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New language for congregational development

New language for congregational development

Greg Syler asks if there is another way of talking about and doing congregational development in an article for Episcopal News Service

Beyond the cases of definitively abusive relationships in which power and Christian values are mangled – clear causes for changing a congregation – I think we need a new approach to knowing one’s story.

When I first met the parish I serve, I fell in love with its story and character. The parishioners act in ways that, sometimes, are unusual to me but my perspective is different. That’s why I spend a lot of time listening and, when most situations turn out to be different, not bad, I run with it and learn from God through them. In a church that’s been here nearly as long as English settlements in the New World, it’s fruitless and arrogant to suggest that they should become a mission-statement-driven, pre-canned organization. For one, that’s not going to happen. For another, there’s quite profound health in a church like St. George’s, although it’s been seldom detected nor loved into its greatest potential.


We know that the science of congregational development emerged alongside the fear of declining numbers. Congregations were the subject but I’ll bet many of them also felt like a target, feeling ignored at best, or mishandled at worst. I sometimes wonder whether the rise of the overhyped congregational development industry partly contributed, unwittingly, to even further decline.

So here’s a proposal: let’s replace the mechanical, manipulative baggage of “congregational development” with something more identifiably faith-based and promising. In a world in which people aren’t seeking a church organization but, rather, a profound spiritual experience of community with others and communion with God, let’s focus on growing the Body of Christ.


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