South Acton Congregational Church

Pastor’s Notes

Niche Marketing (September 2016 Markings)

In the marketing world, every product is seeking its niche. The key to good marketing is to know who the product is aimed at, who will want to know about it, who will see it and think, “that’s for me”. The goal is to be as specific as possible about the demographics you are trying to reach.

Note that this is not limiting who can use the product–no one says, we are trying to reach young hip hispanic youth, so old white guys aren’t allowed to buy it. What the niche identifies is how to engage in the marketing. You probably won’t try to reach young hip hispanic youth by advertising in the Wall Street Journal.

Knowing your niche allows an organization to clarify it’s message. It permits an organization to focus its efforts in the most useful way. It guides the message that is communicated to the community. Like the charism, it doesn’t necessarily say we need to stop other things, but it might change where we put our efforts. While we of course welcome everyone, outreach needs to be specific in order to be meaningful.

Who do you think is our niche?

Here are some that I’ve heard:
Young Families
Families with children
Peace Movement Folk
Families with Disabilities
People living with Mental Illness
People looking for spirituality, mindfulness, silence

To evaluate our niche we need to look out for a few things
—is it a niche present in South Acton, Maynard, Boxboro?
—are other churches nearby reaching that audience effectively?
—do we know what our niche would want from a church?
—do we have people willing to engage with these people?
—do we have people who will do outreach to this niche?
—do we enjoy doing programs that meet the needs of this niche?

Our niche starts with who we are already, and where we have energy, but it looks for what are the needs of our community. What does our immediate community need? How can we inform people of how we are meeting that need? What do you think is almost-already our niche? How can we make it more explicit?

Who do you think is our niche?


What is our charism?

Religious orders use the word charism to identify the particular grace or strength or gift of a particular order. The Greek *charisma* refers to gifts from God to a human community. Charisma is used today for a person who can attract people to themselves, although originally it meant a talent or gift from God as well.

I’m wondering if we should think about what is our charism? What is the special gift we offer that other places might not offer in the same way that we do?

Often part of interim work is identifying a mission or marketing statement for a church, but honestly SACC’s “Where you are loved and valued just as you are” is just about perfect for that sort of thing. Yet it still doesn’t identify who it is we are trying to reach, or what it is that is our particular strength. It says what will happen if someone comes here, but not why they might want to come.

So I’ve been thinking about our charism. What brings people in? Of course you have been part of this for much longer than I have, so maybe my view is complete. But here is what I have seen since I arrived. Forty-four people not connected to this church came here to try out a mindfulness series, and twenty or more continue to come. One of those people also came to our prayer walking. And a young man found our prayer for peace on the web and just came to “check it out”. Both prayer walking and prayer for peace are events that have attracted people not connected to SACC.

So I’m wondering if spirituality is our charism. I wonder if the thing that might attract people is meditation, mindfulness, silence. Does that feel right to you? Is there some way it needs to be described that better meets your needs? Is this a place where we explore mystery and quiet and peace and a connection to God? What is right, or wrong about this as our charism?

Whatever is our charism, the gift we present to world, will affect whatever else we do. If spirituality and silence and meditation is our charism this will lead to questions about what we are doing in worship, what we want with our music, what we will provide for our youth and your children, and how we will engage in mission. It doesn’t mean stopping things, necessarily, but it might change how we engage.

What do you think? What is our Charism?

Leading at SACC

Lots of people at South Acton Congregational Church are great leaders. I’m actually rather amazed at how much gets done here. Church things get done when people in the church decide to do them. As is typical in a small church, that means most people are doing something!!

Although I’m hearing anxiety about whether we have enough people to do what needs to be done, I also am seeing people come up with new ideas and others stepping up help to make them happen.

Here are the tests I recommend for us. First ask yourself, are you doing what God is calling you to do at SACC? Do you feel satisfaction? Does it use your gits? If yes, alleluia! If no, then you need to figure out how to stop doing it. I know all the arguments—If I do less this job won’t be done as well. If I do less some things won’t get done. If I do less then the church will do less and it will look like we are dying.

Actually it is frantic, unhappy work that marks the first stages of death of a community. When projects are done by one person alone. When there is pleading for someone to take on a task. When activities keep going even though it is not fun to volunteer. When people are doing what they feel they “should” do rather than what they love to do, where they find satisfaction, what they are called by God to do.

Vital small churches apply a second test as well—are there at least three people as part of the leadership team of each project? Jesus says he is there whenever two or more are gathered but I have found in today’s busy world it takes three leaders to assure there are always two people present.

