What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-12-21
The GUCCI (Granby United Church of Christ Initiative) team has been using a marriage metaphor to describe the collaboration/consolidation process we are imagining.
In the book Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work the “marriage model” is one of four consolidation models that the authors describe. Here’s what they say about the marriage model:
“Marriage mergers occur when two comparable churches, similar in size and/or health realign with each other under a united vision and new leadership configuration. Marriage mergers in churches are a lot like a marriage of two people coming together as one bringing strengths, and liabilities to the new entity. and like a lot of human marriages churches coming together may have some difficulties, but they can work through them.”
This seems to pretty accurately describe our situation. In this metaphor, as I understand it, the past three years of Union Services and GUCCI meetings and other joint efforts could be described as “dating.”
The vote this coming Sunday is to “get engaged.” No metaphor is perfect. Different folks will have different understandings of what it means to “get engaged.” The important thing to keep in mind is that getting engaged is NOT the same thing as getting married. It’s a commitment that the parties will make whole-hearted and good faith preparations for making public and sacred vows of union.
So engagement is serious, but it doesn’t mean the marriage is a done deal. Even with the best of efforts things can fall apart. That’s OK. There’s no way to know for certain beforehand, but if we proceed with openness and honesty we can walk this journey together and find some blessing in it regardless of the outcome.
My wife, Nicole, and I are both children of divorced parents. We approached our engagement with few illusions. I asked Nicole to marry me Valentine’s Day (I know, so cliche) 1996. She said, “Yes.” Afterward we had a very serious but honest conversation about our expectations for our engagement and anticipated marriage. Nicole said to me, “This means that whatever happens, we do it together.” Fast forward, this year we are getting ready to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
That’s my understanding of the step we as churches are being invited to take. What’s yours?
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-29-21
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column on different models of consolidation. For review, they were: assimilation, satellite, merger/restart, and “ICU.” If the goal of consolidation is to move from a decline trajectory to a growth trajectory, then the satellite and restart models offer the best possibilities. Satellite requires that a growing church “adopt” a declining church and redevelop it as a satellite location. Restart requires that two or more churches relinquish their prior identities in order to merge assets and create a new congregation.
Since that column I’ve done a little more digging for real world examples of some of these models. Below are a few examples and resources for further investigation.
Our Vitality Coach Rev. Paul Nickerson worked with three United Methodist churches that used the Restart model to create Lorrain Lighthouse UMC at a new location. The pastor who took them through this process is now retired but Paul assures me that if we inquire there are some church leaders who could share their experience. Their Web address is https://www.lorainlighthouseumc.com.
Paul also directed me to a United Methodist District Superintendent in West Virginia for information about a three church creative merger that she oversaw. I’ve sent an email and will let you know when I find out more details.
An example of a Satellite/Adoption model consolidation from the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church is Garfield Memorial UMC, which adopted South Euclid UMC. The pastor of Garfield Memorial is Rev. Chip Freed (email@example.com).
Learning from others’ experiences can be helpful for making informed decisions. Check out the Websites and let me know if there’s interest in setting up a call with any of these congregations. We’re not in this alone. Other congregations are successfully navigating transitions and coming out on the other side with a new lease on life!
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?
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-22-19
Following worship this past Sunday we had the second installment of our monthly “Working Lunch” program at First Congregational Church of Granby. This month we focused on a report of our Meet the Minister meetings. 47 church members participated in five Meet the Minister meetings over a period of several weeks. An intentional effort was made to invite the participating of both more active and less active members. Each meeting addressed four questions:
- What brought you to FCC Granby?
- What keeps you at FCC Granby?
- What would you like FCC Granby to be in 3-5 years?
- What steps might we take to get from here to there?
Responses were recorded and then tabulated through a method of qualitative analysis. You can read a full report of the results here.
Top line summary:
- What brought you to FCC Granby? Sunday school for our kids (17 mentions).
- What keeps you at FCC Granby? Frienships/”people” (13 mentions).
- What would you like FCC Granby to be in 3-5 years? Merge South Church and First Church/a new combined church with new pastors, new mission, new space more that fits new mission (11 mentions).
- What steps might we take to get from here to there? Get out in community/Invite people (9 mentions).
The response to the first question is easy to understand in light of what FCC Granby and the wider culture used to be. Most participants joined the church when they were young parents. It was generally thought in the wider culture that some sort of exposure to religion was a good thing for children. So they looked for a vibrant Sunday school program and found one at FCC Granby. Now those kids are adults and are either moved away or no longer find church relevant. Newer generations have little or no exposure to church. The wider culture no longer values religion the way it used to. Today we can no longer count on young families with children to find us. We need to put in the hard work of connecting with them.
The response to question two is important. Declining churches are often faced with hard choices due to limited resources. This raises a foundational question: What is the “church?” If a church decides that what it really is is the building, its options for creating a sustainable future are severely limited. Too often, the church ends up closing and selling its beautifully maintianed building to someone else. If the church, however, is the people, for whom the building is a resource for ministry, the church has many more options for creating a future for itself.
The response to question three inspires me. It says that many in the core, active membership of the church see the need to do something big to fundamentally change the decline trajectory of the church. Merger is the most obvious option, but what shape that might take remains unclear.
