Thursday, May 13, 2010

Readiness for Revitalization

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.


  1. Kevin
    That's RIGHT on target, point by point.
    Bullard's material is excellent as well, but if a congregation is willing to do the difficult work of translating from a business model, Ichak Adizes' material on Life Cycle is the Ur-Text on Life Cycles - especially see "Managing Corporate Lifestyles" Prentice Hall 1999. The title says it all; there are things that you can actually DO at each stage to keep or get an organization to a higher degree of vitality.
    I'd be happy to talk more if you want!
    John Keydel

  2. My very first Sunday here (not even officially as interim at that point) happened to be the annual meeting where one woman said they should have a discussion about whether to close now or to muddle along until they had to close.

    I allowed as there was another option.

    Three plus years on, as the newly minted incumbent, I often refer back to that to make a point about how far we've come. But it occurred to me this week that there was another important thing about that comment.

    As a certain candidate for bishop in an American diocese once remarked about church revitalization, "Of course we believe in resurrection - but first you have to realize you;re dead."

    That woman's remark 3.5 years ago was an unequivocal acknowledgement of real crisis - and opened up the possibility of looking to a resurrection future as opposed to a merely resucitated reliving of the past.

  3. Kevin....
    The real question is to revitalize into what.

    "Time is running short for mainline churches to change direction."

    A recent article stated that churches reach about 40% of the population so what about the other 60%?

    Seth Godin wrote once: Change comes almost always, from the outside.

    Several years ago, I encountered a young guy trying to make that change in TEC. The mission was called "Quest" and was in Bakersfield, CA. I can't remember his name.

    I don't believe incremental change will make a big difference. From my perspective, the Quest effort was trying to create something quite different.

    Preservation seems to be the TEC game plan.

    I would hope that there are some leaders that can create significant change.

    Jim Baker
    Cary, NC