Archive for Leadership

Celebrations and Changes

The Center for Congregational Health is in its 25th year!  The Center has been working with congregations, clergy and lay leaders since November of 1992.  As we move through the remainder of this year, we celebrate 25 years of partnering with congregations and leaders to help your churches make a difference in your communities.  Thank you for 25 years of serving together, we look forward to the many ways we may continue to work together.

For 21 of those 25 years, the Rev. Dr. B. Leslie Robinson, Jr. has worked full-time with the Center as Manager of Interim Ministry Resources, with a period of time as acting director.  During that time, Les has worked with several hundred congregations, training more than 2500 interim ministers representing 27 denominations, traveling to 33 states and 2 foreign countries. We are grateful for Les’ leadership and ministry and the amazing work that he has done throughout the years.

We all knew the day would come when Les would want a bit more freedom from the 40+ hour work week and that day has come!  There is good news to go along with it—Les may be scaling back and thinking about his time a bit differently, however he will continue to work with the Center for Congregational Health providing oversight and curriculum development for the Intentional Interim Ministry Training program and for the Association of Intentional Interim Ministers.  We are delighted and honored that Les is choosing to continue the very important work for which he is very well known, and that he will continue to journey with us.

In honor of Les and the work he has done with the Center for Congregational Health, we have worked with the NC Baptist Foundation who manages the Poe Fund, to establish a line item of financial donation where the funds will be used to assist congregations who desire to use the services of the Center for Congregational Health and do not have the funds to do so, we invite and encourage you to offer a financial gift to the Poe Fund in honor of Dr. B. Leslie Robinson, Jr and the work he has accomplished in living out his calling.   When sending a donation, please designate for the “Les Robinson Fund”.  Donations may be mailed to:  the Center for Congregational Health, Medical Center Blvd., Winston-Salem, NC 27157.

Posted in: Consulting, Future, History, Interim Ministry, Leadership, Uncategorized

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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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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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Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry Webinar

The conventional approach to problem-solving in business or church is to discover the root cause of a problem and to fix it. Appreciative Inquiry takes a radically different approach: Discover the root of cause of success and improve it. Problems are acknowledged in the process, but why spend so much energy on what’s not working when you can be spending creative and innovative energy on what is working?

The Center for Congregational Health is partnering with The Clergy Leadership Institute and Larry Glover-Wetherington, Coach and Intentional Interim pastor, to offer a webinar on the Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry. Rob Voyle is the principal trainer because we are tapping into his course. He has already developed the content and recordings. As Tutorial Facilitator, Larry Glover-Wetherington  will be facilitating a weekly teleconference call with the class. Dr. Rob Voyle’s content is refreshing as it presents an Appreciative Inquiry approach to ministry that integrates spirituality and theology.

For info on the course and registration  go to:


Posted in: Consulting, Leadership

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Lenten Journey–Pray and Reflect

By Beth Kennett

Over the past few weeks, I have been in settings that have been preparing me for my Lenten journey—teaching a class on Ministry Leadership and Coaching Skills, participating in a Coach Training Program, working alongside of a congregational renewal process, helping a church think about the next pastor, and preparing for a workshop on Vital Mergers. Each of these places and processes has a strong component of prayer and discernment. My reminder and realization is that when we take the time to reflect, pray, and seek God’s direction we are much more likely to discover it—God’s direction, that is.

For individuals, taking the time to pause, meditate, and to be in touch with our authentic selves, helps us to determine the healthiest paths on which to journey; helps us to discover and discern where God is inviting and leading us. For congregations it is the same! Congregations must take the time to simply be together, to pray, to reflect, to seek where God is inviting and leading. In the busy-ness (and possibly the business) of congregational life, we often forget to be seekers, we forget to be faithful people on a journey of discovery and we fall into the habit of being church.

Congregations considering change—whether it is a merge, a renewal process, new leadership, or a new model of doing work—must do so through a process of discernment, a process of prayer, reflection and conversation. Healthy change does not happen overnight. Healthy change happens when we are faithful to our Creator and to who we are created to be.

As you engage your Lenten journey—as an individual and as a faith community—take the time to be in touch with who you are, create and honor the space to pray and reflect on being authentically who God is inviting you to be.

Posted in: Congregations, Leadership

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More Looking

by Les Robinson

Recently, Chris Gambill, Director of the Center, wrote a blog (A new year, a new look at congregations) about the Faith Communities Today 2015 national survey of American congregations. He was referring to their most recent survey. Since 2000, this group has worked with the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership and Hartford Seminary Institute for Religion Research, to study congregational life in the U.S. Every five years, they conduct a major study and then report on and update their findings in the in-between years.

In addition to the stats Chris reported, there also was interesting, if not enlightening, information about the financial health of congregations. As most of us painfully remember, our country suffered a financial recession that began in 2008. The truth is, the percentage of American congregations who were experiencing some or serious financial difficulty had grown well before the recession. However, the full impact of the recession peaked shortly after 2008 as its negative effect trickled down and out throughout the economy.

At first, congregations were able to stay at the forefront of helping individuals who had suffered great losses, especially those who were laid off from work or whose jobs were eliminated. But, as more members of these faith communities began to experience cutbacks and downsizing in their personal lives, congregations also had to pull back. In 2008, two-thirds of congregations reported some decline in income because of the recession, and almost 1 in 5 reported a serious drop in revenue. Congregations began dipping into savings or investments, postponing capital projects, and reducing mission and benevolence giving as ways of dealing with their financial shortfalls.

This latest report indicates that with the broader economic recovery, the sense of financial distress among American congregations has eased somewhat. This seems especially significant because with declining worship attendance and the increase in smaller congregations, there were a lot of pressures for further financial strain.

Of course, financial stress is bad enough in and of itself. However, it can become the catalyst for other negative things. For instance, those congregations that were negatively impacted by the recession experienced an increased level of conflict within the faith community itself.

Another telling fact is the drop in congregations with full-time paid senior or sole clergy leaders. Staff layoffs and delays in filling positions were among the least chosen options at the beginning of the recession. Nevertheless, in 2010, 71.4% of congregations had full-time paid senior or sole clergy leaders; today, only 62.2% of congregations have full-time paid senior or sole clergy leaders.

The looming question in the midst of this latest data is, “Is the increased sense of financial stability found in the 2015 survey due more to staff downsizing than to a return to pre-recession fiscal heights?” With the median budget dropping from $150,000 in 2010 to $125,000 in 2015, it appears that the reduced financial distress level in congregations is because they have become more comfortable doing with less, including professional staff.

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

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