In a hierarchy three people make up the supervisor, the manager, and the worker; in community those roles likely will be less constrained, more collaborative. But three people mean that someone is learning how to be the leader when another leader leaves. It means you can take a week off when you have guests in town. It means you have a team to work with for problem solving, for creative ideas, for support.

Two tests, then, for new ideas and old. Are you doing what you are called to do? And are you doing it with a team? These will help us to find joy in our work for the church. It will help us to have hope for the future of the church. It will help us to share the good news, because it will feel good.

Don’t miss our meeting June 5!

What is church? We will be discussing this in worship for the month of June. Much of that will be about what it means to be a Christian in today’s world, and how we live that out as a church community. We’ve already discussed hope on May 22, and May 29 we introduced the idea that Joy is one of the major functions of Church-Joy within, and sharing Joy with the world.

We won’t be discussing the structure of Church during worship-but it is important! Vital Church is set up structurally so that people can easily engage within our boundaries and out with the world. Inwardly we must figure out how to care for one another, outwardly we must figure out how to serve the community.

June 5 we will be asking both those questions 1) what can we be doing to more fully support each other within SACC? 2) what can we be doing to more fully serve the community? Honestly we aren’t *bad* at either of these things, but to reach vitality we have got to do more.

Internally we came up with ideas to adjust our worship service, our worship space, and to do more small group and large group activities together.

Looking outward we had lots of ideas!! We can help individuals do outreach, we can do outreach as a community, and we can further develop ideas for the Center for Spirituality.
Communication also came up as a large need, both internally and externally. People struggled with how we can know each other better, and how we can let people outside of the community know what we are doing.

Do join us June 5 right after church to be part of this discussion. We need your input, we need your listening ears, we need to be sharing together in developing these ideas. To be Church together we have to *be* together finding the path for our next phase of community.

The transition (May 24, 2016) by Pastor Liz

The whole time, from the time that Katrina left to the time your new pastor starts, is called the transition time. Which is pretty odd, don’t you think? Obviously it was a huge transition from the time you heard that Katrina was leaving until she left. And it will be a huge transition from the time the new pastor starts.

Life is about transition, and the time of church being the stable, unchanging place where you could escape life’s transitions, if it every existed, is gone. And yet we rightly ask for some stability in our lives, even as we want the world, our lives, and our church to change for the better.

Our challenge then is to keep up meaningful worship, weekly prayers and meditations, choir, sunday school, deacons, SACC movers, and all the personal care we with and for each other. We keep up all the things that provide stability to our life together. And yet we watch these same things to look for two things: what can we share with the community around us, and what do we need from our next leader so that we can be connected to the community around us?

We are reminded that Jesus’ life was not one peace but one of action, but also that he took time to pull away from the chaos and pray. Our transition is happening now. We are called to act by being present and part of the transition, and we called to take time for quiet and prayer. Listen for the word of God. Listen for the word of Hope. Listen for the future of SACC.


Where is everyone? (May 12, 2016) by Pastor Liz.

There were around 27 people in church on Sunday. Not our greatest numbers I’m sure. After a beloved pastor has left it is easy to get anxious about our numbers. How many at worship? How many at meetings? Are there programs we’ve dropped, programs that aren’t full, programs that we should be starting but there aren’t enough of us so we aren’t?

Small churches are especially good at anxiety. It always feels like a little thing, such as a few people missing, can be understood as a sign. Just like the jokes in cartoons, we may be afraid that we are one of those old guys carrying a doomsday sign that says “the end is near.”

Christianity takes the “end times” seriously, although not in the way that it is popularly expressed. Our eschatology–big word for what we think about the end of the time–is that the Kingdom of God is at hand. That is, its already begun, but not yet fully here, and we should always be prepared for it to arrive. We become prepared by developing our spiritual lives, by caring for our neighbors, and by creating a world where God’s love is present on earth. That is, we work to make the Kingdom of God present here and now, we make it “at hand”.

So where was everyone this week? Well to start, 14 of us were making the Kingdom of God at hand by participating in the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace. Nine of us came to build up our spiritual lives, and change the world, by engaging in the Prayer for Peace meditation group on Monday night. Nine people, mostly a different nine, came to the planning session for our Learn Mindfulness group that will begin June 15. I ran into at least three people who were caring for others at SACC, and four came to SACC Tuesday to plan our interim time. The deacons and council are filling their vacancies as we speak. A new yoga group will soon start renting our space on Saturday mornings, and an NA group filled our basement on Tuesday.

We are bustling with energy, developing our spiritual lives, caring for our neighbors, and creating a world where God’s way of love is here on earth. Let us know how we can help you, too, to feel the energy of this sign, not that the end is near, but rather that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

From the Pastor (May 2016 Markings)
Well here we are at a bit more than a month. I know a bit more about you, you know a bit more about me. So far I’m quite happy with what I’ve learned, I hope the same is for you!

