LMMR: That’s Local Mission and Ministry Review!

By Revd Joan Grindrod-Helmn

LMMR Administrator and Minister at St James’s, Alnwick

Have you ever agreed to do something and a bit later find yourself asking, “What have I got myself into?” If you are involved in church life my guess is that you have been there, probably more than once.  I found myself in this position about 9 years ago when I agreed to become the co-ordinator for the Synod’s LMMR programme. I wasn’t supposed to be in charge, just act as the secretary, so to speak.

The programme for Northern Synod was to be designed by the Mission and Development Enabler, adapting what other Synods were working on in light of our own Synod’s restructuring programme. Northern Synod was already a bit late to the party with LMMR, Assembly in 2006 had agreed that such a programme was needed to bring the church into the 21st century by focusing its work and vision.

LMMR was also meant to replace the old system of District Quinquennial visits and the Ministerial Accompanied Self Appraisal programme. The two combined were to give churches a more focused agenda for their future and included a job or role description to be negotiated with the minister.

Well, a quick creation of materials didn’t happen and the Synod contracted with Revd. Jan Adamson of the Synod of Scotland to put LMMR into place in Northern Synod. She was doing that job in Scotland, in fact they had already visited all 41 churches and were about to start their second round of visits!   After many meetings, LMMR was set to launch in Northern Synod in 2014.

As a minister, when this fairly hefty booklet came through the letterbox I groaned. Yet another initiative that would be forgotten after a few years!

More paperwork! More time spent looking inward instead of being the church and getting on with the job! Yuck! I just want to ignore it for as long as possible! OK, all that probably says more about me as a minister than I should. But if we’re honest, I think that reaction was pretty common. We tend to do this and not just in churches. Hope that the problems will go away.

But as a person involved in the creation of the programme I felt a bit differently. I had hoped for a 2 sides of A4 quick checklist that churches could do and not take up too much time, letting them get on with their work. That, however, is the wrong way to go about it.   There are some things we need to spend time doing.

The point of LMMR is to help churches in times of dwindling members, resources and finances to focus their work. To ask the questions about what makes your church special and what are the things that you celebrate about it. To acknowledge work that either needs doing or you would like to do in the future. To admit that as a church we can’t do everything we would like to do and therefore have to prioritize what we can do. To have a short term focus of about 5 years and stick to that plan, working with a minister or team to further the goals and keep on track. To be accountable for what we do, not just on Sundays but perhaps more importantly throughout the week. The end goal of the process is to produce a living, breathing profile of the church that could be used in every meeting to remind the church of what it is doing and where it is going. The by-product of this process would be that when a church did come into vacancy putting a profile together might not take so long because much of the information would already be to hand. Again, as a minister, I would say that the important part of that profile or even the LMMR process is the agreement with the minister on their role. Resources are stretched and however much of a minister you have needs to be put in the right places.

The LMMR system could not work without the churches participation, but it also could not work without the volunteers who visit the churches during this process. They give a great deal of time and energy to visiting churches and all have returned saying what a privilege and joy it is to be a part of a local church’s life.   Sometimes when they visit a church they feel your fear, anxiety, suspicion and even anger. That’s natural and they try their hardest to make you feel comfortable.

Let me state loud and clear that visitors from an LMMR team DO NOT have a hidden agenda, and are NOT there to close the church or to “check up” on whether the minister is doing their job.   They ARE there to learn about the church, to encourage, to celebrate, to commiserate, to offer ideas and recommendations.   What the local church  does with   its LMMR report   is completely up to the church, it owns its report and it is only shared after agreement with the Moderator and the Convenor of Pastoral Committee. It does not get discussed anywhere unless the church asks the Synod for help.

LMMR is a tool for churches. I would encourage churches to look at it even if they are not being reviewed.   The programme isn’t static, we are learning from experience and changing the way visits are made and offered. We hope it will feel like a friendly conversation rather than an inspection, which it was never intended to be. LMMR, in the end, is what you make it. It can be an onerous paper exercise that is shoved in a drawer until the next time or it can be helpful to the church’s future. There have been many “good news” stories from LMMR visits; I hope you send them to Footsteps!

For those churches that have done an LMMR review, thank you. For those that are waiting, we look forward to working with you.

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