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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

Are Growth and Decline the Only Options?

Photo by Christopher Carson on Unsplash

Some of the congregations I interact with are growing, but most are in decline. Membership, attendance, energy, enthusiasm, and financial support shrink slowly over time. Some of these declining congregations—the ones who think they can’t be a church without their building, for example, or who want to keep doing exactly what they’ve always done but hope that someone else will step up to take over the work—leave me praying for a quick end. But others—the easygoing ones that are adaptable, kind to each other, and generous with their neighbors—are a delight.

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In Praise of Small Congregations

We live in a society that assumes larger is better. But as Isaiah wrote, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (55:8) Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that Jesus challenged the assumption that larger is better: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Jesus’ words point not only to a theological truth, but also to a scientific fact.

What I No Longer Believe about Congregations

Susan Nienaber
For most of my consulting practice, I “held certain truths to be self-evident.” I used to believe, for instance, that many congregations had declined so far they could not possibly revitalize—but I have changed my mind.

Just Try a Few Things

by Sarai Rice
These are tough times for mature congregations. You know the ones I mean– congregations with parlors and organs and portrait galleries of past ministers (and carpets that can’t be spilled on and furniture that can’t be moved and relics that can’t be thrown away). Most of our congregations are like this, even though by now most Christians go to some other kind of congregation or just don’t go.

Can Small Congregations Change?

J. Chein Church Bank
Ed Berg – Wikimedia

by Sarai Rice

No question is more vexing to me than this one, because I see so many small congregations struggling with the tendency of a body at rest to stay at rest. It’s a relevant question, too, for students of congregational life, given that the median size of a congregation in this country is currently 75, only 11% of Christians worship in such congregations, and most are experiencing decline. Lots of seminars and workshops have been spawned on the subject, with the same implicit subtext–can small churches change in order to grow?

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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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