The Cantril Self-anchoring Ladder is a means for measuring the general subjective wellbeing or happiness of the people in our community or organization (used by the Gallup World Poll). In combination and with other measures, these have been useful measures in our research on resilience with professionals and with our assessments of personal well-being in organizational contexts for over a dozen years. Are the people in our focus suffering, struggling or thriving?
Its almost always a mixed bag. Human experience is complicated but a quick dipstick into the well-being of a group of people may show as many differences within an organization as between organizations/communities (another good reason to disaggregate data with some demographics). There is “. . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh . . . “ (Ecclesiastes 3); but do we know where the weeping is happening and where the laughing is taking place? I think there are immediate and real benefits derived from gauging and benchmarking the well-being our individual attenders, sub-groups and aggregate congregates. Of course, there are lots of ways of doing this, including a 2-3 minute survey using the Cantril Self-anchoring Ladder (today and future versions).
Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.
The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you (10) and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you (0).
On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present) [scale: 0-10]
On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future) [scale: 0-10].
How Alpha Functions at our Church as a Tool for Developing Christian Hospitality
James Wheeler is Pastor of Adult Ministries at Southview Church in Calgary, Alberta.
Hospitality is a wonderful thing. Who does not appreciate going to a friend or neighbor’s home for a slice of homemade apple pie a la mode, a hot cup of Red Rose tea and a chat about family, community and the local sports teams? I think this kind of hospitality is not common because of several economic and social reasons but this post is not a lament about the loss of hospitality. Rather, I would like to state how helpful the Alpha program is a tool for teaching and modelling what Christian hospitality looks likes in three different ways: physical, spiritual and relational.
Food is a central part of Alpha and is a primary motivator for some. You can order in pizza, buy lasagna from Superstore, both are great options, but food prepared by people in your church community and provided to guests at Alpha as a gift and encouragement is a unique and personal blessing on the Alpha participants. It may seem small difference, but I believe it is significant when volunteers from Alpha have a role in preparing the food. For our Alpha evenings our small groups from our church community will sometimes provide the meals. You can feel a subtle shift in the environment when participants are told that caring people from our community made this meal for them. Young parents, retired people, recently divorced, College students all gather together and are relaxed and happy to have some home cooked food. This is one important aspect of the physical side of hospitality.
Then there is the content that is delivered by Nicky Gumble. The Alpha Film Series is a beautifully filmed presentation of the basics of the Christian faith. In one way, I think the content functions as an evangelical catechism. So, there is value here for all attendees both long term Christians as well as brand-new folks who have never been in a church before. Gumble, on his side of things, tries to provide rational proofs for faith, which are good. But I have heard many say that it is the life stories from the presentations that are the most highly persuasive and encouraging parts of the videos. Hearing various people testify to powerful subjective or existential experiences of God, faith, forgiveness, healing, the Holy Spirit and community are for many, the best apologetic. I will name this as the spiritual aspect of Alpha.
Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, Alpha has become a great tool for us to help our table leaders grow hospitable hearts. By that, I mean, they have grown in how to re-late openly and thoughtfully to others on a relational level. Many of our long-time church people have grown up in a highly rationalistic understanding of faith and are hoping to get the opportunity to prove to others the reality of Jesus. But the world has changed a lot. We are in a post-Christian society and most non-church people are unfamiliar with presuppositions that many church folks take for granted. So how then does Alpha help address that?
For us, we use it as a tool to challenge our leadership group to listen carefully to what participants are saying. One of the greatest gifts of Alpha is teaching leaders the conversational line, “that is a really interesting point, please tell us some more?” This means curtailing our desire to simply push back on new or surprising viewpoints with dogmatic certainty. Because, guess what folks, you don’t make friends by being dogmatic, you make friends by listening and genuinely caring about where someone is at.
We have hosted dogmatic atheists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, practitioners of Buddhism and just garden variety seekers. It is a beautiful to observe our table leaders sharing food with folks, listening too and respecting different perspectives, and then, when the moment is right to share their experience and their perspective as they understand it from Scripture. When this happens, there is a much more receptive dialogue partner. As a result, we have seen people jump deeper into a relationship with Jesus but we have had even more people thoughtfully consider faith and are still considering the claims of Christ, without any current decision being made, one way or another. And that is ok with us. We aren’t just trying to get people to believe what we believe, rather we want people to know they are loved and accepted, not only by us, but also by God. This is the kind of hospitality we want to grow in and develop in our community. And we are so grateful for Alpha because it is an excellent tool for helping us to grow in this way.
World Happiness Report
During a Toronto conference last May (Canadian Positive Psychology Association), I heard John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia present the World Happiness Report; I’ve since read through and now commend that report. The 10 happiest countries had remained the same (though changing spots with each other from year to year). I noticed that Venezuela has experienced the most profound drop in happiness of any of the 156 countries (2.2 point drop over 10 years; interesting in light of the daily news from there). This report speaks in timely and poignant ways to migrant (rural to urban) and immigrant well-being. Beyond their country of origin, international migrants are quite likely to assume the happiness of their local hosts and, in part, to be happy commensurate with the level of host community acceptance. Lots of other interesting insights to ponder in light of one’s own community and congregation.
Download the Report
Life. Vitality. Hope. Possibilities. The Flourishing Congregations Institute wants to know more about these and other qualities in churches across Canada and we would like your help! Partner with us by including your congregation/parish in a national online survey of congregation/parish leaders and attenders. Contact our Research & Program Coordinator, Joy Epp, at 403-410-2000 ext.2987.
World Vision Church Leaders Forum- From Surviving to Thriving: Spiritual Practices To Help Leaders and Churches Flourish with Ken Shigematsu. Insights and practical applications that will help individual people and churches reawaken to God’s presence, live with simple abundance, and discern our calling. Register at: churchleadersforum.ca/locations
April 12-13: Joel Thiessen will be one of the presenters for the New Leaf Church Planting Initiative on the topic of The Nones: An Evolving Story of Secularity in Canada in Hamilton and Kingston, ON. Find our more information and registration:
May 7 - 8, 2019 - Flourishing Congregations Institute is partnering with the Ambrose Pastors Conference to share our research on Discipleship at Ambrose University. The Theme- Life Together: Discipleship in an Age of Distraction. Stay tuned for more details.
October 22-24- Register now for Church Planting Canada Congress 2019.
City Movement has worked behind the scenes with key national ministries, large churches, and denominations to wrestle with our rapidly changing world and how we can be more effective in our cities. They will be doing a Canada-wide tour promoting ways to foster collaboration in cities for greater Innovation and Impact. Find out more at: citymovement.org/tour
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