What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-15-21

Consolidation . . .

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-15-21

This part two of a two-part series on “What’s Next?” at First Congregational Church of Granby. Part one focused on three different models for downsizing. This week we will focus on four different models for church consolidation

Assimilation (along with the “ICU” model below) is one of the more common models of consolidation. Assimilation happens when a “lead” church incorporates another church’s people and assets. Key for successful assimilation is assessment of mission compatibility of the assimilated church with the lead church. Also important is a clear understanding of any liabilities the assimilated church might bring to the table. The point of assimilation is to strengthen the position of the lead church and to provide an opportunity of the assimilated church to pass on the legacy of their assests. Because of the principle of homeostasis (that is, without conscious and sustained effort, churches tend to revert to status quo) assimilations usually don’t result in significant increases for the “lead” church. A nearby example of assimilation is Wilson Congregational Church (Windsor), which in 2010 assimilated to First Church in Windsor.

Satellite is a consolidation model in which a lead church “adopts” another church. The adoptee turns over control of its assets to a lead church, which then takes responsibility for developing the adopted church as a satellite of the lead church usually providing the adoptee access to the lead church’s staff, membership, and programs. This was a model explored by First Congregational Church of Stamford as an option that would have potentially allowed them to stay in their building. Unfortunately they were not able to find a nearby UCC with the capacity to take on the congregation as a satellite. Lead churches generally need to be on a growth trajectory in order to adopt a satellite and none of the nearby UCCs were growing.

Consolidation/Restart is a model that involves two (or more!) congregations merging their assets and membership on an equal basis to create a new congregation with a new identity and mission. Though researchers are still gathering data, we can say anecdotally that this is the most promising model for consolidation. Consolidation/restart may involve a new location, new building, new name, new worship style, and/or new staffing. The governing questions are “What is our Why?” and “What of our combined resources will best support us in living out that Why?” The consolidation/restart model disrupts the status quo enough so that the consolidating congregations can move from a decline trajectory to a growth trajectory while pooling resources to more effectively live out a common mission.

ICU model. We have also talked about this as the “Titanic model.” The ICU model is another version of hospice where two declining congregations combine resources in order to keep their current members as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. Unless there is conscious effort to change the congregations’ cultures, many consolidations follow the ICU model by default. Consideration of these different models was, for example, a part of the conversations around the consolidation that formed the new Southern New England Conference of the UCC.

What other models for consolidation are you aware of?

Pastoral Prayer 1-10-21

Pastoral Prayer 1-10-21

Holy God,

It has been a week. Together we bear witness to historic events in the life of our nation. On Wednesday the first African American from Georgia was elected to the Senate, a pastor who serves the same congregation Martin Luther King, Jr. once did. Dr. King gave his life for a Biblical vision of beloved community. This week we saw evidence that Dr. King’s vision continues to bear the fruit of love and justice in our nation.

That same day, Wednesday Jan. 6, we witnessed an armed attack on our nation’s Capitol. Four people lost their lives. Our nation’s leaders were forced to shelter in place. On Jan. 6 a mob incited by our President was able to do what all the armies of the Confederacy failed to do 150 years ago. They paraded the Confederate battle flag–a symbol of slavery, racism, and hate–through the halls of congress. It was a chiling reminder that the evil of racism and white supremacy continues to eat away at the soul of our country. Like Dr. King’s dream our nation is resilient but fragile. We pray that you will send your spirit to heal our land.

Also on Wednesday we gathered in the evening to record the professions of faith of three Confirmands. We celebrate with joy their honesty, their curiosity, their love, and their commitment to the way of Jesus. We ask that you bless and protect them. We ask that you make all of us instruments of your peace in this time of unrest. We ask that as a congregation you give us the courage to find a way toward your future. Give us a heart for future generations so that they, too, can learn of Dr. King’s dream and find new ways to embody it.

In this time of conflict and mass delusion, we may at times feel helpless to heal the divides of our nation. Give us a baptism of your Spirit that we may all be one. Renew our commitment to the way of Jesus, who received a baptism of the Spirit in order to bring justice and peace among all people.

Bless by your Holy Spirit, gracious God, this water that by it we may be reminded of our baptism into Jesus Christ and that by the power of your Holy Spirit we may fulfill what we have promised.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd? 1-8-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1/8/21

On Nov. 23, 2020 First Congregational Church of Granby narrowed five “lanes” to the future to two: consolidation and downsizing. Two task forces were created to explore these alternatives and create reports, which will be discussed (not voted on) at a congregational meeting Jan. 17, 2021. 

At the Nov. 23 meeting a request was made for information on current best practices around these two models, and I was asked to help with that. This week’s topic: downsizing. There are any number of approaches to downsizing. Three I will consider are downsizing/revitalization, downsizing/restart, and downsizing/hospice. Downsizing could also be a part of a larger consolidation/merger process, but our purpose is to consider each approach as “stand alone.”

