Dan Hotchkiss | Rolf Janke | Speed LeasAlice Mann | Roy Oswald | Sam RodmanBarbara Wheeler | James Wind

As the era of rapid church growth wound down at the end of the 1960s, Loren Mead was one of the first to see that the church was losing not just numbers but a privileged position in the culture. In response, he was determined to use human and organizational sciences to help leaders understand the church as an organization and to become more effective. In the process, Mead built the Alban Institute — an interfaith community of clergy, lay leaders, consultants, researchers and writers — who saw that many of the challenges for congregations crossed lines of theology and polity, and so did many of the most helpful solutions.

Dan Hotchkiss
Alban author and former senior consultant

Loren was a prolific author of several books – each one a powerful story that shared his extraordinary wisdom on the significance of a new vision for congregations and the church fulfilling God’s call to renew His church.
Rolf Janke
editor of Alban Books at Rowman & LIttlefield

Since 1977 I worked with Loren on the staff of the newly formed Alban Institute and continued there well after he retired. I knew Loren as a colleague, organizational director, friend, encourager, and (nearly unstoppable) initiator of ideas for projects we could do.

Loren was a man on a mission. He had fire in his belly. He knew why we were in business: most congregations were inadequate when it came to organizational management and they needed help. He knew there was little provided by denominations or researchers for these managerially unsophisticated institutions. (I shudder when I recall the puny advice or “wisdom” provided by denominational folk to assist congregations with methodology and agency for transitions in ministry, conflict, planning, or organizational development.) In the seventies Loren joined an emerging movement to apply behavioral science learning to congregational exigencies. He joined the emerging movement at that time to create behavioral science learning for congregations and to translate management school jargon to language congregational leaders could comprehend. He was willing plow all fields to do this: Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Conservative and Reform Jews, Military Chaplaincies and many, many more.

Loren called together church folk who were open to behavioral science learning and behavioral scientists willing to work with church folk and said, “Let’s figure this out.” Let’s do our own research; let’s study congregations in a way that generates learning and—at the same time—helps the institution with which we were working. Using the popular jargon of the time we did “Action Research” (the name of Alban’s first newsletter).  So, we did research. We did publishing (monographs, then books). We did consulting. We did training. As long as Loren was at the helm, we kept those foci and earned a reputation of relevance and effectiveness.

One of our early rules of thumb was not to publish/train what a pundit imagined might be a good idea; rather, we published that which came out of practice, experience. We even let folks know about that which did not work, especially when we observed practices that regularly led to disaster.

We asked people what they needed. We learned from that. We worked with folk who were trying new things. We learned from our shared experience and shared what worked; that which didn’t work produced cautionary tales. Those were Loren’s values. He held that banner high and we followed.

Loren built this field of dreams, and the people came.

Thanks be to God!

Speed Leas
Alban author and former senior consultant

When I was in seminary in the early 1970’s, the Episcopal Church had just published the findings of Loren Mead’s “Project Test Pattern” research project.  He was traveling around the country, encouraging dioceses like mine to train and deploy networks of parish consultants who would be equipped to assist congregations grappling with a wide range of challenges.  Through a regional training network called MATC, I was one of the first six leaders from the Diocese of Pennsylvania to complete a six-week consultant training program and serve as a member of the new Diocesan Consultant Network.  From that first connection onward, the names Loren Mead and The Alban Institute remained foundational to the field of congregational development, and to my own vocational life as a pastor and consultant.  I stepped most directly into Loren’s legacy in 1995, when I joined the staff of the Alban Institute, shortly after his retirement as President.  Wherever I went for work, in North America or around the world, I was always preceded by the reputation Loren had built for clear thinking, disciplined exploration of tough practical issues, and an undying passion for the health and effectiveness of congregations.  For these personal blessings, and on behalf of all the places I have served, I say:  “Thank you, Loren.”

Alice Mann
Alban author and former senior consultant

Loren Mead, while starting up the Alban Institute, was like a Jungle fighter, who strapped the Institute on his back and hacked it through any obstacle that got in the way.  A few times he almost had to give it up because he hit some major setbacks, many of them financial, but he made it through.

