Ambrosia Article for August 2010
Church Growth & St. Ambrose…What the Change in Numbers Can Mean
the Rev. Heather Melton
Two years ago I was hired at St. Ambrose to help with the transition from a Pastoral-sized Congregation into a Program-sized Congregation. This transition is the most difficult transition for a congregation to undertake, and often congregations fail to make the change and revert back to a smaller congregation. Some indicators of this slide are occurring for us as a congregation and being aware of them and how best to move forward could make a difference for us as a congregation. But let’s start by understanding the difference between the two sizes.
Pastoral-sized Congregations (50-150 Average Attendance)
In a Pastoral-sized Congregation, the clergy person is the center of the congregation with a small circle of lay leaders. The effectiveness of the leadership is based on good communication as well as the ability of the priest to delegate authority, assign responsibility and recognize the accomplishments of others. A key feature of this size of congregation is that lay persons experience having their spiritual needs met with a seminary trained person. Another feature is that the congregation has a sense of itself as a family where everyone knows everyone else.
To sum up:
• priest is the center of everything
• congregation works through relationships
• priest knows everyone by name, including children
• new members come because of a relationship with the priest
• often there is not a staff, but a priest with some part-time help
• breaks down around 150 members because the priest can no longer maintain relationships with everyone
Program-sized Congregation (150-350 Average Attendance)
The Program-sized congregation grows out of the necessity for spiritual growth in ways other than a relationship with the clergy. Programs begin to fill the role of spiritual growth and enrichment. The role of the clergy in a program church shifts dramatically from a pastoral-sized church. Their time and attention has shifted to working with lay leaders in planning programs, they spend most of their time recruiting and empowering lay leaders as well as supervising, supporting and evaluating the work and programs. The clergy step back from one-on-one work to coordination and support. The exception to this, is the clergy will continue to step in during crisis situations, but will hand off the work once the crisis subsides. To see the clergy in a church of this size, parishioners will need to make an appointment as the clergy are less in the office and out doing ministry or in meetings. To sum up:
• Programs are the key to this church
• People join because of what is offered not because of the leader
• pastoral care is administrative for the system and the leaders
• clergy do not attend all meetings, nor do they know all of the names of the members of the congregation
• often there are multiple staff
• ministries work through teams or pods and share information as well as support
As you can see, there are elements of both types of congregations currently at work here at St. Ambrose. If we are interested in growing into a program-sized congregation, it will take all of us to reorient our relationship to the church and to (and from) the leadership of the congregation. It will require the sharing of responsibility and networking in new ways. This fall we are going to attempt to make some of these changes in our Faith Formation and Evangelism programs. This means that we will create new volunteer positions with job descriptions as well as clear descriptions and diagrams concerning how information is shared. It is our hope that in transitioning these areas to operate as a program that it will free me up to do more ministry as well as empower lay leaders and create sustainable programs.
Change is often difficult and frightening but in a congregation striving to better serve our community as well as our congregation I hope that you will find these changes will serve to spread out the responsibility (everyone will need to pitch in some time, and some folks might find that they have some new help) and welcome new people into sharing their gifts with all of us. More information will come as the autumn unfolds around us here in Colorado, but while the heat of the summer is upon us, I thought I would share some “food for thought” with all of you from a topic we’ve been discussing at vestry. Please feel free to share any questions you might have, or if you are interested in helping us in new ways, with me or with any member of the vestry.