“But it worked so well in my last congregation!” A key challenge for congregational leaders in moving from one congregation to another is to build on lessons learned in an earlier call while being alert to the new adaptive challenges of a new situation—to recognize patterns but not to force new situations into old understanding. With apologies to the Serenity Prayer, a congregational leader might well pray:
God grant me the humility to let go of my baggage;
The courage to act on the basis of my experience;
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Key places where congregational leaders seriously stumble in misapplying previous lessons learned is when congregations grow—or decline—from one size to another or when congregational leaders move between congregations of differing sizes.
Alban Senior Consultant Alice Mann has been a leader in understanding the differing dynamics and leadership challenges of congregations of differing sizes. She has written two key books on the subject. The first, The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations, addressed such key questions as: What is a size transition? Are we facing a size transition? Should we add staff or a second worship service? Alice’s second book, Raising the Roof: The Pastoral-to-Program Size Transition, focused on the specific challenges of moving from a pastoral-size congregation (50 to 150 average Sunday attendance) to a program-size congregation (150 to 400 ASA).
More broadly, in recent thinking about the skills needed for ministry, the ability to build on experience but not be captured by it has emerged as central. For two very different exporations of this quality—frequently referred to as “agility”—see Jackson Carroll’s “Leadership in a Time of Change” and Stephanie Paulsell’s “Pastoral Agility and Intellectual Work.”
Inside the Small Church edited by Anthony G. Pappas
Even as so-called megachurches capture the attention of many church watchers, small congregations continue to dominate America’s religious landscape in both rural and urban settings. Although sometimes obscured by their larger siblings, these small churches play a prominent role and hold a unique place in both local and national cultures. How can leaders help to keep these often at-risk churches alive and to meet their potential for ministry?
More Than Numbers: The Ways Churches Grow by Loren B. Mead
Mead explores what church growth and evangelism really mean in a time when it is mathematically impossible for every congregation to achieve significant numerical growth. He argues provocatively that spiritual, organizational, and missional growth are just as important as numerical growth, and that all four are needed for a truly healthy and growing church. Case studies and discussion questions are included.