Often we Disciples tend to describe ourselves in the negative, by what we are not: we’re not hierarchical, we don’t baptize infants, we don’t require acceptance of any formal creed for membership in the church and so on. The following material is an effort, in positive statements, to focus on who we are and on ways to convey that to those inside and outside our church.
Our identity statement
- We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.
What does that mean?
- We practice unity and inclusion at the Lord’s Table for the sake of mission and for the sake of the world as the one family of God. Most congregations do this by celebrating communion every Sunday. That’s why we use a chalice as our logo.
- We practice believer baptism – that a person makes the choice to follow God’s call rather than the choice being made for them as an infant. Baptism is the basis of membership in the Church and also a mark that every person is called to serve God – the idea of the “priesthood of all believers.”
- We honor our heritage as a movement for Christian unity by cooperating and partnering with other faith communities to work for bringing about wholeness – healing and justice – in the world. This is what it means to be “ecumenical.” One example is our cooperative work with the United Church of Christ in Global Ministries for the past 25 years and our newer effort to share staff in the area of family ministries.
- We are called to study and read scripture for ourselves. Rather than having tests of faith and creedal statements, we critically and thoughtfully study scripture, taking into account the history and background – the context – in which it was written.
- We also honor the heritage of Christian unity by staying together in covenant as a witness to the world that even when we disagree we can still make room, welcoming all to the table as Christ has welcomed us. Our spiritual ancestors were fond of saying, “unity, not uniformity.”
- We move to answer God’s call for justice particularly in the areas of care for the earth, the challenges for women and children, poverty and hunger and immigration. We seek to do this work in cooperation with other people of faith. Some say we “get dirty for Jesus” as a way of conveying the hands-on mission orientation of many of our faith communities.
These traits were summed up by former General Minister and President Dick Hamm when he identified the marks of a faithful church as true community, deep Christian spirituality and a passion for justice.
We’re a movement whose time has come!
Explaining the Disciple identity takes effort at several levels.
First, the people within our faith communities need to have an understanding of the shared traits of the movement. For this, the Council on Christian Unity has developed videos and accompanying study guides. Focusing in the identity statement, the words movement, wholeness, table and welcome are lifted up as central concepts for the Disciples way of working in the world.
Study and Curriculum Resources
- Video Study Guide
Including a study guide for groups based on the movement, wholeness, welcome, table videos. (Watch the videos)
Guía de estudio | 정체성 함양: 학습 안내 | Guide d’étude
Additional overview video by seminarian Melissa Smith
- Study guide for individuals
- Four-week studies of Whole: A call for unity in a fragmented world : Chapter by Chapter | Modular Approach
- Disciples of Christ in One Sentence paper by Newell Williams for Roman Catholic dialogue (2014)
- Unity Feast: program activity and study from Council on Christian Unity
- Vacation Bible School curriculum from Disciples Home Missions
Explaining the Disciple identity takes effort at several levels.
Pastors can share these basic traits and key words in their sermons, liturgies and other communications to help members become more comfortable with the concepts and language. Many congregations choose to use the preamble to The Design as a way of connecting with Disciple theology during worship. Some use the identity statement in various forms. Pastors might consider a sermon series based on the principles behind the identity statement as well or studies based on movement, wholeness, table and welcome. Videos and study guides may also be used.
Themed Worship Materials
The following contain calls to worship, benedictions, meditations, and other elements that can used throughout worship.
- 2014 Identity Worship Materials Movement
- 2014 Identity Worship Materials Wholeness
- 2014 Identity Worship Materials Welcome
- 2014 Identity Worship Materials Table
- Worship materials for Lenten emphasis from Pershing Ave. in Orlando
- Sample worship service on wholeness with readers’ theater-style sermon by Rev. Susan Diamond and Su Ofe
- Identity principles
- Wholeness lecture by Sharon Watkins (2007)
- Disciples Name – the theology behind the parentheses by William Nottingham
- July 2015 sermon by Rev. Dale Suggs, interim minister at Fullerton’s First Christian Church
- Audio: Identity sermon to the General Board Feb. 9, 2014 by Rev. Jose F. Morales, Jr., executive regional minister for the Central Rocky Mountain region ( print version)
- Movement – by Rev. Kory Wilcoxson (Matthew 28:16-20)
- Movement – by Rev. Melanie Harrell Delaney (Matthew 28: 16-20)
- Wholeness – by Rev. Kory Wilcoxson (John 17:20-23)
- Wholeness – by Rev. Melanie Harrell Delaney (John 17: 20-23)
- A Choice for Wholeness – by Rev. Linda McCrae (Isaiah 65: 17-25)
- Welcome – by Rev. Kory Wilcoxson (Genesis 18:1-8)
- Welcome – by Rev. Melanie Harrell Delaney (Genesis 18:1-8)
- Table – by Rev. Kory Wilcoxson (I Corinthians 11:23-26)
- Table – by Rev. Melanie Harrell Delaney (I Corinthians 11: 23-26)
- Expansion on principles by Michael Kinnamon
History and Study Guides
Once our members have a grasp of our distinctive mix of attributes, we need ways to make these clear as we connect with those who have not discovered the community we find so meaningful. Invitation from individuals is proven to be the single most effective way to connect a new person to the community, but there are also other ways to help support our members to make the “ask.”
