I arose before dawn this morning in order to head several hours south with my co-pastor and two faithful church members to a workshop sponsored by the Center for Congregations, a marvelous organization here in this fine state I now call home. It was a workshop led by Kennon Callahan offering insights from his book Twelve Keys to an Effective Church.
The church I’m serving has a fund designated for church growth. The committee tasked with determining how to use the resources allocated for this purpose paused their work until installed pastors were in place. We desired three months to learn and wrap our heads around the gifts, needs, and circumstances of this faith community before seeking to provide any leadership about church growth. So the first renewed meeting of this committee will happen in January. When the flyer for this workshop showed up in my mail I thought… “Hmm…. maybe this could jumpstart our conversations and discernment.” My colleague wisely thought we should bring members of the committee with us. Actually, as it turns out, they brought us with them! Mercifully, they drove. Indeed, I think the day served the function we hoped it would. We have ideas for immediate implementation, an emerging strategy for the work of the Growth Initiative… It was well worth the LONG day.
Before I end this day I’d like to record in bullet form some of my key take aways (what is sticking with me without consulting my many notes)….
- Abandon phrase “first time visitors”– Welcome first time worshippers… Welcome them home.
- 8 points of contact for newcomers
- A related point– the language we use teaches people who they are and what we expect of them
- Stagnant or declining churches often have a motivational gap– leadership motivated (and seeking to motivate) through concepts of challenge, commitment, or reasonability, but the grassroots and the unchurched are more often motivated by compassion, community, and hope [I use commitment language A LOT. Was thinking of working it into the title of a new initiative… rethinking.]
- Bless natural shepherds in your congregation… and ask them to arrange an intensive season of visitation for the pastoral staff (he recommended 75 visits in three months… if my co-pastor and I each do this… that would cover a lot of ground…)
- Focus on strengths not on weaknesses– enhance one or two strengths that are most lifegiving and fun for the congregation, then seek to add one new strength.
- It’s easier to raise a million and a half dollars than it is to raise half a million. He suggested major campaigns have multiple foci– ministry foci included.
- Open up opportunities for spontaneous giving– people centered– who is asking, who will be served, who will be doing the serving– all of this matters, influences and inspires generosity
- Send encouragement letters– cease to send discouragement letters (three paragraphs– behind on our bills, utilities higher than expect, could you give a little?)
- Prompt gratitude when commitments are made and gifts are given
- We live in a culture of sprinters (as opposed to marathon runners)– emphasize one time, short term (3-5 times), or seasonal activities– more of this than long term, perpetual activities
- Don’t advertise committee meetings in the bulletin– if meeting is worth having an e-mail reminder will suffice
- There are both relational (e.g. worship, groupings, leadership) and functional(e.g. accessibility, visibility) strengths– the relational are most important in 21st century church.
- The church I’m serving is stronger on the functional end of the spectrum.
- It is better to aim to be a small strong church or a large strong church, but to avoid the middle size category
- The church I’m serving has a sanctuary built for a middle sized congregation.
- It is possible to pull things out of your annual budget and make them occasions for spontaneous giving or enduring gifts (his phrase for endowments)
- I like the idea of a mortar endowment so that when the roof needs major repair (like now) that’s not a hit to the general fund…
- It’s also possible to endow staff salaries… hmm….
- Grace, Peace, and Hope– the orienting gifts of Christian life and community
And so much more. There were aspects of the presentation today that I do not comfortably embrace, but clearly much that I find energizing, reframing, clarifying. I continue to be immensely grateful to The Lilly Endowment, which has blessed me so richly for so many years.