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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

A Season of Letting Go

In several parts of my life, I feel a sense of letting go—as I transition into a new professional role, let go of some things in my personal life and identity, and shake off this reluctant Minnesota winter that won’t quite let me go. As a clergyperson in the United Methodist Church, I sense that we have now entered a season of letting go, as our time of denominational separation has arrived.

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Some Very Good News

In a time when congregations and clergy are dealing with a lot of challenging issues, there is most definitely good news to celebrate. Congregations are more open to change today than at any time in my career as a pastor and consultant. During the pandemic, we learned a great deal about ourselves personally and as congregations. One of the most important and long overdue learnings: we need to change.

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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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Play and the Revival of the Church

I consult mostly with congregations of the former Protestant mainline. Occasionally someone asks why I continue with this work when it seems so clear that the end is coming—not just for these congregations but for their denominations as well. I agree that the end is coming—not of ekklesia, only of the form of congregational life so many of us grew up with. Embedded in that form are bits of our life together that I am convinced we and God can use to create something new if we allow ourselves to play.

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Innovating Into an Unknown Future

Many are turning to planning now, trying to coax order out of the chaos. It would be lovely if planning resolved liminality. It doesn’t.

Plans create an artificial sense of control, but they cannot resolve the deep disorientation of a liminal season—a season in which something has ended but a new thing is not yet ready to begin. In fact, the wrong plan will distract you from the innovation needed to thrive in the next chapter.

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Lemons or Lemurs: Telling a New Story of Your Church

photo by Sarai Rice

Most of us who do church work are familiar with the notion of the congregational lifecycle. It’s a bell-shaped curve: starting at the left with birth, congregations move through formation to reach peak stability. Then they start to move back down toward decline and ultimately death—unless we do something to change the curve.

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