Archive for Congregations

A Look Back at 2018

Over the past year, at the Center for Congregational Health, we have experienced many changes, some that were natural and easy and some that were unanticipated and arduous. Les Robinson, frequently says that congregations are in a state of continuous change. We see this clearly in relation to congregations dealing with pastoral transitions, however, we all are always in a state of continuous change.  Bill Pasmore, of the Center for Creative Leadership says,

"Change is multifaceted, complex, and continuous. What seems to be a single change is anything but — it is a complex change that competes for time, attention, and resources with other changes that are already underway, and those changes yet to be conceived…Every day, you face complex, continuous change, which is defined, as a series of overlapping, never-ending,planned, and unplanned changes that are interdependent, difficult to execute, and either cannot — or should not — be ignored." ( [])

A most significant change for us happened in June when our long-time colleague, friend, and provider of oversight for all things having to do with Interim Ministry, Dr. Les Robinson, was officially retired and ended his 23 years of service and leadership with the Center for Congregational Health.

Over the past six months we have worked to continue to offer assistance to congregations in transition as well as to find partners to continue to provide training for intentional interim ministers.  (You can read more about what will be happening in 2019 in the next blog post.)

In the midst of this change we have continued to be invited by congregations to facilitate custom designed processes for:  dreaming into the future, seeking healthy ways to manage challenges and conflict, discerning if it is time for a congregation to close, working through the in-between times and transition to calling a new pastor. We have continued to offer coaching for clergy, faith groups, staff teams and our denominational partners.  We have continued to offer training events for church leaders, consultants, coaches and workshops for denominational and clergy gatherings.

Also, this year we developed a closer working relationship with the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University and together applied for a Lily Foundation’s Thriving in Ministry grant.  The WFU School of Divinity received the nearly $1 million grant that will greatly impact our work over the next 5 years.

2018 was a year that offered challenge and celebration and we are excited to continue to offer assistance and resources for congregations, clergy and judicatories in the coming year.

Posted in: Coaching, Congregations, Consulting, Interim Ministry

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WHAT’S YOUR PLAN? For Increasing Financial Stewardship in your Church

In congregations with generous giving, leaders plan for the stewardship results they want, and need. Last years’ and last minute ideas thrown into a jumbled mix are rarely successful and can be damaging not only for one year, but for years to come. Stewardship teams work best when they invest time and energy in advance to be sure that they are properly organized to achieve the results they desire.

Successful stewardship comes from an organized effort. So, do you have a plan? Is it carefully thought through and prayed through? Does it have priority in the life of the church from the staff and lay leaders? Does it build on effective principles of growing generosity?  Does it include all aspects of a unified approach to growing generosity?

The following questions will aid you in getting organized for successful stewardship in your congregation. By fully considering these questions, you should arrive at the answers you need to move confidently ahead. You will have a plan.

  1. What’s your goal?  The more mission-oriented your goal, the better results you can expect.
  2. Who’s on your team?  Be sure to represent men, women, younger ages and newer members.
  3. Why care about stewardship?  Because you care about your members’ growing in Christ?
  4. When’s your timetable?  Will you set aside weeks for storytelling messages and testimonies?
  5. Where will you ask?  Pulpit ministry and worship testimonies are vitally important.
  6. How will you follow up?  A good plan with a strong start and regular reports of success works best.
  7. What resources will you use?  Will you attend a stewardship / generosity conference that promises to help you answer all these questions and then leave with a plan developed just for your congregation?

Stewardship is serious business for it reveals our true motivations, and gods. Stewardship is all we do with all we have to carry out our God-given purposes as individuals and congregations. Stewardship is also joyful business for generous giving will lead us into the life that is truly life.


Ruben Swint, Generosity Guy




Posted in: Congregations

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It’s time for action, but what action?

The latest research from the ongoing, multi-year, Hartford Institute study on American congregational life (FACT, 2015) confirms what most people involved in the life of a church already know. Most American congregations find themselves in a challenging situation: continued declines in Sunday worship attendance, declining revenue from giving, fewer growing congregations, a lack of spiritual vitality, and a drop in the number of congregations with full-time clergy, just to name a few of the bad-news findings. The good news is that the challenges facing congregations often drive them to action. The question is, “what action?”

