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Hey, That's our Church! [Secure eReader]
eBook by Lyle E. Schaller

eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Five different strategies for increasing the size of the congregation are developed by Lyle E. Schaller -- with applications to small, middle-sized, and larger churches. Schaller also includes comments on the formulation of a workable denominational strategy for church growth. No church exists in complete isolations from all other churches, notes Schaller, "although thousands of congregations appear not to believe it."

Effectively using an informative case-history approach to outlining church-growth strategies, Schaller works from several basic assumptions. Visitation evangelism is the ideal method of obtaining new members, he says, but it is not always appropriate. He warns of the tendency of long-established congregations to attract "new" members from other churches..."the circulation of the saints."

Schaller also assumes that every church's approach to growth will rest on a foundation of its values, goals, dreams, prejudices, assumptions, interpretations of reality, theological perspectives, and understanding of the biblical imperative. It is good, says Schaller, for Christians to be members of congregations; it is good for congregations to receive new members; and it is good for denominations to grow in numbers.

eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2002


At the close of the interview the forty-three-year-old minister leaned back in his chair in the study of the church and asked, "If you've a few more minutes, I would like to raise a personal question with you. What kind of jobs are open outside the church for a man like me? You know me and you know my background. Do you have any suggestions on what I might do to make a living if I were to leave the pastorate?"

While the visitor silently reflected on the question, the pastor continued, "This is my fourth pastorate. I've been here slightly less than two years now, and it's obvious that I'm a failure. The membership was declining when I came and it's continuing to decline. Worship attendance has been dropping for over a decade, and it's dropped another 15 percent in these two years. The year before I came they were short $4,000 in meeting the budget, and the first year I was here we missed it by $5,000. This year we pared the budget to the bone and we'll still be short over $2,000. The Sunday school is falling to pieces and we've received four new members in twenty-two months. Deaths and transfers out have totalled nearly fifty in that same period.

"While we've known each other for only a few years," continued the pastor, "I happen to know you have a firsthand acquaintance with each of the three churches I served before coming here. While I have not been the most successful pastor in the world, I think I did a good job for each of those three congregations. I worked hard, I learned a lot, and I don't believe I ever will have to apologize to anyone for my ministry in those three churches."

At this point he rose from his chair and began to pace nervously around the spacious study with its booklined walls. Finally he stopped, and while looking out the window, continued, "Since I came here I have tried every idea, technique, procedure, methodology, approach, gimmick, and skill I've ever learned. None of them works! We simply cannot reach the people who live in this neighborhood. Methods I've used before to make contact with newcomers that always worked for me have failed completely. Every idea I've proposed has failed. Every effort we've undertaken to reach people outside the church has been an absolute bust!"

As he continued to speak his voice became more emotional and with obvious reluctance he continued, "My wife and I have talked about this and prayed about this for months, and while she has been very supportive and encouraging, I might as well face it. I'm washed up. I've had it. I think the best thing for me to do is to leave this church so they can get someone who can help turn things around. And, frankly, when I leave here, I guess the best thing for me to do is to leave the ministry. When we came here I looked forward to another twenty-five years in the pastorate. Now, however, I believe the most responsible course of action for me to follow would be to leave the ministry. There's no point in imposing a proven failure on another congregation. What do you think?

"What do you think?"

What is the most helpful perspective to use in looking at this pastor's dilemma? What approach might be helpful to him? What is an appropriate frame of reference to use in trying to understand this situation?

The most widely used approach and the one illustrated by the preceding paragraphs can be described by a very brief phrase, "Personalize and scapegoat." Whenever events do not follow in the hoped for sequence, the easiest explanation is to identify a person or group who is to blame and make that person or group the scapegoat. This procedure has been widely used in international relations, in community organization, in the Watergate fiasco, in the energy crisis, in defining the reason for the increase in the number of persons receiving public assistance, in describing the tensions which emerge when for the first time a young Congregation adds a second minister to the staff, or in defining why "that" congregation is growing so rapidly and "ours" is declining in size.

This approach is deeply rooted in events and doctrines described in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This approach rarely is creative or productive. A more helpful approach is to analyze the situation and try to discover the factors and variables that have combined to produce the dilemma.