Supporting the “ask”
If your faith community already has a website, make sure you have the following information. People not connected with your congregation can get an idea of whether they might find a home in your group. It also gives members the opportunity to invite others to view the information and/or the other persons can get to know the church online before accepting the invitation to attend in person. Your website is as important as keeping up with building maintenance in making a first impression. (Sample illustration of site was created in WordPress, a free platform.)
Make sure your web site includes:
- Affirmation of Faith (such as preamble of The Design)
- Disciples identity statement or Disciple mission/vision statements supported by scripture (such as Acts 1:8 and Micah 6:8)
- The Chalice logo, preferably on home page toward the top (electronic files available at the link provided)
- Link to Disciples.org and your region’s website; possibly camps or other Disciple organizations like racial/ethnic ministries as appropriate; maybe a page of links to various general ministries that are emphasized in your congregation, such as Reconciliation Ministry or Global Ministries
- Symbols and/or logos and other graphics that convey our identity such as a communion table, open doors, mission projects (Before posting photos of children on the web, make sure their parents/guardians have signed a permission form.)
- What makes your congregation unique in your area, particularly how you move out into the community (your mission emphasis, style of worship, partnerships with other congregations/missions/organizations etc.)
- Current events (that are kept current!)
- Worship times
- Study opportunities (bible studies, women’s/men’s/youth groups, Sunday School/Worship and Wonder, etc.)
- Contact information
- Example of video: Madison Avenue CC in Covington, Ky. (Dec. 2013)
- Example of small church site (80 participating members) First Christian, Anniston, AL (linked March 2015)
Help Building and Hosting a Site
Social and Digital Media
Facebook is a simple interface to use should you decide to set up a fan page for your church. This works fairly well for your internal audience, but is not as effective as a web page for conveying your congregation’s identity. You will need to make some decisions about how to manage it – primarily as an internal communication tool to remind people of events or if you want to be more inspirational and inviting. Group pages require more monitoring as those are more likely to be spammed. Connect your social media presence to the wider Church with a customizable Facebook cover photo.
Congregations that use projection in worship can add some of this identity information to slides before or after the service to inform visitors and reinforce member learning with customizable PowerPoint slides.
It is helpful to have a printed resource available to welcome visitors to your worship. These printed resources can become outdated quickly, so take a look at what you have to make sure it is up-to-date.
Refer to the website list above for the kinds of information to include in a visitor brochure. Some churches put the majority of this information in the bulletin. Some laminate a card and put next to the hymnal in the pew. For churches that project information such as song lyrics and other worship materials, PowerPoint slides before and after worship can convey the information.
If you have funds for advertising, you might look beyond the traditional paper, television or billboards. Facebook offers hyperlocal advertising that can appear on the mobile devices of anyone as close as only a one mile radius up to an entire metroplex. Check into other localized options through cable firms and the like.
Direct mail can be a cost effective method, particularly for specific events and particularly now that print newspapers are less well-read in more urban areas. The United States Postal Service offers the ability to send to specific routes in a given zip code if you’d like to target a neighborhood with a particular demographic makeup. There are minimum numbers of pieces you must mail under these agreements, but the cost is less than you might think!
Conversely, depending on the size of your community, placing advertisements in newspapers and even on local television may be a viable and helpful way of spreading the word about organizations. For example, recent public relations research shows that reaching individuals in rural communities is still best done through newspapers even in the age of electronic communications.
In smaller communities (10,000 or less), local newspaper advertisements may still be effective. If the decision is made to use a newspaper advertisement to invite individuals to attend your faith community’s services, make sure you include the time and the address. The chalice and identity statement (“We are Disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness.”) should also be included if your congregation does not have an existing logo and tagline. Also include your website address. This will give prospective visitors a chance to view your congregation’s priorities and make them more comfortable with the decision to spend an hour or two of their time with you.
In medium to large communities, newspaper advertisements are not as effective partly due to the wider geography of the readership. In addition, the majority of people get their news from electronic media (websites, television, etc.) Sometimes newspapers will offer insertion services by zip code which allow you to target people geographically closer to your meeting place, but you also run the risk of being lost in the Home Depot and Macy’s circulars. Prices vary by your community, so a call to the advertising department of your local newspaper will be in order.
Color insert sample | Black & white insert sample | B & W ad sample
Advertising can be targeted geographically through cable packages, but is a fairly expensive project to have a well-produced advertisement and also purchase air time. Every market is a little different, so you will want to investigate that for your context.
Some congregations are using free public access channels to broadcast talk shows and services, but, again, you need to see what is available in your area and determine the viewer numbers.
Again, depending on your context, billboards may be a viable paid-advertising alternative particularly if you place them in areas that are on main routes to your meeting place. Make sure the text is minimal so it can be as large as possible. In most instances a graphic (preferably including a chalice), a seven word (or less) invitation or “teaser,” and website address will be about all that will be legible to someone driving by at 55 mph. No matter what, the minimum letter size is 18 inches tall.
One way some congregations combine mission and outreach is to have events on site, such as a neighborhood block party for a community garden inauguration. An event can give your members an opportunity to invite individuals to a non-worship event so the visitor can feel comfortable in the environment, particularly if their only experience with church is a wedding or funeral.
Defining Our Identity: A Video Overview
Additional overview video by Rev. Melissa “Mia” Smith, graduate of Seattle University School of Theology