Archive | Congregations

What to Say When Your Side Loses

by Dan Hotchkiss “The ayes have it.” Curt put down his hand and looked across the table at Priscilla, who had also voted “no.” Priscilla smiled, shrugged, and joined the chatter about how to ask the membership to ratify the board’s decision. Curt was not smiling. By five to two, the board had voted to […]

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What Size is Our Congregation?

It’s harder to size up a congregation than it used to be. It’s still worth trying, though, because no one fact says more about a group of human beings than its size. A group of 20 people behaves differently from a group of 200, or 400, or 800. The question is: which number tells what […]

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How to Give Away Your Power

by Dan Hotchkiss It’s relatively easy to find people willing to do tasks. It’s hard to cultivate real leaders—people to take charge of projects and gather others to get something done. As one pastor put it, “We have willing workers, but I can’t seem to create leaders. I can delegate work, but I don’t know […]

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What’s Good about That?

by Dan Hotchkiss It’s good to pay attention to what’s going well. Most congregations—like most people—can accomplish more by building on their strengths than worrying about how to fix everything that could be better. That’s the basic insight of Appreciative Inquiry and other asset-based approaches to strategic planning: Instead of asking “What’s the matter?” ask, […]

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Left Behind

by Dan Hotchkiss It was an awkward moment. I stood in a glorious stone room with the remnant of a once-large congregation, doing my best to play the neutral as I facilitated their planning conversation. We went round and round, till finally an older gent stood up and nailed me. “Do you think we can […]

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Two Ways to Vote

by Dan Hotchkiss We vote a lot in congregations. Sometimes we do it with our hands—and sometimes with our feet. By “voting with our hands,” I am referring to the politics of congregational decision-making: conversation, group discernment, and consensus-seeking, in which voting may play only a small role. Boards and committees often wrangle and discuss until […]

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Great Committees

by Dan Hotchkiss In an old cartoon by Charles Addams, a man and his son walk through a park and look at statues, each of which depicts a little clutch of people. “There are no great men, my boy,” the father says, “only great committees.” (The New Yorker, May 5, 1975) We laugh. A great […]

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The Power to Make Promises

by Dan Hotchkiss Bondage is the opposite of liberty: what could be more obvious than that? When a prisoner is released, we say, “he’s free!” But bondage can be voluntary. In fact, the power to make binding promises is part of being legally adult. Without the right to make a binding contract, we would be like […]

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Pastor-centered churches

A reader writes: “I’m aware of the movement away from boards and committees in church life–a movement that I believe was first put forward from non-denominational churches such as Willow Creek. This is a quite different way of viewing church life and governance, but I’m not sure how it works. Is this something your book […]

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Putting staff in charge without losing volunteer commitment

Boards that try to delegate authority to staff often worry that volunteers will lose commitment. It’s a realistic concern: volunteers who handled large responsibilities under the board do sometimes decide, when the board passes the management baton to the head of staff, that they are no longer needed. This used to surprise me. Why would […]

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