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Anyone reading this knows that congregations are unique organizations. On our best days, the work we do as congregational leaders has eternal significance. The way we organize to do this work is influenced in part by denominational history and polity, federal and state laws, organizational size and complexity and our understanding of Scripture. Some denominations have standards that apply to all congregations, which are helpful — until they aren’t. For example, one model for governance might work well in a church with fewer than 250 members. The same model might not work as well in a church with more than 2,500 members.

On, Dorothy Bass points out that faith communities are shaped by the roles we inhabit, along with the rituals, laws and agreements that order our common life together. Throughout the various stages of a congregation’s existence, members need to discern how they will share with one another, how they will gather, how they will thrive and how they will organize to do the work God has called them to do.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches are rethinking their assumptions. We once took in-person assemblies for granted. Today, we know that virtual-only participants are with us for the foreseeable future, which presents new opportunities and challenges. How do the markers of a flourishing communal life take into account both in-person and virtual participation?

In her discussion of how leaders shape community, Bass reminds us that the church is an alternative community shaped by a vision of Christian discipleship. Therefore, how might Jesus’ view of power influence the way we make decisions as a church? How does a well-ordered community create space for people to use their gifts and talents? The way we structure our communal life together may be one of the church’s most significant testimonies about who we are. What are you noticing about the shape of your community?


Shaping Communities


New people can mean new ways of doing things

The last four years have seen an influx of new hires for many organizations. Slowing down to make the changes that turnover requires can benefit everyone.

By David L. Odom

Declining volunteerism is changing the church experience

Congregations struggle to maintain educational programs without volunteer support.

By Shari Finnell

Our most significant experiences are in institutions

Institutions are where Christians become Christians. And leaders, those in power, are the ones who shape institutional life.

By C. Kavin Rowe

Before you go…

Seminary teaches clergy how to prepare sermons, care for souls and teach Scripture, but Dorothy Bass is wise to include shaping communities as a crucial practice for Christian leaders. The way we organize our youth ministry might have a lot to do with why youth do or do not participate. Sometimes our heart is in the right place, but our structure impedes the vision for ministry. If you’re a new congregational leader, clergy or lay, don’t take the shape of your community for granted. Reflect on what you do and how you organize to do it. Through patient, prayerful observation, you might notice an opportunity to pour new wine into new wineskins.

You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

Partner Resource: Foundations of Christian Leadership

Foundations of Christian Leadership, an offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, brings together emerging leaders from a variety of faith-based organizations as colleagues in an encouraging and collaborative learning environment. Foundations benefits those who care about the church in the world and want to build skills to lead Christian institutions with joy and creativity.

Applications for our San Antonio sessions are due September 8, 2023. Learn more about the program here.

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