Archive for Ministers

Connect with your peers through Peer Learning Groups

Dear Colleagues:

You do not need to be reminded that serving as an Intentional Interim Minister is challenging – and can be very lonely! Most people have no real concept of what we do, and this includes other ministers in the areas we serve.

Interims have asked for a number of years if there is a way to connect with each other in a meaningful way, even when we are in many different locations. So, I am pleased to announce that the new benefit to AIIM members in Levels 2 and 3 that we implemented several months ago, Peer Learning Groups, was well-received – and that we are offering this opportunity again. During this time, participants will share their work, discuss what has worked (and not worked!) for them. But most importantly, you will connect with some other folks who understand and value your work. At the end of five months, participants can decide to end the group, continue their calls, or join another group.

The special cost for AIIM members is $25 per call. You will be asked to pay for the 5 months ($125) when you register. A few days in advance of each call, Robin Danner at the Center will send you a reminder with instructions for joining the call. As an added benefit, participants will earn one continuing education contact hour for each call (.1 CEU). This, of course, can be helpful to reach the CEU’s needed to maintain your level of membership.

The Peer Group facilitator will be Dr. Layne Smith. Layne is an experienced intentional interim minister, church consultant, and coach/mentor.

  1. Calls are scheduled for the second Thursday of each month at 10:00 AM (EST): January 11 – May 10, 2018.
  2. We will continue to meet via conference call that Layne will facilitate, with CCH providing the call instructions.
  3. The calls will last at least an hour, possibly 90 minutes (depending on the size of the group(s).
  4. There will be one call per month, for five months.
  5. The conversation each month will be centered on one of the focus points, beginning with "Heritage". There will be discussion re: how that focus point has been facilitated, the challenges that have been faced, and the successes that have been enjoyed.

If you are interested in registering, please let us know by contacting Robin at,or 336-716-9722, by November 15. Payment can be made by check or by credit card.  Upon receipt of payment, we will set up the groups and contact you with the details.

Thanks for the work you do in helping congregations become healthier communities of faith!

B. Leslie Robinson, Jr.
Manager of Interim Ministry Resources
Center for Congregational Health

Posted in: Interim Ministry, Ministers

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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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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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A new year, a new look at congregations

By Chris Gambill

Faith Communities Today has just released its introductory report from the Faith Communities Today 2015 (FACT 2015) national survey of American congregations. This is their most recent survey that originally began in 2000. The entire FACT survey series includes responses from over 32,000 randomly selected congregations from all denominations and faith traditions. I believe it is one of the very best snapshots of American congregational life available. It’s full of fascinating information and more than a few, “Wow I didn’t know that!” insights. Here’s one to whet your appetite.


The report leads off with a section entitled, “For congregations, size matters.” The first breath-catching data point shows that the number of smaller congregations (less than 100 in worship attendance) has risen dramatically in the last five years--from 49.1 percent of congregations to 57.9 percent. This means that for the first time (at least since 2000) well over half of all American congregations have less than 100 in worship on weekends. While having more smaller congregations is not necessarily bad, what is disturbing is that in addition, median worship attendance has fallen from 129 in 2005, to only 80 in 2015. The final data gut-punch in this section shows that these same smaller congregations (100 or fewer attendees in worship) are only half as likely to be “highly spiritually vital” (reflecting a specific set of measures they used).


So what does this all mean? In simplest terms, there are a growing number of smaller congregations, with likely declining in attendance overall, and struggling more than larger congregations to foster the kind of spiritual climate they want and need to thrive.


The big question this raises for me is “Who will help them?” Being a smaller congregation usually means there are fewer financial and other resources. Judicatories and denominations are, for the most part, also shrinking and have less capacity to help. Despite the shrinking resource pool, the Center for Congregational Health will continue to serve all churches. This has always been a core component of our mission and we work hard to find ways to make our services available to all congregations--regardless of their size or resources.  


Posted in: Congregations, Ministers

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