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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

The Board’s Job in Times of Rapid Change

Congregations currently face many choices: How and when will we begin to gather in person for worship and indoor activities? What kind of worship, education, and outreach makes sense, after all that young people and adults have been through? Which postponed projects should take priority in this time?

Governing boards know they should be giving leadership, but many don’t know how. Instead, they spend their time as they did before: listening to reports, delving into the details that interest them, rehashing conversations they and others have had before.

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Two Kinds of Customers

“I Love My Church.” It was the slogan for a capital fund drive at the little church where I belong. I turned to our treasurer, sitting in the pew behind me—he is, like me, a bit of a grump—and said, “I have mixed feelings about my church. What should I do?” To my great pleasure, he replied, “Get over it. Give money anyway.”

That’s the spirit! A church is more than a buyer’s club, a co-op that delivers maximum religious benefit to members at the lowest cost. A good congregation puts its shoulder to a bigger wheel: transforming lives in ways no one can predict, in harmony with the congregation’s purpose. Our success is measured by the good we do, not by how satisfied we are.

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Learning to Underreact

Criticism: it’s ubiquitous in congregations. No matter how we leaders pretzel-twist ourselves to please people, we fall short—and there are always helpful, caring people who will take the time to tell us so!

The worst thing we can do is overreact. Whether by proclaiming innocence or by fighting criticism with more criticism, leaders who respond too strongly only up the emotional ante. That’s why underreacting is a key skill for every leader.

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Learning from the CDC’s Mistakes

There’s no reason to expect scientists to be especially good at telling people what to do about an epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has done a great job of learning about viral transmission and evaluating treatments and vaccines. In front of the microphones, they’ve scored a B+ at best. Their main …

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Staffing When You Can’t Afford to Staff

Leaders of small congregations often say, “We can’t afford to hire as many people as we need.” Leaders of large congregations say the same thing! If your vision is ambitious, you will always need more staff than you can afford, no matter what resources you have at your disposal. Fortunately, there is another way.

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Two Kinds of Planning

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” This military paradox, memorably stated by President Dwight Eisenhower, is particularly salient for congregations in this moment. So much has changed, so much is changing. Planning can seem useless when we are so likely to be forced to lay our plans aside and improvise. Some say the world is changing so fast that “planning” is outmoded altogether.

I disagree.

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What Should I Do about the Elders?

Reproduction doorknob
W.C. Vaughan doorknob, vintage 1978

When I was a young seminarian, I worked in a factory that made doorknobs for historic buildings. In class I studied new, improved ideas about faith and life. At the W.C. Vaughan Company—working with Joe, Homer, and Fred—I learned to value what my elders had to teach.

That was more than forty years ago! Today pastors often ask me, “What should I do about the Elders?” They’re talking about the old guard—longtime and former leaders. Different congregations call them Deacons, Past Presidents, the Women’s Fellowship, or something else. Sometimes Elders have no formal name at all—but rest assured, if your congregation has existed for more than a decade, they do exist! Like Joe, Homer, and Fred, they can be challenging, but have a lot to teach.

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