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Church Leadership

afeature, Church Leadership

Should a dying church be repurposed?

January 25, 2013

It seems that I’m stuck on thinking about dying or dead churches. Why so grim, Alan? That is a good question. It seems that folks are interested in talking about this topic. For some odd reason, I’ve been thinking about struggling churches lately. Perhaps it is because I’m writing a second book on a related topic. I’m blessed with a growing and fruitful congregation to lead, but other pastors find themselves in a different situation.

Here in Albany, there are a number of congregations (mostly Catholic) who are closing their doors or selling property. According to the Albany diocese, 20% of churches will be closed. One church in particular, St. Patrick’s, is facing a flight from a group to stop the razing of the church. Some want to turn the church into a brewery or consider another purpose instead of a site for a supermarket.

Overit Media in Albany is housed in a former church.

Churches that closed are often bought as private homes, turned into a business, or sometimes bought by another church. I’m sure the members of a closed or closing church don’t want their structure turned into a pub or demolished to make way for a parking lot. Overit Media in Albany is one example of a church building turned business building.

Instead of closing or tearing down a church completely, is there another way?

A recent article from the Economist brought forward an idea that is growing. Since 1980, the Church of England has closed over 1,000 churches. That’s a lot of congregations and people. What can be done to reverse the trend? The idea goes something like this: keep the church building operating and functional, but repurposed the building so that services can be held while housing. The article sites some successful examples:

But there is a new mood in the Church of England… The plan is to turn the church into a community centre that will continue to hold religious services. This has worked elsewhere: Michaelhouse café in Cambridge… serves cappuccinos during the week but the building reverts to its original use as St Michael’s church on Sundays. In Hereford, Bath and York, working churches double as coffee shops, crèches and stores.

Could repurposing a church revive a church and help spawn new life through becoming a center for religious and cultural life? Doubling as a coffee shop and a church? Doubling as a library and a church? Doubling as a cultural center and a church? It is an exciting idea, but it is not a new one. Early church monastic communities featured gardens, centers of learning, and made money by selling goods that monks made.

But, how far could this concept go? Is it making a marketplace out of God’s house of worship or it is following where God is calling us to “be” the presence of Christ?

Read. Respond. Render.

Church Leadership

Robert Griffin III, the Redskins, and dying churches

January 9, 2013

rg3It was awful. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t watch it anymore.

My team, the Washington Redskins had started a good fight against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night football. The Redskins came out strong and scored 14 points quickly. My team was looking like they were a sure win to continue into the NFL playoffs with strong momentum. I was hopefully that my Redskins were going to taste a Super Bowl after 20 years.

And then, a Redskins fans greatest fear came to reality.

Robert Griffin III our star rookie quarterback, who was not 100% healthy, sustained hit after hit and injury after injury. Mean while, the Seahawks put together a multi-quarter drive to put points on the score board. As it happened, RG3, became weaker and weaker. His passes were ineffective and his signature running game was just a limb jog to the sideline.

Ugh. It was like watching a train wreck slowly.

“Is anyone going to do anything about RG3!?!”  I yelled at the TV.

Passes were misfired, plays were broken up, and interceptions occurred. The play-maker for the Redskins was hurt and no one seemed to do anything about it. Finally, the game was lost.

Immediately, fingers start to point as to who was responsible for RG3’s unhealthy play. It was the coach. It was RG3. It was the team doctor. The list went on. It seems that the team leadership was simply concerned about winning and not about the long term health of the quarterback

How could this happen?

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Church Leadership, clergy burnout, Leadership

Underestimating staff burnout

January 7, 2013

You don’t think your staff are stretched thin? Don’t think you are above burning out? Have you checked the health of your organizational staff? Perhaps you underestimate the power of staff burnout in your congregation or organization. It’s real and it can hurt not just your organization, but families.

Recently, a high-profile Baptist pastor in North Carolina became the latest ministry burnout case. Rev. Steve Shoemaker, who leads a 2,200-member Baptist church in Charlotte, entered a 30-day treatment program. In a rather quick move, Shoemaker sent a letter to his congregation outlining his need to step away. He wrote, “I’m physically, psychologically and spiritually depleted and must get help.”

What leads to such powerful emotional wounds?

