What the Alban Institute Did Wrong

The stunning news that the Alban Institute is closing deserves some attention in the Church.

The same fate awaits all top-heavy church structures. That includes most mainline denominations.

Learn from this now. Or learn from this later — and take your neighborhood churches down with you.

Alban was an institution that made it a calling to help congregations enter the modern world. It spoke to us of change and advised us on best practices. Then, it failed.

Perhaps the mistake it made was in believing its own advice.

2×2 has criticized some of the advice given by Alban writers, most notably the 2001 book, Transforming Regional Bodies by Roy Oswald and Claire Burkat.

That book talks about the natural life of a congregation, recognizing its waning days and even helping it along the way. In other words, it didn’t have answers.

And so the Alban Institute accepted its own demise—unable to get a foothold in the modern world, unable to strategize for its own survival, much less advise congregations. Staff and salaries ate away at assets.  $5 million in assets was whittled down to less than $500,000 in just four years.

This same scenario is already happening in countless churches across the country.

The Washington Post made the same observation we make: “…it doesn’t surprise me that they’ve been feeling some real stress,” Roozen [David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religions Research] said. “The electronic world isn’t the natural gift of religious systems yet.”

I often wondered why The Alban Institute was heavy on on-site seminars geared to clergy whose congregations could afford to send someone for a two- or three-day event. The same material could be handled in webinars and opened up to lay leadership as well as clergy. This would have expanded the base of support and helped congregations, including laity. But the help was always geared toward upper management in larger churches. That’s a very limited audience.

Alban Institute was in a prime position to develop this medium. But others—private consultants—ended up opening the door to the future. Congregations learned they could go directly to the consultants. Opportunity lost.

Alban Institute was also in a prime position to create community among church leaders of many denominations and faiths. That would have created a larger base of support and enhanced its authority. It barely stuck its toe in the social media water.

Most mainline denominations are following the same losing formula.

Alban Institute founder, Rev. Loren Mead, was a visionary in many regards. His successors failed his vision.

It’s not too late to learn from this.

We’re trying!