So I’ve been thinking about the net in the other side of the boat thing–as we talked about one Sunday, this idea that during transition time we can try new things without fearing we’ll have to do the new way forever. Experimenting. Guessing. Just winging it. Dive into the deep end.

Or not! Transition time is also the time that some people draw back, take a break, sit on the side and watch. Whether you are grieving Katrina leaving or not a big fan of change or you just happen to be really busy right now with ordinary life, the great thing about church is you are allowed to take care of yourself. Please feel permission to be who you are.

Whether you are spending this transition experimenting or observing, your ideas and observations are important to the ongoing work, and being, of SACC. Engage in ways that feed you, and tell us along the way what those things are. Notice where you see the Good News at SACC, and share what you see.

A note about my schedule–I’ve got another trip for my DMin studies May 13-21 (Portland Oregon). I’ll be at the Disciples of Christ Regional Meeting June 10-11 (Rochester, NY). And then this summer–while we will continue to share worship with Boxboro, because of my DMin studies, I’m only taking off two weeks (three Sundays) in August. So even when Cindy Worthington-Berry is preaching I’ll be at church and around to visit with you.  In Christ, Liz.

What’s the Interim Time For??
By The Rev. Elizabeth M. Magill (Liz) (May 2016 Markings)

Many of you have lived with Interim Time at SACC before. For some of you this is a new idea. But what on earth is this time supposed to be? I was asked what I’d do an interim at our interview, the truth is, I haven’t been an interim before.

But I’ve worked at a lot of places, both in the business and non-profit world, and I’ve studied a lot of churches. Here is what I’ve seen at transition time: when a beloved leader leaves, our instinct is to quickly to hire a duplicate. (When a not so beloved leaders leaves, people often look for their opposite.) In both cases a duplicate and an opposite are visions, not realities, and the first hire after leader leaves is quite often a bad match. Insider church language calls that an “unintentional interim”. It’s someone who comes a short time and does not move the work of the church forward.

I spent the first week in April at “The Work of the Leader” which is the first part of interim ministry training. Here is what I learned about how to make our interim time intentional.

The work of the intentional interim is to move the church forward while at the same time helping the congregation to develop a realistic view of what they need. In some congregations that includes some problem solving around issues that may not have been resolved during the previous pastorate. The main goal is to answer the questions: Why are we here, what are we doing, and how will we do that?

Conveniently enough, those are exactly the questions we need to know the answers to in order to write our profile! “Why are we here” gets at who is this group of people, meeting in South Acton, describing ourselves as church? What drew us here, what are the values that underly what we do, how have we lived this out in the past, and what from our past do we want to carry into the future. In interim circles this work is called Heritage–it is the step where we use our past and present to set the grounding for our future.

The question “what are we doing” will follow, as we look to describe in our profile who we are reaching in South Acton. What is our ministry, our mission, our outreach? This is two interim tasks called connections and then mission. Theoretically “how do we do it” will follow from our  answers to the why and what questions, but also will help us describe exactly what type of leader we need next.

Do you have questions or concerns or input into what we are doing for this interim time? Please share them–I’d love to hear. Contact me at or give me a call at 508-450-0431.

Interim Ministry (April 12, 2016)

Here we are at the interim time. Interim–the between place. Some of us are still grieving the loss of Katrina, some of us are impatient for the new settled pastor, some of us love the creativity of the transition, many of us are some of all three.

What shall we do in this time? There are many descriptions of interim ministry, but I think for this congregation, at this time, the questions are essentially about how we will describe ourselves on our profile. Who are we? Who are our neighbors? What do we imagine we could be? What is blocking us from getting there? All of these questions help us to describe accurately who we need for our next pastor, but more importantly, they help us communicate to the world how Christ is calling us to minister to the world.

The first step in our interim work is our three circle meetings. The goal is to say what you think, but also to hear what others think, about who we are at SACC. After the three circles our interim team will listen for what are the themes, and we’ll get together before the end of June to share what we’ve found out.

The interim time is a time of flux, of discernment, of change. It is a time to speak up about what you hope for and long for. It is a time where some will take a respite, some will jump in with their eyes closed, some will watch to see if its safe. You have permission to take any of those approaches to the interim time. But do stay in touch so that we can include you in our vision for the future.

Contact me by email at, on facebook, or by phone at 508-450-0431. I’ll be in Acton on Sundays and two weekdays each week until the end of June, when I switch to full-time. I’m always glad to hear from you.