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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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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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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Announcement: 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 we are adding a new benefit to AIIM members in Levels 2 and 3: Peer Learning Groups. These will be groups of 5 persons who want to commit to participating in a monthly phone call for a 3-month period. There will be a facilitator for each group, and the calls will last for 60 minutes. 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 three 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 3 months ($75) when you register. The Center will send you a reminder and phone number for calling in, about a week in advance of 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.

If you are interested in participating, please let us know by contacting Robin Danner at the Center, or 336-716-9722, by May 26. Once we know the level of participation, we will set up the groups and contact you with details for registering and establishing the first call.

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

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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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Do you need a church consultant?

by Rev. Chris Gambill, Ph.D.

Fall is one of the seasons when the Center for Congregational Health staff typically sees an uptick in calls inquiring about church consulting. While it is often congregational conflict that prompts a call, there are many other situations where a church consultant can be helpful. Since using a church consultant is still a new idea for lots of congregations, here are some of the questions you might ask in determining whether or not a church consultant could be helpful to you.

Are you “stuck?”

Do you feel “stuck” as a congregation and unsure how to get moving forward? If your congregation is 40 or more years old, then it is highly likely it is experiencing a gradual decline in participation, giving, etc. There may not be any actual “problem” anyone can name, but the congregation may still feel unable to make progress. A church consultant can help the congregation identify the barriers holding it back, and the assets God has given the congregation that can help it move forward and flourish.

Puzzled by a new challenge?

Is there an issue or challenge you are facing that is out of your range of experience or skill to address? Congregations face unique challenges today. In many cases, there is no clear precedent to guide them to a workable solution. Center consultants have deep and wide-ranging skill sets that they can use to help congregations explore the “strange new world” of mission and ministry in 2016 and beyond.

Need an outside perspective?

Do you need an outside perspective of someone who has no vested interest other than the health and vitality of your congregation? It’s easy for congregation members to become so familiar with their situation that it’s hard to be objective. Is your congregational “cup” half-empty, or half-full? Should you be concerned about your future health and vitality? Or are you doing well and being faithful stewards of God’s gifts? It can be helpful to have a new set of eyes and ears to provide feedback and help you see things that you might otherwise overlook or miss altogether in your journey toward congregational health.

Have a problem that just won’t go away?

Does your congregation have a nagging or recurring problem that just doesn’t seem to ever go away? Have you tried to solve a problem previously but were unsuccessful? A church consultant can’t solve a problem for you, but they are skilled at addressing a problem with you. Center consultants excel at creating processes and safe spaces where congregations can work together to solve problems, discern God’s call, and make good decisions.

Feeling unmotivated?

Do you need motivation or accountability outside your system to help you move forward? Church consulting is not free—and it turns out that this is one of the best things about using a consultant. In the Center’s nearly 25 years of experience, we have learned that congregations willing to invest time, energy and money (not necessarily a lot of it!) into working with a consultant, are much more likely to become invested in working to see the positive outcomes of the work.

In congregations, God gives the gift of community and mutual support to undergird the work of mission and ministry. Just as surely as congregation members need each other, congregations themselves also need the love and support of others in order to flourish. Church consultants are one of the key resources God has given the modern Church to help it thrive. Don’t hesitate to contact us by phone or email if you’d like to explore how a church consultant might be helpful to your congregation.

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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 Inquiry–What is it?

Definitions of Appreciative Inquiry as shared on Appreciative Inquiry Commons at  

Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discover of what gives a system ‘life’ when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. AI involves the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to heighten positive potential. It mobilizes inquiry through crafting an “unconditional positive question’ often involving hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.”

Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D., “Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change.” In P. Holman & T. Devane (eds.), The Change Handbook, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., pages 245-263.

“[Appreciative Inquiry] deliberately seeks to discover people’s exceptionality – their unique gifts, strengths, and qualities. It actively searches and recognizes people for their specialties – their essential contributions and achievements. And it is based on principles of equality of voice – everyone is asked to speak about their vision of the true, the good, and the possible. Appreciative Inquiry builds momentum and success because it believes in people. It really is an invitation to a positive revolution. Its goal is to discover in all human beings the exceptional and the essential. Its goal is to create organizations that are in full voice!”

Cooperrider, D.L. et. al. (Eds) , Lessons from the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry, Thin Book Publishing, 2001, page 12.

“Appreciative Inquiry is a form of organizational study that selectively seeks to highlight what are referred to as “life-giving forces” (LGF’s) of the organization’s existence. These are “ – the unique structure and processes of (an) organization that makes its very existence possible. LGF’s may be ideas, beliefs, or values around which the organizing activity takes place.”

Srivastva, S., et al. Wonder and Affirmation, (undated from Lessons of the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry, page 42.)

“AI is an exciting way to embrace organizational change. Its assumption is simple: Every organization has something that works right – things that give it life when it is most alive, effective, successful, and connected in healthy ways to its stakeholders and communities. AI begins by identifying what is positive and connecting to it in ways that heighten energy and vision for change.” “…AI recognizes that every organization is an open system that depends on its human capital to bring its vision and purpose to life.” “… The outcome of an AI initiative is a long-term positive change in the organization.” “… AI is important because it works to bring the whole organization together to build upon its positive core. AI encourages people to work together to promote a better understanding of the human system, the heartbeat of the organization.”

Cooperrider, David L; Whitney, Diana; and Stavros, Jacqueline M., Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: The First in a Series of AI Workbooks for Leaders of Change, Lakeshore Communications, 2003, Pages XVII – XIX.

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