Response to question four may seem at odds with the response to question three, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t see a merger possibility as “throwing in the towel,” so to speak. I’ll say it again, if the vision of merger is tying one “Titanic” to another “Titanic,” we’re wasting our time. If, however, it is combining resources to create a new mission of reaching new people and having a greater impact on Granby and beyond, then it’s worth it. The time to begin building that new mission is now.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 9-19-19
The path to congregational sustainability is a paradoxical process of reaching out and reaching in. This past weekend we began training in the “reaching out” piece. 11 folks from First Congregational Church of Granby participated in a workshop entitled “Reaching New People” hosted at First Church in Windsor and led by Rev. Paul Nickerson, a UCC pastor who consults with scores of congregations across the country around issues of church vitality. First Church in Windsor participated with a team of about 20. FCC Wallingford and South Congregational Church of Granby also had representatives present.
During this intense 9 hour workshop over two days, we learned how changes in the wider culture have made the “attraction model” of reaching new people ineffective. We learned best practices of getting out into our community and inviting people into authentic relationships. This is the basis for reaching new people in the 21st century. We wrapped up the workshop by developing a plan for implementing these new strategies and identifying people who could serve on a Vitality Team to work with the congregation so that together we can use our limited resources to greatest effect in growing the church. The Vitality Team will be supported by ongoing coaching from Rev. Nickerson. Reaching new people isn’t just the job of a few. It’s everyone’s responsibility to learn how to be good inviters. If each person in worship invited one friend to worship every week, we’d instantly double our attendance. Imagine that!
I have already begun leading the “reaching in” process. “Reaching in” is another way of saying “building organizational health.” I have been meeting with staff and team leaders, refining and implementing church policies, casting a vision for a range of possible futures for the congregation, modeling healthy leadership that honors FCC Granby’s Behavioral Covenent, reporting to the appropriate committees, and doing a lot, I mean a lot, of listening. Reaching in is a slow, deliberate process whereby we create safe space in which difficult truths can be spoken and heard in love. No congregation is perfect. Every congregation has baggage from the past that needs to be brought into the light, examined, healed, and released. Every congregation can improve its ability to listen deeply, communicate clearly, and engage differing perspectives in ways that draw people together instead of driving them apart. Most often an intentional congregational process led by a neutral expert (not the pastor) who knows the congregation but has no vested interest in particular outcomes is the most effective way to accomplish these goals.
As a congregation we need to tend our wounds, atone for our mistakes, and build a culture of hope so that we can welcome newcomers and weave them into our congregational life. As a congregation we need to let go of past hurts that weigh us down so that when the storms of change wash over our tiny boat, instead of sinking to the bottom, we can ride the waves. We need to learn how to be vulnerable and trusting with each other so that whatever the future holds we can face it with joy.
How is this related to our conversations with South Church? As I’ve said before, we need to fix the holes in our boat because if we tie one leaky life raft to another leaky life raft, where does that get us? We’re all still going down. Or think of it this way: what marriage is most likely to succeed? One in which the partners are stressed out, depressed, and dying or one in which the partners are happy, hopeful, secure in their identities, and looking to the future?
Whatever our future, the process of reaching out and reaching in will take us where God and the Town of Granby need us to be.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-20-19
This Sunday FCC Granby is joining with South Congregational Church of Granby to celebrate a “Union Service.” As I understand it these special worship services have been taking place for several years. Usually about twice a year the two congregations have gathered on Sunday morning for a joint worship service—sometimes in the First Church building, sometimes in the South Church building.
These services are part of a larger conversation about closer collaboration between the two congregations—some have even talked about the possibility of merger. Part of my role as Transitional Senior Minister is to help FCC Granby weigh closer collaboration with South Church as a possible path to long term sustainability for the ministry of the United Church of Christ in Granby.
I am still learning the details of the conversations so far. I am still learning the strengths and weaknesses of FCC, the dreams and visions of South Church, the needs and potentials of the Town of Granby. Every transition is unique. The path to sustainability, if that is indeed FCC’s desire, is going to have to be designed and walked by the members of FCC ourselves. No one else can do it for you.
The point of the union services, as I see it, is to worship together. The point of worshipping together is to see how it feels. What is the energy? How does it feel to have more people in worship? Does the blend of these congregational microcultures make sense? Most of all, could we be more together than apart?
While the answer to that question might seem obvious to some, in reality it isn’t. Most of the time when churches merge, they don’t grow. In fact, they soon shrink back down to whatever size one or the other previously was. That’s because the merger is not undertaken with a vision for a brand new identity and purpose of the new combined community. If you don’t fix the holes in the life rafts, it doesn’t matter if you have one or two. Everyone’s going down. In fact, while we’re desparately trying to keep from sinking, it may be that we’re missing the cruise ship that was sent to save us.
So the focus can’t be whose building or whose pastor or whose endowment. That’s just a fight over leaky lifeboats at this point. The question has to be Do we have a shared vision to reach new people in the ways that they want to be reached? If the question is one of maintianing an insitution, we’re doomed. If, however, we truly love our neighbors and are willing to do whatever it takes to help them connect to God, the answers to these other questions around our conversations with South Church will soon become crystal clear.