The central thesis of this book is that analysis is not only more productive than scapegoating, but that one means of reducing the tendency to scapegoat is to encourage analysis. In more specific terms, this volume is an attempt to suggest that looking at congregations by types or categories can both inhibit the temptation to scapegoat and also produce some useful insights. This point can be illustrated by returning to the career decision facing this pastor. Is he really "washed up"? Has he actually been a complete failure? Should he leave the professional ministry?

It may be more helpful in responding to these questions to shift from a perspective of self-abasement to looking at his career in terms of the types of churches he had served. His first pastorate was as the minister and the only paid staff member of a congregation in a small town. It was the only mainline Protestant church in the community of 400 residents. After three years he moved approximately one hundred miles to a larger congregation in a city of 2,900 residents. It was one of six mainline Protestant congregations in that city, but the only one of that denomination. After six satisfying years he moved eighty miles to a larger congregation in a county seat city with a population of 8,000. The congregation he served there for seven very happy years was one of eight mainline Protestant congregations serving not only that city, but also a very prosperous farming community beyond the city limits. It was by far the larger of the two congregations of his denomination in the city and also the largest of the eight in the county.

Thus for sixteen fruitful, productive, and enjoyable years this minister served as the pastor of three congregations which, while substantially different in size, were similar in many other respects. One of the important similarities was that in each place the cultural values and community context were supportive of the values and organizational life of the churches he served. Many of the church members in each of these congregations had been born and reared in that community. They grew up in a community in which the several voluntary associations identified, recruited, trained, and placed leaders who moved from a leadership position in one voluntary association to a leadership position in one of the other voluntary associations. The church was one of these voluntary associations which trained, and utilized, and exchanged with other organizations this "homegrown" volunteer leadership. While there were conflicts over schedules, the public schools and the churches regarded each other as allies and shared many of the same values and also provided leadership for each other. Many church members saw one another on frequent occasions during the week as well as on Sunday. Many worked together every day. While the membership of the churches reflected social class lines more clearly than geographical boundaries, in each of these three communities the boundaries of the parish, in terms of the place of residence of the members, coincided with the community boundaries. In the first two communities the parsonage was located next to the church building. In the third it was three blocks away. In all three, however, the pastor's neighbors included members of the congregation and in all three the congregation's neighbors also were the pastor's neighbors.

At forty-one years of age and in his seventeenth year in the ministry this pastor moved to Trinity Church located in a city with a population of 165,000. Trinity was one of eight congregations of that denomination in this metropolitan area. Once it had been the prestige church of that denomination in the city. The meeting place was located about a mile west of the central business district in what had been, up until World War II, the best residential neighborhood in the city. The congregation had peaked in size once in the 1920s and again very briefly in the early 1950s, when it was served by an exceptionally able minister who was a great preacher and had a magnetic personality. He was the best known and most popular clergyman in the city. When he left in 1954, the decline began. Two decades later Trinity was an upper middle-class drive-in congregation with a meeting place in what had become a lower middle-class neighborhood. Out of a worship attendance of 180 on a typical Sunday morning, less than twenty lived within a mile of the building. More than one-half lived at least five miles away. At least 130 of that 180 had already celebrated their fiftieth birthdays and for some that event was a part of the distant past. During the twenty-two months this pastor had been here the church had been broken into by vandals at least nineteen different times. The ancient parsonage, which had been located next to the church building, had been razed several years earlier in order to enlarge the parking lot. The new eleven-year-old parsonage was located on the north side of town in a "good neighborhood" about four miles away.

Without going into further detail about Trinity it should now be clear to the reader what had happened to this pastor. He had trained, apprenticed, and gained over sixteen years of experience in what were three congregations of similar types. He then moved to a radically different type of situation. This analysis suggests that instead of identifying himself as the scapegoat in this situation and asking, "Should I leave the pastorate?" it might have been more productive to have asked, "Where does a minister with twenty years of potentially effective years of service ahead of him go for retraining when he finds himself in a completely different type of church than he has ever served before?"

