Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Four Strategies Needed Now

            In my blogs on the seven reasons the Episcopal Church is in decline, I say that “if” we know why we are in decline – start with the current realities – it is possible for us to map a more optimistic future.  Here are four strategies that I think we need now. 

           Please note that when I say “we” that I have in mind mostly leaders on the diocesan level.  I believe that the most effective strategies can be carried out on this level.  Of course, our national office could assist this work by helping to coordinate it, but I am so pessimistic that this will happen that I find any discussion of this too theoretical.  Let’s stick with what local leaders can do.  However, the first item would need to be done by a coalition of leaders beyond the local community.

  1. Create a Mission Training Center (or Centers) for the preparation of missionary leaders:  This training would need three components.  First would be Mission/Apologetics.  Second would be Leadership; this would have a particular emphasis on helping people understand their own leadership style and to use it effectively in the service of the Church’s Mission.  Third would be an on-going follow up to support such leaders in their work including a kind of missionary order for the 21st Century..

  1. Recruit a Younger Generation of leaders:  Train these at the above centers and empower them for ministry to younger generations.  This means that Bishops and Commissions on Ministry especially must abandon the current strategies of waiting for people to come seeking ordination, and begin to search for younger leaders and challenge them to consider ordination.  

  1. Develop a Comprehensive Plan for congregational revitalization: this would include, but not be limited to, assessing readiness for revitalization, providing the right leaders, intervention into dysfunctional congregations, strategies for meeting the needs of our family-size congregations, and developing effective educational materials for the congregational leaders on all levels.  

  1. Develop a Systematic Plan for New Congregational starts; this would include reaching new people groups, developing parallel communities within the same church, and strategies to reach specialized communities.  All this is based on reaching those not currently served by the Church.  (And I will add again that for those of us in North America this must particularly focus on the Latino population.)

Will this work?  I certainly think that there is every reason to believe that just such strategies would work in the sense of helping reverse our decline and re-energizing the Church’s Mission.  

A critical question to ask is where can we predict to find the most resistance to initiating these strategies?  I would suggest the following:

  1. Many of the current leaders at 815.
  2. A number of current Bishops and Diocesan Staff Members who are stuck in current ways of doing things and threatened by suggestions that they change their current behavior.
  3. Many current members of Commissions on Ministry
  4. Most of the leadership of our current seminaries
  5. Leaders of dysfunctional congregations who wish use our current climate of congregationalism to prevent diocesan intervention
  6. All Episcopalians who believe that the Church is doing just fine and does not need systemic change – denial is a powerful human dynamic
  7. Many clergy who prefer the current system of low accountability

A second question is where we will find the momentum and support for these needed changes.  I would suggest some of the following:

1. The increasing financial crisis generated by the on-gong decline in membership, attendance, and the number of congregations

2.  A small but growing group of current Bishops who understand the depth of our current crisis and who want to make a difference for the future.

3.  The leaders of the 20% of our congregations that are healthy, vibrant and mission directed

4.  Current leaders who are willing to be accountable to Mission and have little interest in titles, status, and security.  This includes a number of younger, future leaders who would give their lives to be part of such a movement.  
5.  A core of able lay leaders who are willing to support the needed strategies and are willing to invest financially in making them happen. 


  1. "This means that Bishops and Commissions on Ministry especially must abandon the current strategies of waiting for people to come seeking ordination, and begin to search for younger leaders and challenge them to consider ordination."

    Why must these Evangelists be ordained? Seriously.

    We have licensed (non-ordained) ministries available to us under national canons. Other religious groups (outside the Episcopal Church, and outside Christianity) have had good long-term success using non-ordained leadership, at least as what "ordained" usually means in the Episcopal Church. Using these ministries can be the most nimble way to approach our needs.

    (Yes, all those Mormon missionaries are technically ordained to what can be best described as an entry-level "priesthood" in the Mormon scheme of things. But, they are essentially a lay leader from how we look at things.)

