An important new conversation took place at the Alban Institute on September 17. Diana Butler Bass, a gifted scholar of American religion and a fine writer, shared early findings of her new research project, Congregations of Intentional Practice.
The project, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and based at Virginia Theological Seminary, has an important message for people within and beyond mainline Protestantism. Bass and her colleagues are studying vital mainline congregations that are responding to the challenges of our era with vitality, imagination, and growth.
Her new book, an Alban publication titled The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church, is hot off the press and brimming with important early findings from Bass’s project. As our editors began to work with her new manuscript they sensed that this book had important new claims to make, ones that merited early testing and discussion.
Their excitement about (1) new research, indicating that a new type of congregation is coming to life in the mainline, and (2) the larger possibility that such congregations might be the front edge of a renewal in mainline denominations, led the rest of our staff to create a new kind of forum in which Alban authors and staff can immediately engage gifted clergy and congregational leaders in conversation about the most promising new ideas and insights about American congregations. Sensing that we had other important new books emerging from our publishing pipeline that merited similar treatment, the Alban staff created a new educational series, Conversations that Matter. As material elsewhere in Alban Weekly indicates, two additional conversations will be held this fall.
Reasonably priced and designed for time-pressed congregational leaders whose crowded calendars and limited continuing education budgets do not allow them to participate in some of our longer educational events, the series was designed for people in the greater metropolitan area of Washington, DC, who could participate in the conversation and commute to and from the event in one day. To our great delight, this “regional strategy” indicated that others had a much larger idea about “regional” than we did. Driving from as far south as Williamsburg, Virginia to as far north as Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and flying in from as far west as Iowa, a lively group of leaders spent an enjoyable and productive time with Diana Bass and key Alban staff members. Many of them were so taken by the promise of this conversation series that they immediately signed up for the entire series.
Alban moved to our new corporate headquarters in Herndon, Virginia, largely because this facility made these new kinds of events easy for us to put on. Located less than 10 minutes from Dulles Airport and close to a number of major East Coast highways, Alban’s offices are located across the hall from a first-rate continuing education facility that has state-of-the-art technologies and conference rooms, ideal for this kind of event. The event on September 17 is the first in what we hope will be a variety of new experiments to help congregational leaders gather with us to learn and think together about the challenges of ministry in the 21st century.
I hope that you will join me, and many of my Alban colleagues, for the next two conversations in our first series. We regard this new kind of Alban event as an opportunity to bring Alban authors, researchers, and staff together with gifted religious leaders in important conversations about new knowledge as it breaks out of the researcher’s study and into the realm of practical congregational leadership. We want to give our authors and our staff new opportunities to learn from you, the people whom we serve. We also want to shorten the time between the discovery of new ideas and the sharing and testing of them with congregational leaders. We are convinced that the leaders of American congregations want to have conversations that matter about the real issues of their ministries. More and more we want Alban to be a place where people look for such conversations to occur. And more and more we hope that you will become more regular conversation partners with us in a much needed interchange between leaders of American congregations.
Redeveloping the Congregation: A How-to for Lasting Change by Mary K. Sellon, Daniel P. Smith, and Gail F. Grossman
What makes it possible for a church to reverse course from decline or stagnation into longlasting vitality? How can a church immigrate from a congealing present into a compelling future? What can a congregation do to experience continuous, deep change rather than just temporary, surface improvement? How does a person lead redevelopment? The three authors of this book address these and other questions by building on an eight-step framework for lasting change developed by John P. Kotter, noted former professor of organizational behavior at Harvard Business School.
Can Our Church Live? Redeveloping Congregations in Decline by Alice Mann
Nothing on earth lives forever—not even congregations. Alban Institute senior consultant Alice Mann explains how the natural life cycle of a congregation, as well as other internal and external factors, can produce a congregation that is in real trouble. She then offers hope for congregations that want to change. Practical options for congregations, leadership challenges for laity and clergy, and ways to work with denominations are detailed and engaging discussion questions provide a basis for congregational planning.