Sunday, December 1, 2013


Those of you who follow my blogs have noticed that I have not been posting lately.  This is because of my leaving my position in Oklahoma and taking further retirement by moving to Georgetown, Texas.  After the first of the year, you will see more from me in my two blogs.

My "Kevin on Congregations" will continue on the theme of leadership and congregational development.  I've much more to say on this topic.

My "Dean Kevin" blog is one I use on my general themes.  I've some things that I will be sharing in this blog especially on what I see as the future of The Episcopal Church and Anglicanism.  You will find more opinion posts on this one.

Thanks for waiting.  As always, I will be eager to hear your comments and responses.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How Does Your Facility affect the Growth of Your Congregation?

I have been blogging about the three dynamics that Lyle Schaller taught me that affect 80% of the growth potential of a church.  So far I have discussed the size of a church and who the pastor is.  The third dynamic has to do with the facilities.  Let me explore this. 

First, you cannot put 1000 people on one acre of land!  People need space and they will normally create space around them.  If this space gets crowded than people become uncomfortable.  This leads to what folks call the “80% Rule.”  This rule points out that if you are over 80% full in your Church building, Parish Hall, Christian Education space, or parking lot on a typical Sunday than you are overfull.  This means that you are discouraging two kinds of people from attending your church.  The first are newcomers and the second are less active members.   

If you are over 80% full in these areas on a normal Sunday than you are way over full on special Sundays and this is a problem that will inhibit growth.  Many pastors are unaware of their present realities because we are in church during services.  You may want to arrange to exit the service, walk down the hallway and visit the parking lot.   

Unfortunately, many Episcopal churches were built before the automobile became the principle mode of transportation.  I have visited many town congregations that have only a few off street parkingslots.  When I point this out, the answer is often, “Well, our members know to get here early and where to park.”  Unfortunately, new people do not.  Of course, the condition of the facilities matters too.  When I went to the Cathedral in Dallas, the Parish Hall was dirty and constantly in disarray.  The worse areas were the nursery, Christian Education, and office area.  They looked like they had never been updated after construction in 1922.  It is important to remember that long-term members become accustomed to the facility, but new people notice this immediately.  The old adage that you only have one chance to make a first impression is true.  Some areas such as nurseries and restrooms should be in tip top condition.  I am also surprised at how cluttered the entrances to Churches and parish halls are in many churches.   

While talking about space, I would like to mention what I call the “50%” rule which deals specifically with declining congregations.  Here is the rule; if you are less than half full in your worship area then you better tell folks why and what you are doing about it right up front, probably in the bulletin.  When a newcomer attends a church that is 50% or less full, their first question will be “I wonder what happened?”   

The Diocese of Texas convinced a few churches to take out pews and put in a temporary walls.  This allows a congregation to place the fellowship or coffee hour just outside the main doors to the sanctuary.  This is a very good thing.  Having newcomers and guest have to pass through the fellowship area as they leave church creates a very positive feeling.   

In Summary

Three dynamics will affect 80% of the growth potential of a congregation.  Review these three last blogs and ask yourselves “Realistically, what is the growth potential of our congregation?”  

1.        What size is your congregation and how long has it been this way?
2.       Who is your pastor and what does she or he know about growing a Church?

3.       What are the space limitations of your facilities? 

Of course, congregational development is not always about growth, but discipleship and newcomer ministry is a significant part of the healthy development of a congregation.



Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Pastor and Growth of a Congregation

In my last blog, I talked about the dynamic of the size of a congregation, how long it has been that way, and how these dynamics predict the possibility of growth in churches. I learned this from Lyle Schaller.

According to Lyle Schaller, the second dynamic that comprises 80% is contained in “Who is the pastor and what does the pastor know about growing a church?”

To be more specific, what Schaller was asking was on a general level and a specialized level. The general question is “what does the pastor know about growing anything?” The principles of growth extend to many areas of life. For example, a farmer knows that she will have to prepare the soil, plant seed, fertilize, weed and eventually harvest. A business owner knows that he will have to identify a need, meet the need, and make this known to his market. This kind of knowledge about growth is translatable into congregational life.

Unfortunately, many clergy believe that by preaching sermons, offering the sacraments, and making pastoral visits is all that is needed lead a church toward growth. Of course, it is important for every pastor to be faithful to our pastoral duties. I am just saying that carrying these out faithfully will not lead to growth. I usually phrase this as “managing a church and growing it are not the same thing.” Here seminary education can also be a hindrance because what professors think their students should make a priority is not what leads to growth in congregations. Consequently, armed with such seminary training, new pastors go out and are ineffectual in growing their congregations.

