Participants go through an exercise designed to emulate the challenges of congregational change during a CBF session on Dawnings in Greensboro, N.C. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)
Participants go through an exercise designed to emulate the challenges of congregational change during a CBF session on Dawnings in Greensboro, N.C. (Jeff Brumley/ABPnews)

'Dawnings' a way of living, being church

 It's a process similar to spiritual formation for churches --  not a program or strategic plan to gather dust on a shelf, CBF leaders say.

By Jeff Brumley

Dawnings, CBF’s new missional process for congregations, is about discerning God’s will for churches and ministries, Bo Prosser, coordinator of missional congregations, said during a presentation about the system today in Greensboro, N.C. What it is not, he added repeatedly, is a template for change or the same-old, same-old strategic planning approach to confronting, and then eventually ignoring, congregational challenges.

“This is not meant to put this big notebook on the shelf and forget about it,” Prosser told some 150 clergy and laypeople gathered at the Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons and Joseph S. Koury Convention Center, where CBF’s 2013 General Assembly will run through Friday.

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“We do not know how to do church in your settings,” he said.

CBF’s leadership institute developed the process that has been tested by about a half-dozen fellowship congregations. It’s official unveiling occurred during today’s sessions and officials hope churches across the Fellowship will embrace it.

‘Return on engagement’

Prosser acknowledged that anything labeled “missional” often is met with skepticism or outright opposition by church leaders and members. He defined the term as any effort that seeks “to participate in the ongoing mission of God.” The Dawnings process seeks to help congregations figure out what that mission is in their spheres of influence and how to get on board with it – regardless of whether it generates church membership.

That last part, Prosser said, upsets some. “What is the return on investment,” he is often asked.

“It’s not about return on investment,” Prosser said. “ It’s about return on engagement that we begin to count on.”

To see how the Dawnings works, Wednesday’s participants were taken through a condensed version of the two-day regional retreats CBF will host for churches that want to undergo the process. (Two such events have already been held).

They read Scripture, prayed and participated in group exercises designed to illustrate what it means to lead congregations through sometimes-difficult discernment and change. The process was compared to the stages the apostle Paul experienced after being blinded on the road to Damascus.

Covered were three stages: visioning, formation and engagement. Altogether, it is a 12-18 month process that is designed to be perpetually repeated by Dawnings congregations, said Jim Dant, a Faithlab partner, spiritual director and conference and retreat speaker who helped write the program’s content.

“It’s a way of doing and being church,” said Dant, of Macon, Ga.

'Structure to our openness'

Andy Hale, pastor of Mosaic, a church plant in Clayton, N.C., said his church has been through Dawnings already, but continues to use the process to ensure he, his leadership and members adhere to the congregation’s vision of service and ministry to the community. The process helps "put your ear to the heart of God to listen to what he has to say," Hale said during the question-and-answer portion of the presentation.

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Susan Rogers, pastor of The Well at Springfield in Jacksonville, Fla., said her two-year-old CBF church plant has always been an open and engaging one, but Dawnings "provided some structure to our openess."

At Centerville Baptist Churchin Chesapeake, Va., Pastor Kevin Ritter hoped Dawnings would draw the congregation closer together. "And that reality came about," he said.

CBF officials said Dawnings isn't meant only for churches that are uncertain about their mission in life. Even those with a clear sense of their callings should participate. "We think we know our communities, but we don't," said Harry Rowland, missional church engagement specialist with CBF.

Churches interested in participating may visit the Dawnings website to learn schedules for retreats and other resources.