Alice Mann, author of Raising the Roof: the Pastoral to Program Size Transition has written a new essay for the Alban Institute:
As a congregation wrestles with the possibility of growth, it is important to create space where leaders and members can explore their own particular desires in this matter and recognize the conflicts that exist even within themselves. Clergy can have an especially tough time admitting their own resistance to growth. It is much easier to project ambivalence on others—pinning the problem on parish old-timers, on the denomination’s mistakes or on the attitudes of the next generation. There are plenty of reasons a pastor might dread the spiritual and political demands of a size transition.
A congregation approaching size decisions needs many safe settings—over a period of months and years—for members and leaders to ponder the voices they hear in their own hearts and minds. Quiet days, study groups, and workshops with leaders from other congregations can help. By whatever means may fit your context, ask people to trace their own longings back to the very deepest desires of their hearts. As leaders and members begin to inhabit their personal desires and to share these openly with others, they may be ready to recognize the conflicting voices resonating within the congregation’s corporate personality. What do we desire together? This question cannot be answered through the mathematics of a vote or survey, although there may come a point, after much conversation and prayer, when testing the waters with a survey or poll will be a clarifying step. We have a communal relationship with God that both embodies and transcends all our individual faith journeys. At this corner of the triangle, we are challenged to accept that the ambivalence belongs to us together, even though different segments of the community may vocalize particular strands of the conversation.
Those of us who have not studied congregational development in any great depth often wonder, on reading essays like this one, whether a simple question is being ignored Is growth even possible? Is anyone buying what we are selling? If not, why not? Is there room—amidst all the talk about parish histories and program sizes and pastoral sizes—for a conversation about whether we need to consider radical changes in the way mainline churches do business if we are to reverse a well-established culture trend that leads to our extinction?