Today’s post in the Alban Institute’s Roundtable is a fascinating study on a topic important to today’s Church—the role of lay leadership.
The article is an excerpt from a book, Scattering Seeds: Cultivating Church Vitality, by Stephen Chapin Garner (a pastor) with Jerry Thornell (a lay member).
The post begins with their New England congregation’s realization that professional leadership is an endangered commodity. Fewer young people are entering seminary. The number of second career pastors cannot keep up with the demand that is looming with coming retirements.
They answered the challenge by intentionally developing stronger lay leadership. The church grew. An unexpected result—their congregation sent seven members to seminary.
The authors talk about how the familiar visioning process never could have led them in the direction that ended up increasing their membership and helping to solve a denominational problem as well.
It all sounds familiar to 2×2. We found ourselves forced by a number of factors to rely on lay leadership. Had we relied solely on the recommended process of visioning and drafting a mission statement, we would probably still be holding special meetings to change a comma here or there.
Instead, we went to work. We addressed immediate needs and challenges. We prayed — a lot! We returned to the basics — making sure there was a quality worship experience, good preaching and hospitality. We took a few chances.
We relied on the talents of our members. When we were doing the work, we were more inclined to be invitational.
We gave ourselves room to grow. We cultivated a nonjudgmental atmosphere, allowing mistakes so that we could all learn together. We stretched. We maintained good relationships with supply pastors but were soon able to get by with minimal clergy.
The answer to congregational growth in challenging economic times may be in nurturing the laity — not in expensive hierarchical fixes.