Downsizing/revitalization is the approach we’ve been experimenting a little bit with for the past 18 months. It involves pointing as many of the church’s resources as possible at the goal of reaching new people. It means taking a hard look at buildings/property, staffing, organizational structure, worship, and mission focus. If it’s not growing the church, we eliminate, repurpose, or redirect it. Overall it’s doing more with less because we are no longer doing things that don’t directly contribute to the growth of the church. One small example of this is shifting 20% of the pastor’s time budget toward building relationships with people who are not yet members of the church while meeting ongoing pastoral care needs with lay volunteers. For more detailed information see: Reconstructing Church: Tools for Turning Your Congregation Around by Todd Grant Yonkman. The book is a case study of one downsize/revitalization project.

Downsizing/restart is when the congregation sells its property, changes/reduces its staffing as a part of a larger strategy of reinventing itself in ways that will move it from a decline trajectory to a growth trajectory. In other words, an “old” church starts behaving like a brand new “baby” church. The whole point of this downsizing is a disruption of the status quo. For more information see Dying to Restart: Churches Choosing a Strategic Death for a Resurrected Life available in paperback and as an e-book. Two examples of downsize/restart congregations right here in Connecticut are First Congregational Church of Stamford and United Congregational Church (Bridgeport). 

The goal of downsizing/hospice is to maintain the congregation’s status quo as much as possible for as long as possible so the current membership can be as comfortable as possible. Some of the main pieces of hospice work are pastoral care, maintaining familiar worship, events, and programming, planning for a meaningful closing that celebrates the church’s history, and leaving a legacy that can provide resources for new churches and ministries. 

The hospice approach to downsizing tends to focus on reducing staff. This makes sense. Staff are usually the biggest part of any church budget. A brief Internet search reveals that recommendations for staffing as a percentage of overall budget range from 45% to 65%. (Many churches spend much more. Contrariwise, some have no paid staff whatsoever! See Shalom UCC in New Haven, CT. Our 2021 budget allocates 66.4% for staff with several positions as of right now unfilled.) 

Hospice staffing usually consists of an administrator who runs the church office,  coordinating groups and rentals, printing the bulletin, and the newsletter, etc. There’s a sexton/cleaning company to maintain the building. A part time musician and a part time pastor lead worship, do funerals, and care for the church members until they gradually become too few to maintain the church assets. 

The good news is that even at this point, new life is possible. The dying congregation plans a “funeral” to celebrate all of the wonderful ministry it has done. Then it can leave a legacy to another organization or entity in some form. The UCC has a process whereby the assets of closed churches can be used to start new ministries to reach new people in desperate need of hearing the UCC’s inclusive message. For more information see Toward the Better Country: Church Closure and Resurrection by UCC minister Gail Irwin. 

Downsizing can be very liberating. Freeing ourselves from that which is unnecessary and burdensome can open space for new possibilities. What other downsizing models do you see?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-24-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-24-20

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me. 

11 Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me. 

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

The end of the year is a time for looking forward and looking back. Before I go any farther, a couple of caveats: 1) I recognize and honor all of the loss, grief, and anxiety of 2020 including the global COVID pandemic, our nation’s racial reckoning, and the ongoing political “civil war” that is tearing at the social fabric; 2) I recognize the longing to “go back to normal”; 3) as far as the future of our church goes, I’ll do my best to support whatever direction the congregation chooses.

That being said it seems highly unlikely that it will be possible to go back to pre-COVID “normal” entirely. Too much has changed. New habits have been formed and will likely continue–like worshipping online and doing meetings on Zoom, for example. Yes, we will resume doing things in person, but we will be connecting online much more than before COVID just because it’s more convenient and actually better suited for certain kinds of interactions. The good news is that we may have unwittingly perfectly positioned ourselves for this moment. 

I encourage you to check out the blog post “Five Reasons Why 2021 Should Be Your New Baseline.” The author, Thom Rainer focuses primarily on church metrics (how we measure our ministry), but his suggestion is that churches treat 2021 as a “fresh start.” If 2021 is a year for “fresh starts,” it seems to me that either the “downsize” lane or the “consolidation” lane could offer the opportunity for the freshest of all fresh starts–depending on how it’s done.

I get it. We human beings tend to resist letting go of anything lest we lose something “important.” Wise discernment is necessary for deciding what to leave behind and what to carry forward. But it is also true that an important part of our faith is the opportunity to start again, to lay down our burdens, to let go of the past including all our mistakes and regrets, to receive forgiveness, to get a second chance. As horrible as 2020 was in many respects, 2021 might just present us with an opportunity many people long for: a fresh start.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-20

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy,  3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance;  4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

As I shared in my last installment of “What’s Up,” at the First Congregational Church of Granby Nov. 23 “What’s Next” workshop, I was tasked with researching and sharing information on current trends in church vitality. There’s a ton of information out there. The trick is curating relevant content (to use a current turn of phrase)!

