membership. This weak commitment to the church is not a reflection of an indifference towards issues of spirituality or philosophy of life. Alternative forms of spirituality are increasing. People expect the church to take a more visible role in discussion on life values.
The spiritual identity of church employees needs to be supported. Discussions on faith and its foundations requires church employees to have a strong command of their own tradition. They need to know the Bible and the Lutheran confessions of faith, and be able to apply them to their daily work tasks.
According to some theories, the growing diversity within religion will lead to conflict, particularly between those who are deeply religious and those who have a weak religious commitment. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the development manifests itself, for example, as a division and juxtaposition of viewpoints in terms of values.
An increasing number of people base their opinion of the church on discussions that arise in the media. This requires the church to contribute actively, while ensuring its ability to foresee issues and react rapidly. The need to reach the public at large demands that the church be present in most media formats.
Traditional Christian upbringing has weakened. A growing number of people are not receiving a Christian upbringing either at home or at church. Especially challenging areas include the Christian education of those in the age group prior to confirmation – those aged 10-14 years – as well as of adults, and support for religious upbringing in families and homes.
The weakening of religious education and detachment from a religious community are key factors underlying secularisation. Without a Christian education in childhood an adult is likely to become disconnected from the Christian faith.
Local phenomena, such as the development of worship life and new approaches that speak to modern people, serve to enhance commitment to the church.
The revival movements, which operate primarily on the basis of volunteer work, offer a model of commitment based on an experience of engagement. However, public discussion concerning these movements has brought internal conflict and tensions within the church to the surface.
The role and position of the church are changing. Membership has shrunk and commitment has weakened. Society is pressurising the church and religion to change. The role of Christian tradition in society is diminishing.
The church needs to develop the ability to integrate its unchanging message into a changing missional environment. Central to this challenge is to learn to live with the disparity between a person-centred society and a communal approach. The church must be able to take into account the individuality of people while honouring the communal fellowship that is fundamental to it.
How do the above challenges manifest themselves in the area served by our parish?
What has the response been to these challenges?
Which challenges have not been tackled?
V A Church of Encounter as a response to challenge
Task of the Church:
The church calls people to be in fellowship with God and encourages them to care for their neighbours and all of God’s creation.
The basic mission of the church is an enduring task. The manner in which it is expressed, however, changes with each era and context.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has defined its mission as “preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments in accordance with the Lutheran confessions of faith as well as otherwise promoting the Christian message and neighbourly love” (Church Act 1054/1993, Section 2).
The mission of the church is the mission of all its members. The administration of the sacraments and primary responsibility for preaching belong to the duties of the church’s ordained pastors. Everything else is basically the work of the community, although for centuries the church has been organised in such a way as to emphasise the position of its paid employees.
What aspects of our actions and our lives support the church in fulfilling its task?
What aspects of our actions and our lives are only distantly or not at all related to the task of the church?
The values of the church:
Faith – A connection with the merciful God is the enduring foundation of a Christian life.
Hope – Jesus’s promise for the future inspires hope.
Love – The Holy Spirit encourages us to love one another.
These values unite us, define us as members of the church, and guide us in our choices and our work. They assist us in resolving minor and major problems when there are no specific guidelines.
The church’s values are the same for all people and issues. They guide the internal life of the church, as well as its external relationships.
The church should engage, at all levels, in ongoing discussion about values. The church should support social discourse on values and their significance.
How are these values reflected in our parish?
What other values guide us?
How do we engage in discussion about values? Who is involved in the discussion?
How do we monitor the realisation of these values in our community?
A Church of Encounter in 2020:
A member of the parish experiences faith in God as a resource, and an increasing number consider their connection to the church as an essential element of their lives.
The parish is a community of trust that brings different people together, and the message of the church is heard and has influence in all areas of society.
Each individual serves as the core of the future vision of A Church of Encounter. The worldwide church lives in its members and local communities. Faith unites human beings with God and their neighbours.
The vision is characterised by missionary work. The church exists for the universal and accessible proclamation of the Christian message. The church preaches because its message belongs to every generation and concerns all aspects of life and relationships with God, neighbours, society, and all of creation.
The church seeks to exercise influence both among its members and among those who do not belong to it. Its support for the spiritual life and growth of parishioners and encouragement in neighbourly love aim to help them to live as Christians in their own communities in accordance with their own calling, and to call others into fellowship with the church.