The specialized question is “What does the pastor know about growing the size congregation that he or she is leading?” Growing a pastoral size church with 100 people attending each Sunday is very different from growing a congregation with 400 in attendance. The pastor needs to focus on the activities that matter for each size.

For example, when I was working for the Diocese of Texas, I was meeting with the young vicar of a congregation with an ASA around 40. The priest was just out of seminary and new to the congregation. He was what I would call a warm- hearted evangelical (a Trinity Seminary graduate) who wanted to lead folks to Christ and to grow the Church. But after leading it for about a year, there had not been much growth. So I asked him, do you know what a priest in a congregation of this size has to do to grow the congregations? He speculated about evangelistic preaching, bible study and a few other areas but said that he had been doing these and didn’t see any results.

We were at lunch so I took a napkin and said, let me write down the five things you will need to do to actually grow this place. I did and then handed the list to him. He read the first item and looked surprised. He then said, “That explains our two new families.”

The first thing I wrote was this; Spend 15 to 20% of your time with un-churched people. In a smaller church, the pastor needs to nurture relationships with people who have no church affiliation. The two families were a result of his helping coach his son’s baseball team. We then discussed the resistance that his congregation would have to him doing this. By the way, when I have told this story at clergy conferences over the years, the most common question I get asked is “What were the other four?” I respond that it doesn’t matter if you don’t do number 1.

Of course, the creative management of staff is critical to the Rector of a Resource size church. So to is creative planning of new areas of ministry. The pastor of a large church must also see to developing an effective assimilation program for the church.

Moving beyond these two specific questions, I would point to the following as important issues for pastors that relate to the growth potential of a congregation.

1. Does the pastor have a contagious spirituality?

2. Can the pastor communicate the mission of the Church and of this specific congregation?

3. Does the pastor like people and is willing to spend time especially with un-churched people? I find too many clergy today who spend too much time in the office and at their computers. Christianity is about people, their relationship with Christ and one another.

4. Can the pastor disciple present members with an eye toward their sharing their faith with others?

5. Does the pastor believe that becoming a Christian is absolutely important?

6. Does the pastor believe that people are “lost” and that lost people are as important to Christ as present Church members?

7. Does the pastor fear conflict and spend too much time trying to please present members?

8. Can the pastor explain “how” to become a Christian to someone who is not a church member?

9. Can the pastor communicate enthusiasm and inspire others?

10. Is the pastor a life-long learner who has a curiosity about leadership and is willing to change and grow?

I know these can be tough questions, but they are worth asking ourselves.

Lastly, I am asked frequently if the skills for growing a church can be learned. The answer is yes, but most frequently the skills needed are learned from a mentor or another pastor who has them.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What I Learned From Lyle Schaller

             I consider my mentor in Congregational Development to be Lyle Schaller who many see as the Father of Congregational Development in the wider church.  Schaller has written extensively on congregations and denominations.  His books are full of very helpful information. 
I first met Lyle when a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor and friend in central Ohio slipped me into a Synod conference that Lyle was leading in the early 80s.  When Lyle discovered a single Episcopalian in the mix, we began a conversation that continued for over 20 years. 
In 1987, I attend a conference by Lyle titled “15 Key Elements in Growing a Congregation.”  It was during this conference that I learned that 80% of the development potential of a congregation can be measured and predicted by the first 3 elements he presented.   These three elements form a cluster together.  They are
                Who is the Pastor and what does she or he know?
                What size is the congregation and how long has it been that way?
                What are the size limitations of the current facilities? 

This “trinity” of dynamics helps me understand a congregation, its developmental issues and growth potential.  In this blog, I will share about the issue of congregational size which is really about the present culture of a congregation. 

Schaller introduced me to the research on congregations on the then 375,000 congregations in North America.  This research showed that congregations tended to cluster around particular sizes based on average Sunday attendance and that this revealed particular ways of “being a church.”  Schaller presented 8 different and distinct types of congregations that day. 

Arlin Rothauge used this material to develop Sizing Up the Congregation for New Member Growth which was published in the late 80s.  Arlin reduced this information to three types of churches.  As he explained it to me, “Most Episcopal Congregations are small. I didn’t have to worry about sharing how larger congregations could be divided.  Besides, Rectors of large Episcopal Congregations go to ecumenical conferences and don’t rely on denomination material.”  I thought this tremendously revealing. 