Loren has a major conviction, which never surfaced before his time, that the issue is congregations.  They are the major centers of Christianity in this country.  He did everything he could to see to it that they remained healthy and thriving.

I consider Loren one of my key mentors is my career as an Alban Senior consultant.  Without him my career as a church leader would not have emerged.  I fondly recall our meetings every Friday afternoon when I was in town, and we brainstormed new research that would help congregations stay viable.  It often was the highlight of my week.  We could think of more ideas than we could possible explore.  At any social event with Alban folk, they used to constantly call us on talking shop and considering more opportunities for research.  This used to turn an Alban party into more options for future work.  “Cool it guys—have another drink—and lets try to have some fun together.”

There were many attempts in other parts of the world, many in Canada, where people tried to duplicate what Alban did—-that never got off the ground.  That is because they didn’t have a Loren Mead to get them started.

I will miss him and his sense of humor—always open to see other possibilities in congregational life.

Roy Oswald
Alban author and former senior consultant

Loren Mead was one of the most influential Christian leaders of his generation, not only for his incisive analysis about the contemporary challenges of the church, but for his visionary perspective and his willingness to ask the hard questions around what we imagine the future church will look like. His work touched the life and mission of churches of every denomination throughout the United States and across the globe. His devotion to the congregation as the particular locus of the church’s mission and his commitment to clergy and lay leadership working in partnership were unwavering.

Sam Rodman
Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina (Mead was a priest in the Diocese of North Carolina before founding the Alban Institute)

More than any other single person, Loren Mead put the local congregation back on the agenda of Protestant denominations in the US. During the 1960s, both church officials and theological academics looked down on local churches, viewing them as conventional, disengaged organizations that were impeding rather than furthering social progress and cultural change. Loren created the Alban Institute to counter that view and to replace some of the resources that national denominations were no longer providing. The Institute’s services and publications, focused on conflict, transition and other growing edges of church life, were not only invaluable to congregations. They also stimulated the growth of a bevy of helping organizations that, along with Alban at Duke, carry on its work today. In good measure as a result of their work, denominations and seminaries now are fully aware, as Loren always was, that the local community of believers is the indispensable center of the Christian church.

Loren’s greatest fear, expressed to me in our last conversation, was that he would be remembered as merely a technician of congregational life—a “tinkerer,” in his words. He did care that congregations run well, but his commitment was much more profound than that. He wanted churches to be strong enough to participate, indeed, to lead, in the world-changing projects of our time, especially the cause of racial justice, which he, a southerner, promoted from his youth until his dying days.  Loren’s life-long devotion to the church and his seriousness of purpose will be widely and deeply missed.

Barbara Wheeler
former director of Auburn’s Center for the Study of Theological Education

Loren Mead was a rare truth teller, straight talker, innovator, and friend of American congregations and their leaders.  When many were writing off congregations as subject to “suburban captivity,” he chose to stand up for them and try to provide practical resources that could really help them face the challenges of American modernity.  Throughout his career he claimed that the lived reality of the local parish, synagogue, or congregation was where the dynamic interaction between faith and daily life most powerfully took place.

Loren had a unique ability to identify the pressure points in congregational life, places where the right action or intervention could make a real difference.   His focus on the transition moments in the pastoral career, on creating processes and environments in congregational life where healthier patterns of interaction and leadership could be formed helped many congregations and clergy find ways to move forward.  HIs insights and strategies were so compelling that many embraced them.  Some imitated his work.  More than a few built on it and carried it beyond his initial efforts.

When he began his work in the 60s and 70s, the resources for congregational leaders were scarce and often less than helpful.  Through the Alban Institute, he built a small cadre of congregational consultants that quickly spawned many imitators and competitors, pioneered in a new kind of practical literature that now flows through many publishers and online sites, built networks of innovation and practice like those among interim ministers and endowed parishes, and encouraged clergy to learn not just from seminary faculty but also from each other.  In an era of great disruption in national and religious life, these efforts sustained and strengthened more American congregations than any of us know.

Those of us who belong to a congregation, those of us who serve them as leaders, and those of us who care about their flourishing have many reasons to give thanks for the life of this rare kind of priest.  After all his pushing, it is time for him to Rest In Peace and for the rest of us to push further.

James P. Wind
former president of the Alban Institute