Congregations often feel stumped by what’s happening and unsure what to do in order to address what seems like a complex aggregation of challenges. When faced with so many issues at once--money, facilities, attendance, engagement, volunteerism, etc., the tendency is often to look for a big, complex, high-level “solution.” These can take many forms, but may include replacing the pastoral staff, structural reorganization, changing worship times or format or style, instituting new programs and ministries, renovating facilities, or even changing the physical location of the church. While in some individual cases, one or many of these actions might be helpful, they can also easily fail to have the hoped-for impact. Why?

In many cases, what is needed is not so much a single, complex, high-level action plan, as a deep, honest look in the mirror. Maybe what’s needed is not so much answering the “what should we do” question, but instead answering the questions of “why and how we do what we do.” Many congregations think they are “warm and friendly,” but they really aren’t. Many think they don’t need to demonstrate overt hospitality to people they don’t know, but they do. Many assume the congregation will thrive if they have a great staff do “do” the ministry, but it won’t. People still come to congregations needing the same things they have always needed--love and relationship--with God and with God’s people. And how God’s people act makes all the difference in whether or not they experience these things.

For congregations with long histories, it’s easy to lose track of the congregation’s deeper mission and vision. Living in the shadow of the institutional church (even a small one), it’s easy to forget how important it is to simply be the people of God--kind, loving, welcoming, nurturing, and forgiving. The institutional church was built upon these deeply valued, personal and interpersonal qualities, and if a congregation wants to thrive again, reclaiming these qualities is a great starting point.


Roozen, D. A. (2016). FACT 2015 Thriving & Surviving - American-Congregations-2015.pdf. Retrieved February 3, 2017, from

Written by Rev. Christopher R. Gambill, Ph.D.

Posted in: Congregations, Future

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End of 2016

As we move toward the end of 2016, we have been reflecting on our work over the past year and diligently working on the training and event schedule for 2017.  We want to hear from you what you experienced and what will be helpful for you in the coming year.  (Survey)

In the past year, The Center for Congregational Health offered three tiers of Interim Ministry training: 1--a three-day course focused on the role of the interim minister as they work with a congregation during a transition between pastors. 2--a five day course, plus approximately six months of fieldwork following the classroom work that allows participants to practice and hone newly acquired skills.  3--a three-day course that prepares intentional interim ministers to serve as transition facilitators.  We offered our church consultant training, The Art of Consulting with Faith Communities. Two times we offered the Vital Mergers workshop with our colleague Dirk Elliott sharing about his work of helping congregations to join with others to increase the presence and missional impact on communities.  In addition to those events we participated in several denominational gatherings leading workshops and talking with individuals about the possibilities within their own congregations. Also, we have continued to offer our consulting and coaching services to many congregations, denominational leaders, clergy and lay leaders, and our staff have been faculty for various programs beyond the day-to-day work that the Center for Congregational Health does, including teaching at the Divinity School at Wake Forest University, partnering to build a D.Min program tract with Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta), and serving as faculty and advisors for the CBF Fellows program, for clergy serving in their first call beyond seminary/divinity school.

As we look toward 2017, we are planning to increase our offerings to help clergy and laity function in healthier congregations/organizations and we believe that you and your congregation can and do make a difference in the communities where you are.  We will be adding back to our training list a coach training that will offer assistance/guidance for any leader to use coaching skills as well as a more advanced coach training for those who wish to build more intentional and professional coaching relationships.  We will work to offer resources and events that help clergy to function in a healthy manner--caring for self and ministering to others, and to find appropriate professional support as you seek to navigate change in church and society and lead others through the changing landscape of life and congregations.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing new dates and opportunities with you.  We hope you will check our website often and join us as a partner in the work that we are called to do.

Posted in: Coaching, Congregations, Consulting, Interim Ministry, Leadership

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November 9, 2016

by Beth Kennett

Today, the Church—and any community that encourages belonging, love and acceptance—has an opportunity to boldly step into the present and lead the way into the future. Today, I embrace this idea more strongly than other days. Today, our nation, with ripples throughout the world, exists in a state of significant divide. Regardless of how one voted, or didn’t, yesterday—today we see numbers of division. While those numbers represent our country’s political state, the division has gone far beyond our political candidates and the politics of governing and has infused into many aspects of daily life, and even church life. As faith communities we are called to love and build a relationship with God our Creator and to build communities to share faith, hope, peace and love with others. Today, may we be the Church and bridge the divide. Today, may we be the Church and share God’s love with others. Today, may we be the Church and build community in and with all of creation.