Pastors and church staff often succumb to burnout. Long hours, high expectations, lower pay, being “on” 24/7, and stress all bring a higher work load to staff. This is often an under reported story in mainstream media, but in 2010 the New York Times wrote a story on clergy burnout. The first two paragraphs were striking and left no room for doubt of the power of burnout:

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Church Leadership, clergy burnout, Leadership

Why your church staff burnout

October 24, 2012


Has the slower US economy stretched our work force too thin and caused higher rates of burn out?

According to a new survey, 1 in 5 employees are burned out from their job. The USA Today reported the findings just how people feel about their work:

Since last year, the most significant growth in work priorities is no longer accomplishing basic responsibilities or improving their performance, but just showing up. “Being present” was the most important priority cited by 22% of workers — a 47% increase since the survey began in 2003 and a jump of 3 percentage points since last year.

Do we want people to just “show up” to work or feel empowered?

October is clergy appreciation month in many denominations and this brings added awareness to the epidemic of burnout in churches. In ministry employment, the problem of “pastoral burnout” is well noted, but many churches do little to combat it. Smartphones and social media have increased pastoral burnout, as The New York Times highlighted this problem back in 2010:
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Church Leadership, church staff, Leadership

What really sinks organizational staff

September 17, 2012

sinking_boat_1_xlargeI once worked on a church staff with a person who was very educated and talented, but the staff member was undermining the entire organization. This staff member would never say anything publicly that would criticize anyone. The staff member had a very subtle way of letting everyone know of personal hangups. These hangups were affecting the staff and thus the performance of the organization.

Within organizations, this situation plays out the same way. One person groaning, criticizing, and vocalizing their personal problems with others. Often, these behaviors come from a place of insecurity. These behaviors will sink a church staff or organization. Everyone knows who these people are, but staff often, unknowingly, feed this person’s behavior.

There is that negative comment at lunch, a complaint that comes after a meeting, or an overly critical email that is sent around people’s backs. This person lets everyone know that they are unhappy with organizational decisions or have personal gripes with others without confronting the issue at hand. This type of underhanded behavior sinks staff and there is a name for it:

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Church Leadership, founder's syndrome

Crystal Cathedral’s epic fail & founder’s syndrome

March 16, 2012

It appears that the problems at the Crystal Cathedral  have grown too great to overcome.

Robert Schuller founded the church and retired as the church’s senior pastor, but stayed on the board of directors.  The church never fully recovered from Schuller’s pastoral departure. Though he stayed on the church’s governing board, two of his children took a shot at pastoring the large church. Schuller’s son, Robert became the senior pastor and two years later resigned. Then, Sheila, daughter of the elder Schuller, became senior pastor, and now left.  The church then filed for bankruptcy in 2011 with $50 million in debt.

The Crystal Cathedral became one of the first mega churches and now is one of the first popular mega churches that may close. The Crystal Cathedral building was sold last year to the Catholic Diocese of Orange, CA for $57.5 million. The church continues to meet, but they must leave the building soon.

Much of the conflict around the transition of the elder Schuller to his children revolves around one fact: they are not their father.

When churches affix the identity of the church with the founding pastor, it becomes much harder for the church to transition to new leadership.  A celebrity pastor is often a formula for explosive growth, but ultimately is that a formula for disaster?

The Schuller children enacted several changes in worship, music, leadership, and programming.  The reason why those changes did not fit the congregation was centered on the fact that they did not do the necessary work. The church should have gone through a period of discernment and vision when Robert Schuller left as the senior pastor.  It is clear that when the Schullers stayed on the board of directors of the church their leadership became ineffective.

Leadership requires a guiding presence that can empower people to their full potential. The Schuller family failed at how to handle a leadership change.

The USA Today reports on this failure of leadership:  Continue Reading…

Church Leadership, Churches, mega church, megachurch

Crystal Cathedral: End of Mega Church Era?

July 8, 2011

The reports out of Orange County, California have not been encouraging for the once mighty Crystal Cathedral. Robert Schuller founded the church and recently retired as the church’s senior pastor.  In turn, the church never fully recovered from Schuller’s pastoral departure. Though he stayed on the church’s governing board, two of his children took a shot at pastoring the large church. Schuller’s son, Robert became the senior pastor and two years later resigned. Then, Sheila, daughter of the elder Schuller, became senior pastor.  The church then filed for bankruptcy last year with $50 million in debt.

