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The Congregational Consulting Group, organized in 2014 by former consultants of the Alban Institute, is a network of independent consultants. We publish PERSPECTIVES for Congregational Leaders—thoughts on topics of interest to leaders of congregations and other purpose-driven organizations. —  Dan Hotchkiss, editor

Option 5: Grow to a size where you can afford full-time clergy

[This article is part 5 of the series Crunch Time for Small Congregations.]

When faced with the prospect that they can no longer support a full-time, seminary-trained pastor or rabbi, many congregations set a goal that they will grow to a size where supporting this style of ministry is once again possible. In those cases where the current financial crunch is a temporary glitch in an otherwise healthy picture of numerical, spiritual, and financial growth, a size-change initiative may be viable.

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Option 4: Secure an authorized lay pastor or locally ordained clergy

[This article is part 4 of the series Crunch Time for Small Congregations.]

Several denominations have alternative methods by which persons might be trained, ordained, or licensed to provide leadership in a congregation without seminarytrained clergy, or as part of a ministry team in a cluster situation. Generally speaking, such arrangements are most effective in regions where they are widely used, and where the denomination provides a significant resource system for congregations implementing alternative ministry structures.

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Option 6: End well

[This article is part 6 of the series Crunch Time for Small Congregations.]

When a congregation is considering its options, I believe it is healthy to put “holy death” on the list—to face the possibility of closing squarely and openly. There is nothing shameful in admitting that the particular purpose we were here to serve in an earlier time has now run its course, and that God has not given us—as a congregation—either a new purpose or the new energies to launch a fresh chapter in our story.

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Option 2: Merge with Other Congregations

[This article is part 2 of the series Crunch Time for Small Congregations.] When churches and synagogues face new economic pressures, they sometimes consider merging. In this section we will take up three questions: What different forms can “merger” take? What is a “successful” merger? What have other congregations learned about merging that might apply …

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Option 1: Shift from Full-time to Part-time Clergy

[This article is part 1 of the series Crunch Time for Small Congregations.]

A smaller congregation may occasionally hit a temporary rough patch, cut back the clergy position to three-quarters or half-time, and then restore the full-time position when the immediate issue is resolved. Many of the challenges facing smaller congregations today, however, are less like hitting a “bump in the road” than they are like driving down a long, long grade into a mountain pass; the issues the congregation faces are long-term realities, and it often takes more permanent adjustments in thinking and practice to put the church’s life on solid footing. Restructuring ministry around a part-time clergy position is one option.

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Crunch Time in Smaller Congregations

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Many smaller congregations find themselves facing a choice point right now—a moment when their current ministry arrangements have broken down and alternatives must be considered. The most important advice I can offer you as a leader is this: Stop and look at all the options—no matter how far-fetched or unpalatable some of them may seem. You may still proceed with your first idea, but you will be much clearer about why you are doing it and what it will take to make that option work well.

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