Through the Center for Congregational Health, we frequently help congregations to think about and live into being a healthy church. Healthy congregations frequently exhibit 5 characteristics—they have a clear sense of identity, they know who they are, where they are and what their purpose is; they seek to build a strong sense of community where people feel connected and matter; healthy congregations work at communicating who they are and what they do, both internally and externally so that members and others can decide how and when to engage; healthy congregations understand that all members will not always agree and at times there will be conflict, they create plans and processes for when there is conflict so they can manage and work with it in a manner that is healthy and not detrimental; and healthy congregations know that change is always happening and they seek ways to respond faithfully to change, ways that engage the community to grow and practice who they are and who God calls them to be.

A healthy church can be an example for society on how to move through challenges and division. A healthy church can be a respite from the chaos and hurt that happens in our world. A healthy church can be a place where people find love, acceptance and belonging. A healthy church can be the leader in bringing hope and peace to a divided nation.

My prayer today is that you have a healthy church to connect with and that your healthy church will be a leader for others in loving people and healing divide. Amen.

Posted in: Congregations

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Vital Merger: Joining Church Families Together

By Dirk Elliott

DownRiver Church celebrated its first worship service as a new church start on July 7, 2013, with 186 people in attendance.  DownRiver is a Vital Merger of four churches in the Detroit area.  In December, 2012, each of these four churches voted, with over a seventy percent majority, to become a new church together.   On July 7, 2013, Carlisle UM Church also celebrated their first worship service as a new church.  Carlisle UMC is a Vital Merger of three churches.  They celebrated their first worship service together at the grandstand of the Carlisle Fairgrounds.  Over 600 people attended their first worship service in their newly remodeled and updated facility on July 14.

These two examples of Vital Mergers provide a model of merging churches in a way that produces a healthy new church.  As a Vital Merger, they made commitments to each other to:

  • Sell all church buildings and relocate to a new location
  • Worship in a neutral location from the day of the official merger
  • Reset the new congregation’s focus on the mission field and begin new ministries to reach the new mission field
  • Receive a pastor that has been assessed and trained as a church planter
  • Choose a name that is not a part of the name of any of the merging churches

Sometimes, people hear the word “merger," with anxiety because it implies uncertain change. Some people view the idea of a merger as a hostile takeover with winners and losers. Others immediately see issues involving loss of identity. Any kind of merger requires foundational change that on the surface, tends to feel impersonal. Still others may point to a merger that did nothing but more of the same.

It is true that some church mergers have failed to create health, growth, and vital ministry.  What makes the difference? The answer often lies in the process used to vision, transition, blend cultures, and form healthy leadership-teams.

Church mergers take various forms. Traditionally, the most common form has been two or more churches deciding to consolidate their resources by moving into the best facility they already own and retaining only one pastor. These mergers rarely bear the fruitful ministry anticipated by the merging churches.  While there may be occasional exceptions, often the resulting congregation from this traditional form of merger will eventually lose participation and decrease in attendance to the size of the larger church before the merger. So instead of 1+3=4, you get 1+3+ much drama = 3.  Often, the lack of fruitfulness and growth in traditional mergers stems from its primary motivation: the need to survive rather than the need to further its mission.

Research of traditional mergers from 2000 to 2015 reveals that traditional mergers have not brought the significant growth that the merging churches had anticipated. A study of thirty-three mergers during this time showed that twenty eight churches never achieved the worship attendance of the combined worship of the merging churches. In fact, twenty-two of the merged churches lost the equivalent of the attendance of the smaller church within one year.  Traditional mergers seldom result in the growth or health of churches.

In response to the poor results of traditional mergers, while addressing the fact that many churches can no longer be viable as a single-church parish, a new model of merger is needed to decrease potential conflict and increase healthy growth. The Vital Merger model was developed over a ten-year period, working with the pastors and lay leaders of several mergers.

Instead of consolidating resources, the Vital Merger strategy creates a new church—a healthy, growing, new-church-start with a fresh focus on the mission field and new ways of doing ministry. Using a Biblical metaphor, the traditional merger is attempting to pour new wine into old wineskins. The Vital Merger, on the other hand, creates new wine that is poured into a new wineskin.  Vital Mergers create new churches that are stronger, healthier, and more fruitful than any of the individual churches were before the merger.  Attendance is greater than the combination of the merging churches, finances are healthier, and more people are involved in mission and ministry.  

Vital Mergers have worked with churches in urban, suburban and rural areas.  Small churches have merged together, as well as mid-sized and large churches.  The churches need to commit to work together as partners, agreeing to the five basic commitments, and have a willingness to be in ministry together.