We now use the terms Arlin gave for these type churches:
                                Family – normally around 20 to 40 in ASA but ranging from 3 to 75
                                Pastoral – normally around 110 ASA, but ranging from 80 to 150
                                Program – above 200 ASA 

In the Diocese of Texas, we refined this adding the fourth size:
                                Transitional – churches caught between 150 and 250 ASA 

I wrote a somewhat popular book on the Transitional size (The Myth of the 200 Barrier) in which I described the difficulty congregations faced in transitioning from Pastoral to Program size.  

 I was asked to revise Arlin’s original booklet for TEC, but Arlin believed that I made too much out of this transition and vetoed the revision.  I explained the difference in our approaches this way.  Arlin had a PhD and a theory.  I had only the practical knowledge of working with hundreds of congregations.  Add to this that less than 5% of all Pastoral size congregations make a transition to the larger size, and I think the dynamics of a Transitional size church are significant.   (I suspect the real issue was that I hadn’t done a D. Min from Seabury, but that may be a bit unfair.)   

What is important here is that Schaller had very different names for these sizes.  Schaller called the Family size a “Cat.”  He called the Pastoral size a “Collie.”  I can still remember the laughter of recognition in the room as he described these essential differences. 

“A Cat isn’t owned by anyone.  It owns you.  It is independent and resilient.  It will let you pet and feed it, but at any moment, a cat can turn and scratch or bite you for almost no reason whatever. “ 

“A Collie is faithful and loyal to its master.  As long as you feed it, love it, and pay attention to it, a Collie will flourish.   A Collie will even forgive you if you are from time to time a bit stern.  It takes a great deal of abuse to turn a collie against you, but once this happens, a collie will have a mistrust of all future masters.”  (Note how this description gives us a much better flavor for how clergy relate to these types of congregations and how they relate to us.)   

So, what I learned from Lyle was that if you measure ASA for 10 to 20 years, you can answer these two essential questions:  What size is the church today?  And, how long has it been that way?  His conclusion based on a great deal of research was that the longer a church operated within a particular size, the more predictable it would stay that size and resist change.  This resistance was both to getting smaller or getting larger.  

In more recent days with the advent of “systems thinking,” we now realized that each “size” represents a culture or “way of being the church” that becomes predictable and is maintained by the leadership.  So, if you have a pastoral size church in a town that has been that way for 50 years, and yet the town has become a suburb of the neighboring city with a much larger population base, the church will predictably remain in the same size and resist growth.  This also means that the denomination can go across town and start a new congregation and almost never affect the current congregation.  Congregational Culture, once established, has power and that power expresses itself in maintaining what we know and what we expect.   

The converse is also true.  The more change a congregation has experienced; the easier it is to grow.  It is also true that the newer the congregation; the easier its future can be altered.  Schaller pointed out that most congregations have institutionalized their size within the congregation’s first 30 years.  

I also learned this from Lyle.  There are two types of growth in a congregation.  The first is congruent growth.  This is growth within the system.  For example, a Pastoral size growing from 90 to 130 ASA has grown congruent with being a Pastoral size church.  The second is transformational growth.  A Pastoral size growing from 130 to 250 ASA has experience transformation from one culture to another.  The first is easier.  The second is much more difficult.  

You may want to ask yourself these two questions.  What size is the congregation I serve?  How long has it been that way?  The answers to these two questions will tell you a lot about your growth potential. 
In the next blog after Easter, I will focus on how the Pastor fits into this cluster of issues.    




Monday, January 21, 2013

Congregations: Why One Size Does not Fit All

“What do you think of Natural Church Development?”  This is a question that I have heard often in the last few years.  Not long ago the question would have been “What do you think about The Purpose Driven Church?”
The programmatic approaches to congregations or what I like to call the “One Approach Fits All” methodologies are all developed with the belief that these will fit most any congregation.  I have seen such approaches (even tried some) for many years now.  In this blog, I want to share what I think is right about them and where I see their limitations.
First let me start with a list of some of these:
                The Purpose Driven Church
                Natural Church Development
                Small Groups: Evangelistic, Pastoral, Instructional, etc.
                Fuller Church Growth Institute – The Church Growth Pastor 

This week I learned from one of our Oklahoma Rectors that the Diocese of Chicago has developed a program based on Bill Hybel’s work at his Willow Creek Church, but of course “adapted” to an Episcopal setting. 

Two of these, Natural Church Development and the new Chicago one, use a survey of members to determine a church’s strengths and weaknesses and then recommends a course of action.  The others use a model for the church (or in the Fuller approach, for the pastor) that can be imposed upon the current congregation.  Many of you may remember Carl George’s evangelistic small group strategy which argued for building churches on small groups.  “Grow larger by growing smaller” was a slogan for this movement.  Dale Galloway took a similar approach using pastoral small groups in his church in Oregon and then published a whole curriculum around it.   

