“The tree this year is monkeys”

by Sarai Rice

As I write this, we are just hours away from the beginning of what I call “Happy-Thanks-Merry,” that period in the calendar year when secular and religious holidays align to create five golden weeks of charitable giving (and non-charitable spending). It was during this time last year that I heard the single most tantalizing statement I’ve ever heard in a council, session, or board meeting—an elderly woman’s announcement to the group that “the tree this year is monkeys.”

I was sitting with the council, waiting for my opportunity to explain why I hoped this small congregation would contribute to the capital campaign of the non-profit I direct, and even though it wasn’t my turn yet, I had to ask— read more

The Self-Organizing Congregation

by Sarai Rice
Most congregations occupy buildings. They gather for meetings around long or round tables in the library or parlor. They worship in the sanctuary. They learn in classrooms. And when they want to eat, they organize in the kitchen and sit together in the fellowship hall. Their buildings have been designed for these kinds of activities, and these activities are shaped by their buildings.

How, then, does a congregation imagine a new way of being “church” that is adapted to social media rather than meetings as a primary way to connect? 

Visual Cues, or Sometimes You Can Tell a Church By Its Cover

by Sarai Schnucker Rice

Six years ago, I made my very first trip overseas – to New Zealand – and it was fabulous! Breathtaking scenery, generous people, amazing art. With the exception of the indigenous Maori culture, which was literally another world, I felt like I “got” everything about the country.

My next trip? China. And again it was fabulous, but this time I “got” nothing. I couldn’t automatically tell whether someone was well-off or not. I couldn’t distinguish one neighborhood from another. I had no way to process cultural norms like split pants or outdoor kitchens. That’s when I realized for the first time that I carry in my brain an enormous vocabulary of visual cues that didn’t apply in China, and that I was used to processing these cues at lightning speed without even noticing.

We do this with churches all the time – we look at the building and draw conclusions without even noticing.

How do we practice change?

by Sarai Schnucker Rice
Congregations unavoidably, inescapably, inevitably, unalterably change. Which is really a good thing, of course, or we would still be lighting our sanctuaries with candles and timing our sermons with sundials.

So, given the inevitably of change, how do we make it possible for our congregations to move their furniture around, sing different songs, change staff, and follow God’s ongoing call to them without coming apart in the process? How do we practice change?

Does Size Matter?

by Sarai Schnucker Rice
Congregational life has very few reliable metrics, and when we think we’ve found one, we all seize upon it, grateful for some measure of certainty in an otherwise murky world.

For example, it seems as if we’ve been talking forever about family, pastor, and program. Even without any additional information, you’ve probably already recognized that these are categories of congregational size based on worship attendance. Family-sized congregations see an average of 1-50 in church, pastor-sized congregations see 50-150, and program-sized congregations see 150-250. Family-sized congregations are usually gathered around a matriarch, pastor-sized congregations around a pastor, and program-sized around a pastor plus a few very part-time staff plus a host of volunteers, all of whom are usually exhausted.

What Should a Minister Be Good At?

by Sarai Schnucker Rice

As it turns out, not Greek and Hebrew.

Or at least not only Greek and Hebrew.

And even if the list of things to be good at were to include all the other usual subjects taught in seminary—Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament, New Testament, systematic theology, liturgy, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, all the spiritual disciplines, and 2000 years of church history—not even these would be all that a minister should be good at, because none of these will have taught the minister how to manage an organization.

What Should a Congregation Be Good At?

by Sarai Schnucker Rice
Congregational leadership is actually always collective, not singular. In a continual process of discernment, decision-making, praying, studying, and shared living, the faith leader and members together create the congregation. Sometimes they do a good job together and other times not so much, but each brings something to the table and each is responsible for the congregation’s faithfulness.