I’ve been trying to keep Advent themes. The theme for this week is joy so I did a very “current” thing: I googled “church vitality and joy.” VoiLa! Google gave me a Facebook post from what looks to be a new church start called “Vitality Church,” whose physical location is the building of a (now closed?) Disciples of Christ congregation. Look at all the kids! You can check out the post here. Included in the post is the above Scripture from the Epistle of James: “whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy . . .” 

First Church (like many churches) is facing trials, and our faith is being tested. James reminds us that this is part of the process! This isn’t a “bug”; it’s a feature! Think about it. Our ancestors faced all kinds of trials: the Civil War, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, etc. etc. etc. Why should we expect our experience to be any different? The fact is Christianity and congregational life is designed to test us. That may come as a surprise to some of us who have been taught either implicitly or explicitly that as “good people” we have a “right to comfort.” James says, “No.” As Christians we don’t have a ‘right to comfort’ but we do have the promise of joy.  Testing builds endurance, which leads to maturity and “completion.” Completion here means “perfection, holiness, happiness, bliss.” So be joyful! This is it, friends, this is the Christian way. This is the real deal.

I encourage you to check out the “about” tab of Vitality Church’s Facebook page. Notice how they describe themselves. Notice their values and how they aim their message. Remember the Simon Sinek video we watched during our “What is Your Why?” workshop? He said vital organizations and movements (including the civil rights movement!) operate out of their “why” because that helps them connect with others who share that “why.” Vitality Church makes it clear that they are an imperfect church for imperfect people that is nevertheless focused not on their own personal preferences but on meeting the needs of their neighbors. To quote: “No matter what we will always do our best to be whatever people need us to be.”

Making a transition from decline to vitality is difficult! It is at times painful and exhausting. Hooray! Our faith is being tested in order that our joy might be complete.

Worship Resource Epiphany 2021

Opening Prayer                                                                                                                                             

Holy God, you reveal yourself to us in Jesus. Shine in and through us so that we can be a light to many. As we reflect upon the previous year, we’re aware of how you have guided us. Even when we wandered, you never abandoned us. Even when we lost sight of your illuminating presence, you never gave up on us. As we approach a new year filled with unexpected challenges and unprecedented opportunities, give us the courage to face each moment. Give us the wisdom to see the light of your life in each circumstance. Amen.

Worship Resource: Advent Wreath Liturgy 2020 (inspired by UCC Book of Worship

Advent wreath readings 2020

Advent Wreath week 1: Hope

Introductory Sentences

Today is the beginning of Advent–the preparation time for celebrating Christ’s birth. We are here because God’s promises to our ancestors came true when Jesus was born. God’s promise is kept each Sunday when we worship and wherever we worship because Christ is in our midst. God will keep the promise to come again in glory. 

Scripture 

Isaiah 60:1-2

 Arise, shine; for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 

2 For darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you,

and his glory will appear over you. 

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is hope. (Share one thing that gives you hope.) We believe in hope that is more than wishful thinking. We believe in hope that is grounded in the birth of Jesus. 

Light the first candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

God we thank you that Jesus brought hope into the world. Help us to be ready to welcome Jesus so that we may be a people of hope for the world. Amen.

Advent Wreath week 2: Peace

Introductory Sentences

We gather around the Advent wreath today knowing that we are not perfect–we all make mistakes and cause others harm. Jesus creates a more peaceful world by helping us repair the harm we’ve done. Jesus helps us accept ourselves and others so that we can be at peace.

Scripture

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

7 His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time onward and forevermore.

The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is peace, for Christ is called the “Prince of Peace. We believe in the power of peace to heal the world.

Light the second candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

Eternal God, we thank you that through all the years you have given peace to your people. Help us to cultivate peacefulness in our lives. Show us how to be peacemakers with those around us because we believe in peace. Amen.

Advent Wreath week 3: Love

Introductory Sentences

St. John wrote, “God is love.” As we gather around the Advent wreath today we celebrate God’s love sustaining us moment to moment regardless of our actions or circumstances. God’s love is embodied in Jesus and in each one of us. Because of this we say, “We believe in love.”

Scripture

1John 4:7-8

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to porcelain the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is love. Such grat love helps us to love God and one another.

Light the third candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

O God, we thank you that Jesus showed your love for every person–old people and young, sick people and those who were strong, rich people and those who were poor. Your love in Jesus changed the world. For this reason we say, “We believe in love.” Amen!

Advent Wreath week 4: Joy

Introductory Sentences

Soon we shall celebrate the birth of Jesus. We worship God with joy in our hearts as we are reminded of the words the angel said on that first Christmas Day: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people.” With the angels long ago we say, “We believe in joy.”

