Several of you wrote me to ask about the issue of “readiness” of a congregation for revitalization. Some even wanted resources for this. Here is a composite of some of my responses to such questions:
I can point you in two directions. First, the Alban Institute has done some good work in this area. While I have not been in touch with them for a while, I suspect that they have good information on revitalization.
Second, George Bullard, who I think is one of the best congregational development persons in the wider church, has done great work in refining the congregational life cycle information and applying it. He can be found easily on the web at The Columbia Partnership. By the way, George has written some wonderful articles on Denominational Revitalization, but don’t tell anyone at 815 about this.
Here is what I look for in measuring a congregation’s readiness to begin revitalization. I frame this around a series of questions.
1. How in touch with the decline are the leaders and members? Have they viewed their own statistics? Do they know the trends? Is there urgency for creative innovation or just anxiety because they can’t pay the bills?
2. Are they searching for a future, or simply wishing to repeat a favorable past moment?
3. Are they looking for systemic change, or do they simply see "getting the right clergy person" or starting some new “program” as the solution?
4. Do they have financial and other resources to fund a creative change? If not, are they willing to raise the funds?
5. This leads to the commitment as expressed in stewardship issue. What is the average pledge? Does this reflect sacrificial giving or nominal giving in their region of the Country?
6. How many new or potentially new leaders do they have in the congregation? Conversely, are the older tenured leaders willing to give you leadership to younger and newer people?
Now let’s turn this around into a generalization. Most ECUSA congregations in decline are low commitment congregations living in denial, longing for a nostalgic past, and eager for a quick fix. Everything that is counter to this is a sign of hope and of possible revitalization.