The Christian parish unites people beyond human boundaries. It brings together different cultures, languages, and generations. It facilitates associations, societies, organisations, and the authorities in working together for the benefit of the community as a whole. It supports the spiritual life of homes and families.
Christ is the public truth that relates to all aspects of life. The church exists for the sake of this truth.
What kind of vision guides our parish?
What needs to change for this vision to be realised? How can we assess this change?
Who takes responsibility for change? How?
The focal points of A Church of Encounter
There are four priority areas for A Church of Encounter. They are: the message; encounter; neighbourly love; and membership.
These priority areas will be implemented in different ways in different parishes: Instead of a detailed common strategy, A Church of Encounter offers a shared missional direction for the church. The significance of this direction and the measures required to achieve it need to be considered and formulated in accordance with specific local needs and conditions.
The priority areas call for extensive cooperation: Instead of a field-specific or employee-oriented approach, A Church of Encounter favours a multi-professional and comprehensive approach to strategic work.
The priority areas should be addressed in a way that ensures that every dimension of parish life is taken into consideration. It requires collaboration to assess the significance of the choices made for different work fields, such as education, communications, diaconal work, music, voluntary work, preaching, mission, pastoral counselling, support functions, and how they work together.
The application of priority areas calls for courage to try as well as to fail: In a rapidly changing society new discoveries and creative applications play a crucial role. There must be a willingness to give up that which is obsolete and make room for the new.
In many ways the church is an ambassador of gradual change. The fundamental questions of life and the church’s message remain the same from one century and millennium to the next. The methods and forms for the proclamation of the message and making it heard change according to context. Wedding nights and baptism days (see explanation on p. 6), along with the Suurella sydämellä (Wholehearted) plan to involve volunteers, are examples of new ways of presenting traditional content within a new format that is better suited to the contemporary context.
Courage and the freedom to experiment are needed if new and effective approaches are to be found. The courage to try new things requires that we accept the possibility of failure and that we are given space and freedom to expand our frame of thought.
Priority areas will change structures: Possible changes in the municipal structure of Finland, a tightening economy, and amendments to legislation all challenge the church to find functionally meaningful and financially sustainable structures and to reinforce its decision making position in relation to social change.
Strategic choices should be made on an economically realistic basis. In balancing the finances of the church, the trend in church tax revenue is an integral factor. Personnel and real estate costs must be adjusted to decreasing tax revenue without compromising the church's primary task.
Within the process of change the management of parishes needs to provide support so that employees can focus on their primary task and are supported in the development of their own spiritual life.
The renewable church is a spiritual community: The church is a community founded on the word of God and the sacraments. The Christian message and sacraments bring God’s mercy and love into the lives of people. God brings people into fellowship with himself and others without regard to human boundaries.
Christian responsibility and service arise from the mystery passed on through God’s word and sacraments. The church has always been challenged to unite daily reality with the word and sacraments.
The renewal of the church is essentially the work of God. The church is called to common prayer and to cry out for help from the Holy Spirit.
We emphasise the message of the church
For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. (2 Corinthians 4:5-7 NRSV.)
The church’s message is based on the word of God proclaimed in the Bible. The church conveys this message through its life, words, and actions. The content of the message is constant; only its form alters in response to the surrounding conditions.
The message changes the lives of individuals and communities. It releases us to live, guides us to repent, awakens us to responsibility, and influences us in many other ways to our individual and corporate advantage.
Christ is the public truth – not a private truth that is only valid as a separate spiritual aspect of our lives. The Christian message cannot be differentiated from daily reality, but rather, it injects a new, expanding perspective into our reality. The church must draw on its message when dealing with marginalising forces within our society and globally, as well as in its ceaseless defence of human dignity.
The Christian message should be present wherever people are present. The message about Jesus’s birth was first proclaimed to the shepherds – in other words, to people at work. The church and its members have been sent to live out the faith in particular contexts.
The church is challenged to find new and meaningful channels and forums to get its message across. Tools that survey the missional environment and the structure of membership in each area assist the parish in finding effective means and channels to convey the church’s message.