Reading of Scripture

John 15:9-11

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is joy. Joy is ours not only at Christmas but always.

Light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

O Holy One, as Christmas draws near, we look for that familiar sense of excitement. Perhaps we glimpse it out of the corner of our mind’s eye: a wisp of memory, a childhood song. In this time of global pandemic and political transition we confess to you and to all the world that we believe in joy because you promise us that while “weeping may linger for the night, joy comes with the morning.” Thank you for the gift of Jesus–Morning Star, light of life, bringer of joy.

Christmas Eve

Introductory Sentences

Good evening! On this Christmas Eve we are gathered as God’s people to celebrate again what Christ’s coming means to the world. We join with Christians and all people of good will around the world who are celebrating tonight in saying, “We believe in hope. We believe in peace. We believe in love. We believe in joy.”

Reading of Scripture

Luke 2:10-14

0 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

Lighting of the Candles

Tonight we relight the four Advent candles and recall what the good news means.

A leader lights a candle while saying each word: hope, peace, love, joy.

Jesus Christ is the greatest gift who makes all these other gifts possible. So we light the Christ candle now as we welcome the birth of Christ in our lives.

A leader lights the central Christ candle.

Prayer

We thank you God, for your gift of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We thank you that Christ’s coming makes hope, peace, love, and joy possible. Make us your hands and heart to our hurting world because we believe

In hope,

In peace,

In love,

In joy,

And in the matchless gift of Jesus.

Amen.

Worship Resources for Blue Christmas 2020

Words of Welcome                                                                                                                                                                    

The holidays bring with them a mix of emotions: nostalgia, anxiety, anticipation, hope, joy, grief and more. Some of these emotions are more welcome at this time of year than others. We might feel pressure to act happy because it’s Christmastime when inside we don’t feel that way. That’s not the true message of Christmas. God sent the Christ child for the very purpose of sharing our common lot with all of its circumstances and emotions pleasant and unpleasant. In becoming one of us, God accepts all of us. So bring yourself, just as you are to grieve, remember, celebrate, and cherish loved ones who have passed on and the God who embraces us all.

Opening Prayer                                                                                               

God of mercy, we pray for ourselves. We pray for our dear ones. We pray for those who have passed on. We pray for our neighbors and communities. We pray for all of us, who in one way or another have been affected by this year of global pandemic. Because of the pandemic, some of us haven’t had the chance to say good-bye in a way we had hoped. Our grief is complicated; our loss ambiguous. Wrap us in your boundless embrace. Heal our hearts made heavy with sorrow. Lift our spirits so that we might join the heavenly chorus singing, “Peace on earth and good will to all.” Amen. 

Advent Wreath 

 This Advent we light the first candle acknowledging our grief and inviting God’s consolation into our hearts.

Lights the first candle.

We light the second candle accepting our pain and inviting God’s comfort.

Lights the second candle.

We light the third candle noticing our fears and remembering that God’s perfect love casts out fear.

Lights the third candle.

We light the fourth candle honoring our struggle as a sign of the divine life that lives in and through us. 

Lights the fourth candle.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-11-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-11-20

The theme for the third Sunday in Advent is love. Love is an important theme not only for Christianity and life in general but also more specifically for congregational transition. The big question driving the transition at First Congregational Church of Granby is What is our path to sustainability? The one word answer is love. We have to love our community. And you can’t love someone you’re not in relationship with. That’s why our Vitality Team has been focusing on developing strategies for building authentic relationships with our neighbors.

At our Nov. 23 “What’s Next?” workshop, someone asked for more information and resources on new models for doing church effectively and sustainably in the 21st century. I was tasked by our transition coach with providing that information. There’s a lot out there, and the magic of the Internet gives us access to much of it.

This week’s article comes from Rev. Paul Nixon, leadership coach and founder of the Epicenter Group in Washington, D.C. It’s called “Turning the Sustainability Question on it’s Head.” I encourage you to read the whole thing. It’s not long. Here’s a sample quote: “Their [the church Rev. Nixon was consulting with] core work is not to rebuild their church membership – that is important work, but not the core work. Their core work is cultivating a wider neighborhood that is rooted in gospel values – and weaving their lives with the lives of those in this larger neighborhood. The work of sustainability is rooted in and driven by RELATIONSHIPS.  Jesus said, Seek first the Reign of God, and all these other things will be added along the way.  Any church that understands that it exists to sustain community, neighborhood and justice will seldom be a church running out of people or resources.”

My “why” is love. I love people. I love God. That love is always calling me to connect, to seek and to see and to cultivate the connections among us. I’m so grateful that we can do this work of cultivating relationships together both in the town of Granby and beyond. We’re headed in the right direction. The question is Which of the approaches before us–downsizing or consolidating–will give us the best chance of weaving our lives with the lives of those in our larger Granby neighborhood?