Being a “Transforming Congregation”

In the late 1990s Poolesville Presbyterian Church was struggling. That was not unusual for the congregation. Begun in 1847, they had struggled for most of their existence. The doors of the church actually closed for the decade of the 1950s, and reopened with only a handful of members served by a part-time pastor. By the 1980s the congregation was alive, but on life support. Yearly funding from the Presbytery provided a significant chunk of the budget.

After a decade or so on the dole, Presbytery offered them an opportunity to become a “Transforming Congregation.” The congregation did a whole lot of good work in terms of self-study, demographic work, and visioning. One of the major decisions: they took a deep breath and hired a full-time residential pastor for a term of three years, which meant they put every last dollar on the line.

The full-time residential pastor was a success in some ways, but not in every way. When she left, a little precipitously, the congregation was surprised and hurt. They had a lot invested in this arrangement, and it wasn’t what they had hoped. My sense is that she had to break a lot of difficult ground, and there were many benefits which were not immediately visible.

For one interim year, a retired minister served them part-time. Then they began to look for a part-time Stated Supply Pastor, who could serve on a contractual basis. Meanwhile, I had moved to northern Virginia and was seeking part-time ministry. The General Presbyter called and said: “Did you know there’s a ferry across the river at Leesburg? You could get to Poolesville in under an hour!” That was seven years ago, and tonight I told my Session (leaders) I intend to sign a contract for an eighth year.

Basically, I love these folks. I have found them to be very willing to take risks and experiment with new ways of being church. They are not stuffy. They sing well. They are very compassionate and mission-minded. They are receptive to my preaching and kind to me as a human being. Our unusual geographical arrangement — with a river running through it — has been advantageous and allowed the healthy independence of the lay leaders to flourish. We don’t have turf wars.

Well, it’s time to be transformed again. I sense that the church is ready for a new chapter, and am taking advantage of the (new and improved) “Transforming Congregations” process offered by our presbytery. For a year I’ve been attending training events, and now it’s time to put together a “Transformation Team” of church members to be trained as well.

The Transformation Team is supposed to be 4-5 persons (plus myself). Did I mention that we’re a congregation of 90, currently? It’s going to be a stretch to find 4-5 really motivated folks who aren’t already knee-deep in church work. I may have to invite people to move their energy from one task to another in order to select a top-notch team. My intention is to sit down with the membership list (plus a handful of names of “faithful attenders who haven’t joined”) and pray over each name. I won’t factor in that person’s current involvements since each task at a church is temporary by nature, and could possibly be switched to someone else. I am hopeful that some clarity will result.

Our Assoc. General Presbyter, who leads the Transfomation training, gave us a great document about choosing the Transformation Team, which I’ll paste here:

The following guidelines are from Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann.

PEOPLE NOT TO INVITE

  • People not good at decision making or unable to consider potential consequences

  • People who are unwilling to change themselves or their church to accommodate the needs of other people

  • People with axes to grind about the church

  • The pastor’s #1 opponent

  • People who want to go back to 1947, or whatever year is remembered as the favorite time in your church

  • People too busy to be effective

  • People who focus on managing the details instead of looking at the big picture

PEOPLE TO INVITE

  • People who would be open to what God is calling your church to be and to be about in the future

  • People who understand your church’s strengths and weaknesses

  • People who understand the political realities of your church

  • People who can understand the value of open deliberations and the need for a redundant system for keeping membership informed

  • People actively supportive of the current pastor

  • People willing to learn new things and think new thoughts

  • People who have a voice back in the congregation and are listened to when they speak

  • People who are willing to put time, energy, work, and prayer into the effort of the Team

  • People comfortable discussing ideas (purpose, role, mission)

  • People active as volunteers in the life and ministry of the church

WHO SHOULD BE THE CHAIRPERSON

  • Not the pastor

  • A person with a strong voice and credibility in the congregation and who will be listened to when reports are offered

I think this is a great document. It’s typical of the kind of practical benefit of the Transformation training. Do you have any other advice for me as I lead this important selection process?


Comments

7 responses to “Being a “Transforming Congregation””

  1. Gotcha. I hope you do well Lorraine! I look foward to hearing all about it! Sure it will be a while before I have to take those, but might as well start getting an idea (at least) now so I know what to pay attention to. =)

  2. Lorraine Avatar
    Lorraine

    Friday morning. And Friday afternoon. And Saturday morning. And then the take-home. Is this cruel and unusual punishment? 🙂

    Thanks for the prayers. This too shall pass. Don’t obsess. Have faith in what we know. (just repeating all those bits of advice we’ve been given. lol..)

  3. Pinkhammer, “Transforming Congregations” is a project sponsored by our presbytery, to promote renewal and transformation in congregations. The pastor gets a year of training, then the lay leaders come on board for a year. The function of the presbytery is to support the churches.

    Lorraine, I take it the exam is Friday? I will send up an extra prayer for you on Friday morning!

  4. Lorraine Avatar
    Lorraine

    Hi Ruth — if I had been at my present church just a bit longer I could give you lots of info on our experiences. But they had just about finished when I got there. I think they continued work on it for another year or so but I didn’t really pay attention because that was my first year of seminary. If you want to hear about the experience of a small church going through this you could call my pastor. She’s on vacation right now, until the end of August, but I’m sure she’d be happy to tell you how it went.

    We’re now in the process of thinking and working through what it could mean to be a church in our location — multi-ethnic area, in the city — what would it mean to be a “disciple church”. I’m going on Session in January and I can’t wait! Very exciting to be a part of it all as we think about redefining ourselves and what is the mission of the church.

    (two more days! aaaaaaaaaaack……)

  5. Okay….so I am still learning a lot….what exactly do you mean by “Transforming Congregation”? Or is part of the whole thing that you aren’t sure yet?

  6. ruth everhart Avatar
    ruth everhart

    Hmmm, spoken like a true introvert, Stushie! Thanks for the thought. We have many faithful, quiet people, and I will try not to overlook them.

  7. Invite some of the quiet people in your congregation, who don’t draw any attention to themselves. They usually have good ideas, but don’t get a chance to articulate their ideas because of the extroverts around them.

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