The church supports the mental and spiritual growth of individuals as well as reinforcing their Christian identity in meaningful ways that are appropriate for each phase of their lives. The church is a positive growth environment for the different stages of human life. Particular emphasis should be placed on school-age children and adults.
We speak courageously and intelligibly about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit wherever we go.
What does it mean to speak about God courageously and intelligibly?
What languages are spoken in our area? How can we take into consideration the different spoken and cultural languages?
Who is the proclamation of our parish aimed at? Who are we not reaching?
The spiritual life of the parish is multifaceted and responds to people’s needs.
How do we get information about the spiritual needs of the people in our area?
How well does our parish respond to their spiritual needs?
How do we combine a concern for the different needs of individuals with a sense of community?
Worship is welcoming, accessible, and suitable for all ages. Parishioners participate in the planning and conduct of services.
How do we support the participation of children in our worship?
How are the needs of special groups met, and how do we make worship accessible to them?
Who participates in the planning and conduct of services?
How would we describe the relationship between our different employee groups and our corporate worshipping life?
In order to reach everyone, we convey our message without prejudice and interactively, and we exploit new methods of communication.
Who does our parish communication reach? Who are we not reaching?
What are our primary means of communication? On what do we base these choices?
Who is responsible for communication in our parish? What are the roles of parishioners and employees in communication?
How are we utilising social media? What is our social media profile?
We support Christian growth in all phases of life. All the children of our parishioners are baptised.
How are we reaching young adults and new parishioners and those moving into our area?
How would we describe the cooperation between the different fields of work in our parish?
How do we contact members whose children have not been baptised? How do we encourage people to think more deeply about the meaning of the Christian faith and baptism?
How do we support the spiritual life of our employees?
How do we support participation, the rights of children and youth, and the holistic well-being of homes and families? How do we implement a family-oriented approach in the life of our parish?
Encounter has meaning
Just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another.(Proverbs 27:19 NRSV.)
God created human beings to live in fellowship with him as well as with our neighbours and all of creation. The persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are in constant reciprocal union with one another.
God’s Son was born in human form in order that all who have fallen into sin may come face to face with God. He reminded humanity of its mission to love God and neighbour. Human life means living in fellowship with others.
Many of the church’s challenges afford an opportunity of encounter. Is the church’s message connecting with people and culture? Does the parish bring people together? How do we experience our encounters?
A focus on encounter highlights what is happening between God and people as well as between one person and another. The significance of encounter derives from the missionary nature of the church. God works through encounter. It forms and sustains individual connections to the parish, and moulds the lives of individuals and the community in various ways.
Successful encounter requires space and honesty to allow a person’s life situation, thoughts, and wishes to be heard and understood. An enriching exchange between cultures demands that there be time for each story, and ears that hear those stories and accept their authenticity. The media is increasingly the place where the message of people and of the church meet head-on.
The age, life situation, and lifestyles of individual people determine their need for encounter and their opportunity to experience it. For some, occasional encounter is enough, while others seek more profound, long-term connections. The church must actively seek authentic encounter with the marginalised or isolated.
The church is a community of trust, bringing people together and transcending boundaries. One does not need to have a particular life situation or background in order to take advantage of the encounter possible in the church. Encounter must be open to everyone.
In connection with the parish, people come face-to-face with God, their neighbour, and the reality of their lives.
How well do we know one another?
How do we support the encounter with the holy?
What is our attitude towards seekers and doubters?
How do we encounter people of different ages in our parish?
How well does the church’s message respond to people’s needs?
We create space for interaction. The church is present where people are.
How does the parish support interaction between people?
How well does the rhythm of the parish’s life blend with that of the community?
What new venues for encounter should we explore?
How courageously prepared are we to enter new areas? What supports that courage?
How does the parish support its members in living as Christians in their own place in society?
We walk side-by-side with others and share our stories.
How can we create more space for sharing?
What stories are being heard in our parish? What stories are left unheard?
What face have we given to the parish’s message?
How is the mutual interaction of employees supported?
Communication speaks to our emotions and intellect and challenges us to act.
Which groups does our communication target? Who does it reach and who does it not?
What do we emphasise in our communication? How do we address emotions and intellect?
How do we support the connection between communication and action?
In our communication, what is the role of the emotions that generate meaning?
We love our neighbours
He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.(Matthew 22:37-40 NRSV.)
