If you had access to a roomful of leaders of large congregations from various denominations and geographic locations, what questions would you pose to learn more about the large church?
That was Alban’s challenge—and opportunity—during a recent research event it sponsored for large-church leaders. Here are a few of the learnings that emerged from that gathering:
What assets do large churches have?
- Critical mass.
- Space to experiment.
- Places and programs within the church about which people feel good.
- Ability to offer multiple entry points.
- Culture of creativity.
- Visible sign by size and activity that church matters.
- Big tent, which can accommodate diverse groups.
- Ability to develop “signature” ministries.
- Opportunity to be on the cutting edges of ministry (i.e., technology).
- Selective participation by members; ability to choose level of involvement.
- Larger staffs, often with more specific areas of focus.
- Community influence and connections; ability to bring about change.
- Variety of worship and music.
- Ability to live with ambiguity and tension.
- Softer boundaries; possibility of anonymity.
- More diverse resources, including greater financial resources.
- Larger number of people, resulting in variety of gifts and skills.
- Larger facilities, which make a visual impact in the community and allow the hosting of various events.
- Variety of choices and interest groups.
With what do large churches struggle?
- Relationship to denomination.
- Constant pressure and expectation of quality.
- Clarity about roles, authority, and accountability.
- Overcoming negative stereotypes (i.e., arrogant).
- Not being wide and shallow.
- Organization and structure; bureaucracy and administration; complex management.
- Growth; how large to become.
- Ministry that relies too much on the “professionals.”
- Finances and stewardship.
- Difficult to assimilate people; hard to get to know people.
- Finding staff equipped to deal with a large church.
- Systemic: any change you make affects the entire system.
- Keeping up with members; pastoral care and contact.
- Being in cooperative situations with other congregations.
- Personnel costs versus outreach/missions spending.
- Lack of lay involvement.
- Always revising “product line.”
In A New and Right Spirit, Barger argues passionately for congregations to reexamine what it means to be an “authentic church” in a culture where authenticity is hard to come by. He demonstrates the pitfalls of technical solutions to congregational problems and shows the way to making adaptive change. As the key to congregational transformation he boldly reclaims and lifts up an ecclesiological vision of the church as a “witness to the resurrection.”
When God Speaks through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition by Craig A. Satterlee
Anyone who has preached at a wedding and a funeral in the same week can attest to the power of the occasion to impact the preaching event. At times, a congregational transition looms so large in a sermon that it becomes the lens through which scripture is interpreted, the congregation is addressed, the preacher is heard, and God is experienced. Homiletics professor and parish pastor Craig Satterlee reflects in this accessible, provocative volume on how to integrate such significant events in a congregation’s life into the preaching ministry of the church.