(Originally published on August 15, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)
In 2009, Barna Group
researchers conducted a survey-based study of “the state of mainline Protestant churches” in the United States. After extensive data-crunching, they concluded that “mainline churches have weathered the past decade better than many people feared they would, but serious challenges [threaten] continued stability. The quality of leadership—especially regarding vision, creativity, strategic thinking, and the courage to take risks—is the most critical element
in determining the future health and growth of Mainline congregations” (“Report Examines the State of Mainline Protestant Churches
,” December 7, 2008).
This finding was confirmed in last year’s United Church of Christ (UCC) report on “Congregational Vitality and Ministerial Excellence.” Based on extensive surveying data gleaned from UCC congregants, the June 2015 report highlighted “four marks of ministerial excellence” that correlated most strongly to congregational vitality:
- “The ability to mutually equip and motivate a community of faith”;
- “The ability to lead and encourage ministries of evangelism, service, stewardship and social transformation”;
- “The ability to read the contexts of a community’s ministry and creatively lead that community through change or conflict”; and
- “The ability to frame and test a vision in community.”
Curiously, these four marks “were the lowest-rated items by congregants.” Most respondents did not think their pastor(s) were proficient in the very skills and aptitudes that contribute directly to, and are most necessary for, church vitality!
This raises an obvious question: How can authorized UCC ministers “learn” or develop these essential marks of excellence?
Continue reading Fear and Loathing in the Pastor’s Study: Can Authorized Ministers Learn Innovative, Risk-Taking, and Entrepreneurial Leadership Skills?
(Originally published on May 30, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)
Fifteen years ago, when I was a pastor in the Southern Conference, I overheard someone remark that the trouble with the United Church of Christ (UCC) is that it doesn’t know whether it wants to be a liberal church or a diverse church. I’ve often thought about those words, and I’ve often recited them to others. More recently, I’ve wondered about their validity: How diverse is the UCC? How liberal (or progressive) is it? And what do we mean by diversity? Is UCC diversity just about ending racism and getting congregations to become Open and Affirming (ONA)? Is it about intergenerational worship? Is diversity about our churches’ different worship styles and theologies?
For starters, UCC diversity doesn’t mean that when our denomination advocates for social justice concerns, it speaks for every UCC congregation and member. Nor does it mean that because General Synod does not speak for everyone, it should remain silent and never take a stand.
And diversity doesn’t defy the laws of logic. A church cannot endorse and simultaneously reject a certain viewpoint or commitment. Nor can a theological idea or church practice be both true and false, or exist and not exist. Nor can a pastor embrace change and tradition at the same time. Nor can UCC leaders advocate for LGBTQ rights and racial justice in urban and multicultural churches—and not talk about these commitments in rural congregations.
There are many ways in which we are diverse.
Diversity is evident in the “radical welcome” and “extravagant hospitality” that UCC churches extend to all who come through their doors: first-time visitors and forty-year members; the young and the old; atheists, doubters, and true believers; gays and straights; people of color as well as white people; the poor and the rich; people of disability and the able; and saints and sinners of every kind. UCC churches do not restrict participation, membership, or Christ’s Table to the “saved.” Like the banner says, “Jesus didn’t reject people—and neither do we.”
Continue reading Some Thoughts Regarding the Parameters of Diversity and Inclusion in the United Church of Christ
(Originally published on April 25, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)
What expectations do United Church of Christ (UCC) congregations that are currently engaged in search-and-call processes have of their prospective ministers? What qualifications are they looking for? Who do they say they want their next pastors to be, and what do they want them to do? And are their expectations realistic?
To begin grappling with these questions, I turned to the UCC Ministry Opportunities website and examined every listing—some 256 of them, representing 5 percent of the United Church of Christ’s 5,117 congregations—posted during the week of February 14-20, 2016.
What I came away with was a “snapshot” of the church—or rather, a snapshot of 256 UCC churches and their ministries—at one particular moment in their history. The following are the major themes and findings of this study. (You can read the full report here.)
Many listings on the UCC Ministry Opportunities website described churches that are small and/or populated with retirement-aged folks. The narrative of the United Church of Newport, in Newport, Vermont, could have been written by many: “We have an aging congregation, but occasionally [we] attract a young family to come and stay.”
Seventy-eight churches—just over 30 percent of the 256 listings—said that they were looking for part-time pastors. This finding dovetails neatly with the research of church leaders and consultants who tell us that in coming years, more and more American Mainline and Progressive Protestant churches, including UCC congregations, will be led by part-time clergy.
Continue reading Deconstructing the UCC Ministry Opportunities Webpage: What Kind of Pastor Do Churches Say They Want?