    Many of these Evangelists are going to have to be tentmakers, not working full time in church ministry for pay and benefits. This is not a bad thing. Some of the best Evangelists out there live and work in their communities. Being an Evangelist does not require ordination, as anyone knows who have received Navigator training.

    What I would expect to happen is for those licensed Evangelists and other licensed ministers in the Episcopal Church to be approached by bishops and COMs about possible ordination after a person showing commitment and maturity in their work. "Presbyter" means "elder", not "recruit."

    I am not anti-clerical. There is a definite role for priests and deacons. At the same time, I am not "anti-layperson," which is what is the result if you immediately seek out persons for ordination instead of licensed ministry.

    We have the right structure. Let's use it.

  2. I think that lay licensing could be one of a number of effective tools for developing leaders lay or ordained. One does wonder if "We have the righ structure. Let's use it." Why we see such few examples of what you are suggesting.

    Of course, I have the bias of one ordained at an early age, 26.

  3. Whhile in general agreement, one quibble and one other observation.

    One of the risks in having "Bishops and Commissions on Ministry" (which I'd expand to include leadership at all levels) be more proactive in seeking out and encouraging vocations is that those most deeply embedded in a system will have difficulty setting aside a set of assumptions rooted in institutional self-interest.

    In other words, there is a risk that current, no always effective leaders will go out and recruit candidates they see as aligning with their views, approaches and methodologies. At its worst, it would mean having the people who have helped build the present mess recruit a bunch of mini-mes who will simply perpetuate - or even aggravate - current dysfunctions.

    It ain't necessarily so, but we should be well aware of the risk - especially since the very worst of our leaders are the ones most likely to fail in this way.

    On the matter of accountability, I am sure I am not the only one to have seen ineffective parish priests (whatever other gifts they may have, they aren't effective parish priests) drifting from parish appointment to parish appointment. To some extent, we seem to feel that, having ordained these people, we owe them a living. And since non-parochial appointments (ie, diocesan officers, institutional leadership roles, non-traditional ministries) tend to go to people who've shown some success at parish ministry, some of the least effective leaders are left to lead "at the coalface."

    As much as it pains me to say it, there are times where effective diocesan or institutional leadership MAY mean an honest and incredibly unpleasant conversation with a priest and a serious commitment to helping that priest to find a more suitable way of making a living, whether in a clerical or secular role.

  4. Malcolm,
    Are you daring to suggest that those who got us into this mess may not be the best people to get us out of it? If so, I am glad you said it and not me. :-) Secondly, isn't helping a priest (or any person) find the best place to use his or her talents a key responsibility of diocesan leaders?

    As a diocesan staff person, I can say we had such painful conversation. However, I firmly believe that most clergy are able to carry out their leadership if given education/coaching, encouragement and support. That was one of my primary learnings in the diocese of Texas.

  5. Kevin,

    Thank you for your effort regarding the future of TEC. I suspect you and only a very others are addressing this issue.

    Of course, all of the recommendations should be implemented. Will they? I suspect they won’t.

    My take is that change has to take place at the grassroots level.

    I would ask these questions:

    1) What is the purpose of a church? Is it to perpetuate TEC or to make Christians?.

    2) Who exactly is the church trying to attract?

    3) Are people ready to buy what TEC offers?

    After helping plant a new church and seeing it grow to almost 400 on Sunday and than seeing the diocese (NC) dilute it, It’s going to take a whole new set of ideas and revamping of the current system. It won’t happen in this diocese.

    In my experience whether mainline or nondenominational, growing churches have outstanding leaders, they adapt to the people they are trying to reach and have a focused mission.

    Declining organizations have to be willing to reinvent themselves. TEC for the most part still exists in an 8-track world, when in fact we live in an I-pod, I-pad, I-phone generation.

    Jim Baker

  6. Most organizations that I've worked with became "willing to reinvent themselves" when facing crisis. Those that were unwilling accepted death as the alternative.

    A key question you raise is this: "Would a very successful new Church plant find itself so alien to Episcopal Church culture that we would not remain for long in TEC?"

    Oh, and "8 track" could be generous. Remember Vinyl?