Several years ago, I served as pastor of a small rural congregation in northern Indiana. Each Sunday a lay person read the scripture in worship from her or his own Bible. We heard a variety of translations and paraphrases. One Sunday a retiree in his mid 80s read from the translation that is my personal favorite. As I expressed appreciation to George for reading the scripture that day, I also told him that I really liked the version of the Bible he used. “Well,” he replied, “it was the only one in the store with big print!” I had naively assumed his choice of a Bible was based on criteria similar to mine. I want a Bible that has integrity of translation, readability, and helpful study notes. George wanted one he could see to read!
Like George and me, congregations face many choices when deciding what resources to use, whether it is which Bible translation to offer, what curriculum to teach, what software to purchase, what builder to select, what planning process to follow, and so forth.
The Indianapolis Center for Congregations started fourteen years ago with a grant from the Lilly Endowment to the Alban Institute to create a center that would strengthen Indianapolis area congregations. The Center does this “by helping [congregations] find and use the best resources to address their challenges and opportunities.” Since then this work has expanded to serve all congregations in Indiana.
Whether a congregation’s challenge or opportunity relates to its building, financial issues, planning, leadership, educational program, or any of hundreds of ther areas, a Center staff member listens to the needs of the congregation, their unique context, and values. The Center then recommends a variety of resources to help the congregation’s leaders address their area of interest. Center staff combines knowledge of resources, the experience of other congregations, and an understanding of the requesting congregation to determine what resources to recommend. The final selection, however, is ultimately the choice of the congregation itself. Center staff members encourage congregations to review thoughtfully and intentionally the resources we recommend and to select those that are the “best fit” for them. There is no one “best” resource for every congregation. What is best for a particular congregation is best because it is a fit with their values, mission, purposes, and intents. Therefore, the process by which a congregation selects from recommended resources is almost as important as the resource itself.
Over the course of the Center’s history, we have learned much about effective resource selection from the congregations we serve. Below are three suggestions for making your resource selection process effective.
- Be intentional. Congregations that plan how they will make resource decisions typically make more thoughtful and satisfactory choices. How will you decide what book the adult study group will discuss to learn more about poverty in America? Will you choose the best seller on Amazon? A text recommended by a respected leader? A book the group chooses? Selecting resources can be intentional, random, or somewhere in-between. A random resource selection may be when a finance committee decides to hire a fundraising consultant because she is a neighbor of a board member and is in the fundraising business. No thoughtful process leads to that selection. The higher the stakes, the more intentional the process needs to be.
- Articulate criteria. When you select a resource, what are you looking for? Suppose your congregation gathers children’s Sunday School teachers to select a new curriculum. Teachers are invited to look at the materials and talk about which one they prefer. One teacher may like a curriculum because it looks easy to use. Another picks one because it is “colorful and would capture the interest of the learners”. But how do you make sense of the teachers’ disparate viewpoints? A more reflective way to choose curriculum is to establish criteria before the curriculum is examined. The criteria should include Christian education standards as well as the interests and preferences of the teachers. Each teacher can be given a list of criteria against which to assess each curriculum they review.
Discuss the options with a team. The process of reviewing and evaluating resources is enriched by engaging a team of people. The multiple perspectives of a team can help prevent blind spots that can’t be seen when resource selection is assigned to one or two people. It can be tempting to take the more efficient way and choose a resource because an “expert” in the congregation recommends a specific choice. But at the Center for Congregations we have witnessed team-building, ownership, critical reflection, and wise choices emerge when these processes are followed. No, one size doesn’t fit all.
No one resource is “best” for all congregations. Having an intentional, criteria based, team resource selection process goes a long way to ensure our congregation selects the right resource.
Nancy L. DeMott is the Resource Director of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations