Since the Spring of 2000, the Alban Institute has been creating new resources for churches struggling with the transition between pastoral and program size. We are clearer than ever that life in the zone between 150 and 250 (average Sunday attendance, including children in Sunday school) is especially daunting for many congregations. Ambivalence is the norm when a congregation outgrows familiar “small church” patterns of life, and tries out some different ways of being church. Most leaders underestimate by a factor of ten the degree of difficulty that will be involved in reaching the 250 mark (critical mass for functioning as a program type of church), even in a fast-growing suburb where the demographics seem to favor church growth.

Original research in 2000 formed the basis of an online course in 2001. The material developed for that course—including a recommended process for congregational discernment and planning—evolved into the Alban best-seller, “Raising the Roof: The Pastoral-to-Program Size Transition.” The book, in turn, became the basis for a popular Alban seminar of the same name. Almost 200 leaders have participated in that course over the last few years, and many more have taken part in judicatory-sponsored seminars or individual church consultations led by author and consultant Alice Mann. Other churches have used the book on their own, or with local facilitation, as a resource for study and planning.

So, what’s happening in these churches, and what’s next in understanding how to navigate growth issues in this complicated zone? Three initiatives are in progress that will help us to answer these questions.

Survey of Seminar Participants: Alice Mann, with help from Pastor Dodd Lamberton, is surveying congregations that have been involved in Alban’s regularly-offered “Raising the Roof” seminar. Assisting in this research project is one aspect of Dodd’s sabbatical project for 2006 and 2007.

The data-gathering phase of this project is almost complete. So far, we have heard from leaders in about fifty different congregations. While analysis of the survey data is just beginning, Dodd immediately noted the large proportion of respondents (42) who said “yes” when asked if their congregation had grown in “clarity of call or energy for ministry” since participating in the program.

Dodd has a special interest in growth dynamics of congregations located in built-out city neighborhoods—the situation of his own congregation, Mt. Carmel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. The next phase of study will include interviews with selected leaders in churches from the study that fit this profile.

Extended Survey on the Raising the Roof Website: As we launch our dedicated website for resources and exchange related to “Raising the Roof,” we have an opportunity to expand the basic survey to other congregations that have used the book for their own study and planning work.

We are excited about this new capacity to involve readers in Alban Weekly and visitors to Alban websites in an ongoing research project. Alice comments: “I am tremendously curious to see what comes in—who is using the resources, how they are using them, what they are learning, and where the important questions are located now.”

Research Dimension of “Raising the Roof II”: This fall, we are launching a new program called “Raising the Roof II: Taking the Next Steps in the Process.” The program is designed for congregations that have already used the self-assessment and planning tools from the book, and have begun to implement the resulting decisions. A written case study and a telephone interview with Alice Mann are part of the preparation for this conference—not only to determine what issues need to be addressed in the program, but also to expand the base of the research project. After a pilot version of the program hosted by the Indianapolis Center for Congregations in September, Alban will offer “Raising the Roof II” in Richmond from October 31 to November 2, 2006. (The original Raising the Roof program will be offered again in June 2007, in the northeast.)

By next spring, we look forward to sharing our findings from all these sources—through Congregations magazine and through the dedicated Raising the Roof website. Watch for new learning in 2007!


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Featured Resources

AL243_SM Raising the Roof: The Pastoral-to-Program Size Transition by Alice Mann

Pastoral-to-program size change is frequently described as the most challenging of growth transitions for congregations. Alban senior consultant Alice Mann, author of The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations, addresses the difficulties of that transition in this resource designed specifically for a congregational learning team.

AL197_SM The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations by Alice Mann

Alice Mann draws on her lengthy experience in helping congregations deal with the hurdles and anxieties of expansion or contraction in size. Often, congregations experiencing size change do not recognize the need to change culture and form as part of the successful adaptation process. Mann details the adjustments in attitude—as well as practice—that are necessary to support successful size change.