Want to learn more about vital mergers?

Dirk has successfully led congregations in vital mergers all across the United States. He will personally lead a Vital Merger workshop on December 1, 2016 at First Baptist Church, Decatur, GA from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm.  The workshop is sponsored by the Center for Congregational Health. You can register for the workshop by clicking here.

Dirk’s book, Vital Merger: A New Church Start Approach that Joins Church Families Together, will be available for purchase at the workshop. You can also pick up a copy at  Vital Merger is a practical handbook that outlines the key elements necessary for a Vital Merger and provides instructions for exploring, beginning, and walking through the Vital Merger process.  The advice, examples, and stories are taken from actual churches that have merged—including processes and practices that have and have not worked well. The stories from these churches inform and infuse the process with authentic insight and witness.

Posted in: Congregations, Consulting, Future, Leadership, Ministers

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Appreciative Approach to Congregational Work

by Beth Kennett

An approach to working with congregations or groups of any kind is to use an appreciative approach, asking for and encouraging the group, and individuals, to focus on and appreciate what works.  Several books and processes have been created to help organizations do this positive work.  In November, we are partnering with the Clergy Leadership Institute to bring you a four day training to introduce Appreciative Coaching, and two workshops on forgiveness and letting go of resentment--one for those who work with individuals to let go and one for individuals who are ready to let go.

An appreciative approach to congregational work helps congregations to acknowledge the best of who they are and the best of their past, to discern and determine where and how God is inviting them into the future.

There are some basic assumptions in appreciative work, (the following are taken from the Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, Copyright, 1996 by Sue Hammond):

  1. In every society, organization, or group, something works.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. The experience of reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple experiences of reality.
  4. The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.
  5. People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past with them.
  6. If we carry parts of the past forward, they should be what is best about the past.
  7. It is important to value differences.
  8. The language we use creates our reality.

Two Additional Assumptions (articulated by Rob Voyle)

  1. At any given moment people are doing the best they know how to do in that context at that time.
  2. The deepest longing of the human heart is for acceptance The only change outcomes that will be sustainable are those that result from greater self-acceptance.

Join us in November to work with this positive approach and learn how to use this concept to help your congregation and/or organization to embrace the best of who they are as they determine next steps for the future.

Posted in: Congregations, Future, Leadership

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Thursday Morning Conversation, Oct. 6, 10 am–What to do when your church is experiencing conflict  

Join us for a conversation at 10 am, October 6.   Call information: 641.715.3300, access code 165517#

The Center for Congregational Health has had a lot of calls about church conflict lately, almost daily over the past month.  Why is this? What is going on?  I have a theory, it is October! People are getting settled into a routine after the chaos of summer, and they are still pulled in too many directions; congregations are doing budget planning, recruiting volunteers, and everyone is tired.  Our staff will discuss some options for addressing, moving through and managing conflict in your congregation.  

Posted in: Congregations

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What does the “Next” Church look like?

Over the past week, I have been involved in several conversations about the church of the future, or the “next” church.  People usually approach this conversation from one of two perspectives—either, fear and concern for the future of the Church, especially the perspective that the church is dying and their will be no church; or excitement that the institutional church, as we have known it, will die and we can create something brand new.

I believe there are more options and perspectives than those two. What about the churches who are responding to God’s invitation to meet people where they are and minister, sharing God’s love with others? What about the churches who are creating safe spaces for all of God’s children? What about the churches who are discerning their faith journey, working together to determine who God is calling them to be? These churches are being the church of now and are growing into who they will be in the future.

From the Center for Congregational Health, we are working with many congregations who are on this journey, determining who God is calling them to be now and next. These churches are living with a vibrancy and vitality that is boosting their sense of community, clarifying their identity in the present and opening the pathways for change and ministry in the future. This is exciting work to see congregations be who God is calling them to be. What we definitely know is that congregations and faith communities have the opportunity to respond to God’s call in new and creative ways.

Posted in: Congregations, Future

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CCH E-News

We are working to bring you more relevant and up to date information in our newsletter each week.  The most recent edition was sent on Tuesday, August 2.  There is more than one way to subscribe:

  • click on this link, read the latest edition, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe;
  • subscribe by providing the information on the homepage of our website;
  • send us an email;
  • like us on Facebook and let us know you want the E-News.

We want to stay in touch with you and we want to hear from you.  Let us know how we can connect and how we can work with you and your congregation to be who God is calling you to be.

Posted in: communication, Congregations

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