YOU ARE NOT ALONE: Learnings and Unlearnings from Colleagues – by Rev. Marshall Linden Hot Potato Forum: An Exercise for Surfacing Issues of Conflict – by Rev. Dr. N. Bendroth

Prepping for Growth – by Ideas of Alice Mann

by Ideas of Alice Mann

In her book Raising the Roof and in her recent IMN workshop, keynoter Alice Mann presents a complete program to guide congregations when they are transitioning from a Pastoral (50-150 weekly attendance) church to a Program (150-400) church. This article only deals with her ideas on one aspect of that complex change. That is the creation of the learning team.

For an interim pastor, a year-long commitment to establishing the mechanism of change fits with the visioning work of the interim time. However, growth is not always the answer. For an individual congregation, “growth” means material and psychological commitment to significant change and the willing acceptance of considerable risk. It is possible that a study of the issue will produce a wait-and-see attitude rather than momentum for growth.

A growth plan means taking an advanced risk that increased attendance will provide sufficient additional revenue to cover increased expenditures. The mortgage is due monthly even if the new parking lot is empty. It may mean a cultural shift – if a second service is to be offered, is it the same as or different from the first service? It often means seeking and occupying a different place in the surrounding community. These are issues worthy of respectful attention.

Growth plans contain issues that may be studied in advance of a major financial commitment. Managing the study period should be the assignment for the Learning Team. They will want to ask these types of questions in order to discern if the congregation has a “call to growth.”

Will this church benefit from changing?
There are six key issues to consider:

  • The average weekly attendance at all Sunday services has hit a plateau somewhere between 150-250 people.
  • The church is located in an area that is growing. The surrounding communities are creating greater need but the area churches are not offering expanded services.
  • The congregation regularly attracts first-time visitors.
  • Both the pastor and the lay opinion leaders believe that the church may be “called to growth.”
  • There is basic trust between the minister, lay leaders and the congregation.
  • A small team of leaders can be found with the skills and motivation to guide a learning experience.

Is there sufficient trust?
If these proceeding six issues have favorable answers, the interim pastor should then make an assessment of the trust levels of the governing board.

Some key evaluations are:

  • Do people seem relaxed at meetings?
  • Do they greet each other warmly and take time to catch up with each other?
  • Do the attendees speak up, ask for clarification and offer their thoughts about the agenda and procedures?
  • Does everyone participate?
  • Are people at ease disagreeing with other’s opinions?
  • Do people keep their comments focused on issues and avoid personal attacks?
  • If you were on the board, would you be eager to attend the next session?

If the answer is yes to these seven questions, the interim pastor can proceed to form a learning agreement with the Board. If the answer is no or doubtful, more time will be required to answer questions, provide background, clarify motivations and address concerns about participating in a substantial financial investment in the future.

A Covenant for Learning
The first step is not to form a learning team but to gain the support of the entire board for such a team. To do this, the whole board should be encouraged to do preparatory reading and engage in thought and prayer, assess the readiness of the congregation to engage in a serious discernment process and formally and informally endorse the learning effort. At this point, the congregation should want to learn more but does not yet have to do more.

Including the pastor, the learning team can be made up of 5-7 people. They should be people who:

  • Can listen openly
  • Are familiar with the ups and downs of members, newcomers and visitorsUnderstand the political realities of this particular church
  • Work well with the pastor
  • Have a voice (constituency) in the congregation
  • Are calm and do not project an anxious presence

There is also a list of who the nominees should not be. It will prove best not to invite people who are:

  • Unwilling to learn new things or think new thoughts
  • Unable to consider potential consequences
  • Unwilling to change themselves or the church to
  • accommodate the needs of others
  • Carrying around axes about the church or pastor
  • Too busy to be an effective participant
  • Prone to overreact

The learning team can be selected by the board at a meeting that discusses the role of the team and the criteria for selection. After discussion, the group receives blank index cards. They are told to nominate three people who fit the criteria and the cards are passed in. The group then takes a break while the pastor and board chair evaluate the cards and look for balance. A slate of six is then presented to the board. With their approval, potential team members are asked to participate in supervising the learning process.

Content Delivery
Over the course of perhaps 5-6 months, the learning team will present to a larger circle of leaders accurate information they will need to guide future discernments. The studies should include:

  • A 30-year attendance chart – at least the last 10 years reported by week
  • A current accurate pin map of households – new members, old members, former members
  • Demographic information about the pin map clusters
  • A study that addresses the history of the church as it has operated in the context of the community of its time
  • A summary report on faith and context today
  • An assessment of barriers to growth
  • A report on trends in the wider culture
  • Findings from current community leader interviews

A transitioning church will become over-whelmed if it tries to do everything at once. The congregation will have to wrestle with issues they have been avoiding. One of the great rewards of gathering all this data is to identify the core of the ministry. Jean Morris Trumbauer diagnoses the mainline church this way:

The congregation has no programs or processes to assist members to discover and develop their gifts, to discern their purpose and mission in life, or to learn how to apply their faith to their daily life.A plan for growth cannot successfully be driven solely by a desire for greater revenue. A small focused church living within its means may be far more significant than a larger church preoccupied by debt. The church is not there for itself. “It is there to help all souls sort out their purpose and direction in life,” Trumbauer continues,“to wrestle with issues of self-confidence, meaning and change and to make choices about work, school and volunteer service.”

Preparatory Tasks
While we understand and appreciate the limits on an interim pastorate, there are four preparatory tasks that can lay the foundation for transition. They are:

  • Excavating the religious culture(s) of the congregation
  • Creating a foundation for change from that culture
  • Enriching the congregation’s experience with discernment
  • Assessing the congregation’s ability to experience system changes

Progress in these areas will expand institutional capacity to meet opportunities and needs.

Faithful Commitment
For the particular congregation, “growth” is an abstract good. Its gains have to be balanced against a real commitment of resources today. The practical questions are down to earth considerations:

  • Should we hold a second Sunday morning worship service and should it be the same as or different from the current main service? Can it be done with the same resources or are new ones required?
  • Should (or can) we expand the parking space? Should we hire more or better qualified professional staff? (li)Are we landlocked? Should we sell and move? Should we offer an Internet ministry? Should we develop a satellite campus? Affiliate?

Whatever is decided, the interim pastor has a great experience to teach – discernment is not just decision-making it is an experience in audacious hope.

What does God call us to do now?

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