If this was not enough, reports of the the founder, Robert Schuller’s departure from the church’s governing board surfaced last week. However, his position on the board was moved from voting member to “honorary Chairman of the Board Emeritus” in order to free him up for more speaking engagements.  Ah huh.

Membership and attendance have fallen since the founding pastor’s departure. Now with the debt issue over the church’s head, a few organizations have considering buying the church. The Catholic Diocese of Orange said it was considering buying the bankrupt church and converting it to a Catholic cathedral.  Chapman University bid $46 million and would allow the church to lease back its core buildings.

With all of these issues surrounding the Crystal Cathedral, the question rolls around in many minds: Can “newly” planted mega churches survive when the founding pastor leaves?

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change, Church Leadership, Churches, Culture

Why 9 in 10 Believe in God but not Church

June 9, 2011


Many in the religious right have been running for the hills because this “godless” nation has become too secular.  The rhetoric of our nation’s direction is flawed by the growth of atheists and secularists is over played.  It seems a recent Gallup study confirmed what has simply is unknown to many: We are still a religious nation.  More than 9 in 10 Americans still say “yes” when asked the basic question “Do you believe in God?” Perhaps even more encouraging is that 84% of 18-29 year-old segment and 94% of 30-49 year-old segment answered in the affirmative.

And this is not a statistical bump, but historically, since 1943, the vast majority of Americans believe in “God”.

godbelieveIt would seem that we are still a religious nation, but obviously church leaders want to know how many of those 90 plus percent are Christian. Logically, many ask the question, “If we are such a God-believing country, then why is church attendance so low?”

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Church Leadership, stewardship

The Fruits of Stewardship

November 5, 2010

The decline of giving to churches was well documented during the Great Recession.  Larger churches particularly struggled with giving.  The graph here shows regional declines in giving.  Many churches struggle with a vision on stewardship.  Many churches guilt their people into giving or force the concept of tithe.

Viewing giving through the lens of stewardship is helpful for churches and Christians.  Having a theology stewardship is key for churches to build a fruitful plan for giving.  If we start from the idea that everything we have comes from God then we can see our money, possessions, talents, and time as gifts.  Americans are very possessive when it comes to our property.

However, churches often ask the question, how can we encourage giving?  Cynthia Woolever gives three ways pastors and churches can encourage giving:

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Church Leadership, pastor

The Nature of Pastoral Work

October 27, 2010


Several bloggers are writing about a paradigm shift in pastoral ministry.  The model of a pastor working 60-80 hours a week is slowly changing and for good reason!  Who can sustain their sanity, a family, and a job at that rate?  Maybe that is why many people think of pastors as male, bald (or have bad hair), look disheveled, and are over weight.  I know of some pastors that are literally killing themselves in their work by being at church four or five nights a week.

Three blog posts are worthy of your attention.  My friend and fellow pastor Elizabeth Hagan recently wrote about “Being Off Duty as a Pastor” on her blog Preacher on the Plaza.  Her piece was picked up by the Associated Baptist Press.  Props to Elizabeth!  Her most pointed comments might come to a surprise to many lay people:

But, as you might imagine, all of this can be quite weighty on a pastor when everyone expects him or her to be at everything. My week, as is the case with almost every pastor I know, is filled with hard choices of what invitations to accept (and don’t take this to mean I don’t want to be invited to things, I consider it an honor and an important part of my work, so I tell my church to keep them coming). If I say “no” to a birthday party or graduation ceremony or even an anniversary dinner, it doesn’t mean I don’t love my congregation.

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Church Leadership, Churches

Mainline Churches Deal with ‘No Shows’

October 6, 2010

A new report this week has left many mainline churches  scratching their heads and wondering why church attendance has dropped.  The four major mainline churches, the Episcopal Church in the USA, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian (PCUSA), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), have all experienced double digit drops in worship attendance.  What is even more puzzling is that the ELCA has seen an increase in giving in the last 10 years.

Churches increased attendance in the last decade but lost in attendance numbers in this decade. What gives?  The economy?

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