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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The Post-Construction Blues

by Dan Hotchkiss
Few projects excite and galvanize a congregation more than a new building or a major renovation. People complain about construction delays, capital campaigns, and the general din and dust, but their blood pumps, their wallets loosen, and their enthusiasm rises. Lyle Schaller went so far as to generalize that congregations that build capital are happier than those that spend it. (read more)

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Where’s Alban?

by Dan Hotchkiss
The work of the Alban Institute continues—you just need to know where to look for it. Like rich man’s fortune in the Parable of the Talents, Alban legacy has been divided into three parts, each carried forward by a different group. (read more)

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Family or Institution?

by Dan Hotchkiss

A church or synagogue always is two congregations at the same time. One is the formal institution, governed under bylaws by elected officers and ministers and staff. This congregation has procedures, rules of order (whether Roberts or some new alternative), and stated decision-making methods. Each newcomer who joins has the full rights and privileges of membership. If you want to know how this congregation runs, you read its bylaws, policies, and job descriptions.

The other congregation is more like a family. Its leaders are selected for charisma and respect, and remain indefinitely in office. Decisions are made informally, according to unwritten rules. Newcomers are accepted slowly, and until they are accepted have little or no voice in the deliberations of the group, even if they hold high office. Some things are “done” and others are “not done,” and there is no introductory brochure to clue the stranger into the folkways of the tribe. read more

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The Short List

by Dan Hotchkiss

Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that are the most useful. I am continually struck by the way multiple priorities, distractions, interruptions, and alternative perspectives cloud my view each day. It is part of ministry, of course, to be “accessible”—which is to say, open to interruptions—but over months and years it is important to maintain sufficient focus to be able, at the end, to say, “This is what we did.”

The Short List is a concept I use to keep myself on track. The basic idea is that no one can keep in mind more than three or four major priorities at once…. (click to read more)

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Governance and Ministry: Why Worry?

by Dan Hotchkiss

Why should congregations worry about governance and ministry? When there’s so much important work to do, why spend precious time defining boundaries, tinkering with bylaws and policies, delegating power, assigning duties, setting goals, and holding one other to account?

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Succeeding in a Paid Position

by Dan Hotchkiss

Each year, thousands of musicians, educators, clergy, office workers, and custodians start new jobs in congregations. If all goes well, the new staff member will eventually become an energetic, well-respected, and productive member of the team. The staff member helps to make this happen, but so do the governing board, the head of staff, and other supervisors. I will share some thoughts first for the top leadership, then for the new staff member directly.

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What Makes for a Strong Partnership?

by Dan Hotchkiss
Nothing is more important to a congregation’s dynamism than strong partnership between the clergy leader and the governing board.

By a strong partnership, I don’t mean one in which the partners are necessarily comfortable or happy all the time. A strong partnership is one that produces results in keeping with the congregation’s mission. To accomplish that, the partners need to agree about the mission and their plan for achieving it. They need to know what to expect of one another, so that over time they can build trust. They need to communicate frankly about what is going well and what needs fixing. And they need a way to make decisions that allows the work to move ahead.

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