Christians have been sent both as individuals and as the church to love their neighbours as themselves and to do unto others as they would have done unto themselves. There is no alternative to neighbourly love, and the church is committed to its promotion.
Love is a source of strength and is the church’s mission. The church should recognise people’s needs and respond to them at every level. The church should encourage and support people in bearing their responsibilities. The church should seek out the needy who cannot find it.
Issues concerning the environment, peace, and justice challenge the church to consider its own role in actions intended to benefit future generations. In a culturally diversifying society the church must draw on its worldwide presence to serve as a key actor, crossing cultural boundaries and building bridges. For Christians, every person is a neighbour.
The call for responsibility arising from the concept of neighbourly love sparks discussion and challenges us to take action. In letting people know about its extensive and respectful means of providing assistance to those in need, the church facilitates opportunities for participation in activities and commitment.
Christian service is not, however, limited to the work done in the name of the church organisation. The church lives and thrives in its members. Their lives and work in their own environment are true examples of the Christian life. The church works with different organisations and institutions for the common good.
Neighbourly love is not a black and white concept that categorises people as those who provide assistance and those who need it. Every person has something to offer to others and every person needs something from others. This mutuality supports human dignity.
We act to assist the vulnerable both in Finland and abroad.
How do we get information about people’s needs?
How do we identify new needs or people who need assistance? How do we respond to those needs?
How large a percentage of our budget is allocated to assisting others? How do we allocate our funds?
How do we assist at the global level?
The parish brings those in need and those offering help into contact with one another.
How does the parish bring people together?
How do we invite people to get involved in volunteer work?
What type of assistance intervention systems do we utilise and how?
What role does multi-professional collaboration play in the parish?
How do we operate in civil society? Who are our cooperation partners?
The church communicates in a credible manner about its values and the beneficial work that it does.
What do we tell the whole community about the activities of the parish, and how?
How do we identify newsworthy topics about the life and work of the parish?
How does the parish relate with the local media?
What areas of our communications skills might be improved with training?
We are building a better world for future generations.
What organisations or institutions do we cooperate with in order to advance the well-being of the local community and the world at large?
What do we do for the vulnerable?
How are we involved in missionary and development cooperation?
How do we reduce our environmental footprint and contribute to climate protection? Does our parish have an Environmental Diploma?
What are we doing to further peace and equality?
What are we doing to support the peaceful upbringing and safety of children and young people?
We value membership
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.(Romans 12:4-6 NRSV).
The Bible describes the church as the body of Christ. As members we belong to a living entity. Each member is different, but plays an essential part in the whole.
The description of membership in the church’s confessions of faith, the Church Act, and the Church Order is idealistic and based on the faith community’s perspective. Daily reality challenges this ideal. A healthy parish should acknowledge both the ideal and the reality, and should take both into account in its work.
Simply relying on familiar methods of support for members is not enough, because the world has changed and is changing. Change calls for a new understanding of membership. The constant core of the church’s responsibility in terms of membership is to oversee the spiritual needs of members and support their spiritual growth. Recent years have seen an increasing awareness of the differing values, expectations, church relationships, and needs of members. This awareness should become an increasingly visible feature of the foundations of parish life. It is crucially important to facilitate and support different forms of membership.
In addition to acknowledging difference and individuality, it is important to convey the importance of connectedness. Members are connected through Christ, not through their mutual uniformity. Connectedness with Christ motivates us to seek connectedness between people, even when there is great dissension.
The participation of children and young people is a key focus for the membership and future of the church. Membership is reinforced through collaboration with homes, families, day care facilities, schools, and other organisations and institutions, as well as through the establishment of contact between each person and the parish at life’s crucial turning points, for example when people are taking steps towards independence, becoming adults, or moving from one place to another.
The development of voluntary activities will have a considerable impact in the coming years. Care must be taken to ensure that voluntary work is not seen as a means of supplementing the shortage of labour brought on by diminishing personnel resources. The participation of church members is a timeless and fundamental feature of every parish’s life.
The lives, expectations, and feedback of people help to establish the guidelines for the activities of the parish.
How do we stay informed about the changes in our missional environment? How do we respond to these changes?
What kind of feedback systems do we have and how do we use them?
How do we gather information about the expectations and needs of parishioners? How are different generations and sub-cultures taken into consideration?