Now let me make myself clear.  I am not universally discrediting such approaches.  All of these do work and all have strong advocates of their methodology.  I often point out that given most Episcopal congregations operate on simply repeating what they have always done.  This means that any approach that gets church leaders to think systematically about their church will generally improve things.  Further, the survey and application approach bases the plan on analysis of the present situation in a church.  This is never a bad idea.  These approaches do have limitations and they are not my preferred way of developing congregations.  What really astonishes me is when I hear of some Episcopal Diocese that has decided to make one of them their general approach to all congregations. One thing that I have done which such dioceses have not is to analyze congregations where these approaches have not worked.  

The Limitations
So here are some of the limitations I have found with these approaches: 

1.        Some programs assume that growth of churches is “natural” and follows a straight upward line as long as certain issues are attended to.  Natural Church Development and The Purpose Driven Church both follow the evangelical assumptions of the Fuller Church Growth Institute.  I would summarize these as “Real Churches are evangelistic churches and these churches will grow naturally unless something non-Gospel oriented or artificial interferes with this growth.”  

Often these approaches do not fit well with historic, sacramental churches.  Episcopal congregations that use these approaches often have to adapt the language to fit our context.  Further, is growth a constant and straight line affair?  Congregational research reveals that long-term growth is almost always a series of growth periods followed by plateaus.  In development understanding, plateaus follow a time of growth as the “system” adapts to the changes that the growth has produced.  Just observe any teenager to see how this works.   

2.        Such approaches often work best with larger congregations.  When I was rector of St. Luke’s in Seattle, we introduced a pastoral small group model for the congregation.  Within six months, the congregation was the largest it had ever been with ASA running between 450 and 500.  However, we introduced this into an already programmatic size, multi-staffed congregation by training new leaders over a three month period.  Second, we allowed many of the present members to opt out of this new approach and applied it most directly to new members.  I have found that the Purpose Driven Approach has seemed to work best when introduced to transitional and program size churches.  

Why is this so, because the obstacles and resistances to growth in smaller size churches are rooted solidly in the complex social relationships among current members.  This is enhanced often with a small church mentality, “We like our small church because we know everyone here.”   

By the way, one of my successors believed that lay people should not meet in small groups unless the pastor was present.  Today that congregation’s ASA is around 25.  This is not the only reason for the church’s decline, but it was a significant one.  

3.       Such approaches often work best in newer congregations.  Most church plants that become larger congregations tend to start with a systematic approach for reaching new members such as small group discipleship classes.  Every new church without buildings, Rose Windows, and an altar guild to sustain it, needs a methodology to hold it together.  I always ask a new church planter what is your vision for this church, what are the core values, and what is the proven methodology that you will use to attract and assimilate new members.  

4.       Such approaches often work when there is a dynamic and directive clergy person who believes in the methodology and persists in it. Of course, I’ve seen many situations where the methodology failed and the pastor either left or was removed.  However, if you discover one of these approaches and believe with your whole heart it is Jesus’ way for the church, than by all means find a congregation that will follow it or start a new one.   

The Alternative
For me the alternative is Congregational Development.  This approach is more complex, more nuanced, and often takes more patience.  It is the way of working with congregations that I first learned from Lyle Schaller.  It is based on anthropology, psychology, organizational development, and a good dose of historical and ecclesiastical experience.  When we start with this perspective, we assume the following: 

1.       Congregations are complex communities made up of unique leaders and members.  Obviously, one size cannot fit all. 

2.       The size and history of a congregation often determines which steps can best work and which ones will not take. 

3.       All congregations have developmental areas. The local leaders are the best people to determine which areas need their attention. 

4.       Not all congregations have growth potential. 

5.       Some congregations will decline, and death is part of life.  

6.       There is no idea, no matter how great, championed by a judicatory that cannot be easily sabotaged by people on the local level. 

7.       Health is a better goal for congregations than continuing growth. 

8.       Growth is often a bi-product of other activities. 

9.       Aiming exclusively at growth can create unhealthy and anxious congregations. 

10.   Not all growth is good.  Cancer is a growth. 

11.   Dysfunctional behavior is a fact of life. 

12.   If there was a pill or a program that would fix all churches, there would not be a list of different programs.  All these would have long ago been abandoned for the one that works! 

In my next blog, I intend to start a series that builds on what I learned from Lyle Schaller about working with congregations.    



Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Three Important Aspects of Leadership

                As a leader who has had the privilege of teaching other leaders, I like to point out three areas for growth and awareness: personality, style, and skills.
                The first of these is personality.  Many of us have benefited from the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory.  This measures such things as introversion and extroversion, sensing and intuition, feeling and thinking, judging and perceiving.  This tool helps me understand the way I see the world.  It also helps we understand what energizes me and what stresses me.  As a slightly introverted person, I always find Sunday mornings stressful because of the number of social interactions required of a clergy person along with the need to be aware of all the things going on.  I prefer to withdraw on Sunday afternoons and get quiet.  My best friend is a strong extrovert.  He preferred to make parish visits and hospital calls after Sunday services.   

                Over the years, folks have asked me if there is a better profile for clergy.  I point out that there is really no virtue in one’s personality profile.  I have known very effective clergy of all types.  The secret is finding a way to do what you love and being attentive to what will bring stress.  I have also learned that leaders under stress tend to fall back on our strengths.  This tends to make the stress even more difficult.  Of course, a personality profile is different from character, especially integrity which is the ability of the leader to do the right thing when tempted to do something else. 

                The second aspect is that of style.  I learned many years ago that each of us has a preferred style of leading.  For example, my preferred style is collaborative and cooperative.  I work best in teams of peers.  Because of this preferred style, I am less comfortable with a directive style or a when I need to delegate even though I know that there are times when such leadership would be more effective.  Over the years, I have used a survey tool to help clergy identify their preferred style.  Then I help them see when their preferred style might hinder their effectiveness.  

                When you are a leader of a group that needs your preferred style, things tend to go well.  The problem comes when we are forced to provide leadership with groups that need another style.  I have found when things are not going well to stop and step back to think about the issue of style.  This keeps me from blaming the group or community for being “so difficult.”  This also explains why some clergy can do very well in one congregation and then find that the next one they serve is very difficult.  

                The third aspect is skills.  This is the subject of many books on leadership that rightfully point out important abilities of effective leaders.  Here the key word is “effective.”  For me leadership isn’t usually good or bad, but effective or ineffective.  For example, I find that effective leaders are good communicators.  Effective communication can be learned, or said another way, with work I can get better at it.  

                I consider that a good leader is committed to life-long growth.  This means identifying areas for skill development.  For example, I spent years as a Rector leading vestry meetings.  Many times these would go on for hours with little accomplished and much frustration.  Then one day, I picked up a book titled “Running Effective Meetings.”  It helped.  Today I consider a vestry meeting longer than 2 hours an ineffective one.  In the church environment, we often assume that ordination conveys all the skills one would need to lead effectively.  I have long ago renounced that idea.  

                Of course, being skilled does not guarantee that a leader will do the right thing.  I have learned that skills are always an adornment to character.  Character can never be seen as an adornment to skills.  We have all seen the damage that a skilled but unprincipled leader can do in a community.  The very pressure of leadership often brings to the surface the major character flaw of a leader.  Scripture is full of such examples, think Saul, David, and Solomon.  

                These three aspects of leadership are important for any leader.  I have found understanding my personality, understanding my style and the needs of different groups, and developing a plan for improving my skills enabled me to be a more effective leader.  Of course, all this means that as a clergy person I have accepted that I am a leader.  No every clergy person feels this way.  Over the years, I have encountered three attitudes among clergy about leadership.  I would describe them this way: 

The Instinctive or Natural Leader – This type leader acts instinctively.  They usually are resistant to learning about leadership.  They often do well because they instinctively find groups that need their preferred style of leadership.  They sometimes write books on leadership, and the thesis is always “This is how I lead, and you should too!”  I also find that when their preferred style does not seem to work they blame the community, at the extreme demonizing people in it.  In other words, they lack insight. 

The Agent – These are the Priests that insist they are not leaders.  Their calling is to celebrate the Eucharist, hear confessions, visit the sick, and give counsel to the needy.   Often, these persons work best in a structured environment such as a hospital or institution ministry where their roles are clearly defined.  Can such persons learn how to more effectively lead a congregation?  Of course they can.  Yet, I often find that their sense of “identity” keeps them from working at it.  I consider this a resistance to change. 

The Growing Leader – This is the 80% of the rest of us.  We know we are called to leadership.  Life and experience teach us that a part of our vocation is to get better at it.  I have been fortunate that in every stage of my development as a leader, I have had role models and examples of other leaders who have helped me grow in that calling. All have had insight into themselves, integrity, and have made life-long learning an important part of their lives.