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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

Tips and Principles for Congregational Consultants

Rachel on Unsplash

Have you ever thought of trying congregational consulting? Lots of people think of this—and for most, the fancy passes. But if you have energy, the right experience, and strong speaking and writing skills, consulting could be a good sideline, or even a career, for you. I’d like to share some tips and principles that have helped make consulting work for me.

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Learning to Get Big Projects Done

Young adults working and laughing together

Grand visions have their place, as does strategic planning. But before a congregation can think freely and creatively about the future, it needs to believe it has what it takes to carry out whatever plans it makes. For a quick boost to congregational self-confidence, there’s nothing like succeeding at a project. So if your congregation needs its mojo boosted, it might be time to brush up your skills at leading projects.

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Know-how and Decide-what

It is a truth all but universally acknowledged—especially in small congregations—that whoever does the work should call the shots. Musicians are responsible for music, educators manage children’s programs, activists organize for social change. In the chancel, everyone defers to the altar guild. The underlying principle is clear: “Those with know-how should decide-how!”

But sometimes we go even further and let people who know how also decide what the congregation should be trying to accomplish. I want to propose an improved rule: “Those with know-how should decide-how, but everyone should have a voice when we decide-what.”

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Reorganizing, Now That You’re Smaller

Photo by Hanna Morris on Unsplash

“We don’t have enough people to fill all of our positions.” I hear this complaint a lot, especially in congregations that are smaller than they used to be. Their official structure may call for a dozen or more boards and committees. Add it all up, and a congregation that sees 50 people on its pews feels obliged to fill up 60 or more seats around committee tables. Streamlining the official structure is a challenge, but with a clear plan and some determination, it can be done.

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The End of the Race to Be Lax

lazy dog
Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The most lasting legacy of the Covid epidemic may not be the new ways people can show up, important as those are. The most lasting legacy may be new ways of thinking about when and whether to show up. For congregations, the era of attracting people by low expectations may have come to a belated end.

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Craft and Creativity in Ministry

The world has changed—perhaps you’ve heard!—and congregations must adapt in order to thrive in the future. I agree, but want to add that adaptation requires creativity, and the seedbed of creativity is craft—attention to the basics handed down to us through time.

Preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration—the craft of parish ministry covers a wide gamut. Few of us excel across the board; all of us depend on others to supply what we cannot. The craft of ministry is ancient, though the specifics vary across time, geography, and faith traditions. Craft is a way of doing things rooted in the past—but without craft, how can we tackle future opportunities? To flourish long-term, leaders need to walk the paradox of craft and creativity. 

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