How is the parish present in the daily lives and celebrations of the community?
How are the different phases of people’s lives taken into consideration?
Whose needs are considered when policies are drafted? Who is being overlooked?
Parishioners contribute to the planning and implementation of parish activities and have the opportunity to put their talents to good use.
What opportunities are there for people to take responsibility?
How are people invited and inspired to get involved?
To what extent and in which phases of the process are parishioners involved in planning and implementation?
What support is offered for the participation of children and young people and for their growth as members of the parish?
Which age groups participate in the planning and implementation of activities? Which groups are not involved? Why not?
We acknowledge the importance of personal encounter. Every member should be engaged with positively each year.
What does a positive encounter entail? Who defines it?
What features of the encounter do members value?
What are we seeking to achieve when we encounter people?
How many encounters are necessary each year?
Trust in the church endures. The number of those joining the church increases.
How do we support transparency in decision making?
What indicators related to membership are we monitoring?
How do we reach new people with the church’s message?
How is the diaconal work of the church made visible?
Do we live as we preach?
VI The church communicates through encounter
Communication is a key tool for every group and organisation. The fundamental message of the church stems from its fundamental task: the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. The church’s message about faith, hope, and love is a message that should be shared interactively, enthusiastically, and in a variety of ways.
Every parishioner is the church’s messenger
Everyone has a role in communication. It requires overall planning and development at every level. The aim is that every church employee, elected representative, and volunteer become a competent messenger, supported by a communications expert as required. This calls for communications training to be implemented at every level of the communications system.
Communication creates connectedness
Neighbourly love serves as the foundation of communication in the church. It means seeing Christ in every person around us. Meaningful communication involves respect and genuine dialogue.
The planning and management of communication should take into account the different expectations and needs of people and communities. In a diverse society, the church must have the ability to interact in a multitude of languages and in many different arenas. The life and message of the church are increasingly unfamiliar to people. This situation requires the church to nurture its listening skills and speak in a way that is easily understood.
The church has an important role in society. Our communication reinforces the values on which the activities of the church are based. The church is a value leader, advocating neighbourly love. Influential in society, the church works to defend the vulnerable and for the sake of creation, justice, and peace.
Communication sees ahead and responds
A continuously changing missional environment requires the careful management and command of a broad range of media and content. Structures and operational methods must be actively developed in advance of oncoming changes. The church must dare to do away with any operational methods that no longer work.
The church communicates both as a religious and public law community. Communication must be open and anticipatory. The church’s message is supported by bringing painful and difficult issues to the fore in an anticipatory manner. It takes courage and a personal approach to convey the message of the Christian faith. Both media and people expect the church to be visible in sharing its message.
Especially during crisis situations, the voice of the church must be present in the media. This requires a systematic approach, the ability to see what is coming, and functional internal communication. There needs to be an up-to-date crisis communication plan at every level of the church’s structure.
Communication affects perceptions
Perceptions of the church are formed primarily through encounter, personal interaction, and by the media. The task of parish workers is to recognise topical issues related to the fundamental questions of life that are considered to be newsworthy. In social media the church lives through interaction and has the opportunity actively to influence its public image. A church of encounter works through communication on behalf of the one who sends it.
1 See also The Church 2020: Foresight report of the Evangelcal Lutheran Church of Finland (2011), Church Council, Helsinki.
2 Government Resolution on the Future of Migration 2020 Strategy (2013). Helsinki.
3 Helsinki’s foreign population in 2013 (2013), p. 2. City of Helsinki Urban Facts, Helsinki.
4 Official Statistics of Finland (OSF): Population projection [online publication]. ISSN=1798-5137. 2012, Appendix table 1. Population by age 1900–2060 (years 2020 to 2060: projection). Helsinki: Statistics Finland. http://stat.fi/til/vaenn/2012/vaenn_2012_2012-09-28_tau_001_fi.html
5 The Challenged Church: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland during 2008–2011 (2012), Publications of the Church Research Institute, 115, Tampere; Church quadrennial report for 2008–2011. Report of the Futures Committee 1/2013 on the proposal of the Church Council 9/2012 (2013), http://kappeli2.evl.fi/kkoweb.nsf/c7f32a5129224528c2256dba002d78f0/40fd3248da0a5619c2257b6b004b3ecf?OpenDocument