Imagine for a moment, if you will please, that this minister had been born and reared in a German-speaking community, had gone only to German language schools, had served three German language parishes in German-speaking communities, and then had moved to a Portuguese-language community to serve an Italian-speaking congregation. Do you believe that some people might suggest that he should have additional training in languages if he expected to have anything but a frustrating experience in this fourth pastorate? It may be helpful to turn to two other analogies in this attempt to describe the basic assumption and the central purpose of this book.

In 1940 William Sheldon pioneered the concept of classifying people by body type. This procedure, called somatotyping, identifies three basic body types which can be defined as the spherical person, the thin person, and the Hercules type. Every person, according to Sheldon, has a bit of all three types. In a typical gathering of field and track athletes, for example, the shotputters will have a body type which is predominantly the Hercules (mesomorph) type. The runners are predominantly a combination Hercules-thin man (mesomorph-ectomorph) type. Likewise, the longer the race, the shorter in height are the winners. The trackmen specializing in the 400 meter distance will be approximately four to five inches taller than the winners of the 5,000 to 10,000 meter events. The individuals at this track meet who are predominantly endomorphs or spherical persons (heavy, round head, rounded body, and more fat) will be almost entirely among the spectators.

In other words, the use of this concept of body types is useful in predicting athletic careers. If your son, who is five feet nine inches in height, wins All-State honors as a high school quarterback and four years later is selected as the quarterback for the All-American team in college even though he is only five-ten at graduation, he should not expect to be a quarterback in professional football.

The use of types in looking at churches also can be helpful in both analysis and prediction. Victims of heart attacks usually display several common characteristics. This lists includes stress, ancestors with a history of heart attacks, obesity, inadequate exercise, smoking, high blood pressure, excessive use of alcoholic beverages, a high cholesterol count and diabetes. Very few heart attack victims have every one of these characteristics, but nearly every victim of a heart attack has at least four.

Similarly it is possible to identify at least some of the characteristics common to different types of congregations. Rarely will one find a congregation which possesses every characteristic on the list, but most congregations of that type will reflect most of those characteristics for that type. In classifying churches by type it should be remembered that congregations, like people, usually turn out to be a combination of two or three different types. Again some churches, as is also true with people, will reflect to the same degree the characteristics of three different types, but most people and most congregations are predominantly of one type.

After a congregation has been categorized by type, it often is possible to carry out a more creative diagnosis of the situation and to consider alternative prescriptions. Hopefully this process of analysis and diagnosis will help people move away from the tendency toward either scapegoating or hero worship ("We never had these kinds of problems when Dr. Adams was our pastor.") which are both signs of immaturity and toward the more mature approach of accepting both the strengths and limitations of people and of institutions which are governed by mere mortals.

This book was completed at a time when the tendency toward scapegoating may have reached a peak. Examples include the increased publicity about demonology, the renewed interest in exorcism, the speculation by a former army general that "some sinister force" had caused an eighteen-minute erasure in a presidential tape, the reaction to high food prices, the response to the energy crisis, a vice-presidential statement which placed the blame for the Watergate fiasco on "an arrogant, elite guard of political adolescents," and a new wave of anti-Semitism.

Another value in looking at churches by types is that organizations do have a profound impact on the behavior patterns of individuals. The difference in the behavior patterns between two ordained ministers probably will be due in part to differences between the two individuals in terms of personality, values, attitudes, social class backgrounds, amount and type of formal education, early toilet training, and age. Perhaps of even greater importance, however, in understanding these differences among ministers is the impact of the organization on the minister. The expectations placed on the pastor often vary greatly from one type of congregation to another, even within the same denomination. This point is illustrated by the dilemma of the pastor which was described a few pages earlier. The impact of the organization on the behavior patterns of a minister also is illustrated by many ministers when they leave the pastorate to take a position in the denominational bureaucracy.

The same basic point is illustrated as well by the changes in the behavior pattern of the lay person who moves from a relatively passive follower role to an active and demanding leadership role in that same congregation for several years and then back to a passive follower role. A common approach to this pattern is to ask, "What's happened to George? When he was on the Board, I saw him around the church two or three times a week. Now I only see him once every couple of months."

What happens to George when he moves away from the community in which he is an active leader in one type congregation and transfers his membership to a new congregation in the same denomination but of a radically different type? Is this one reason why a move to a different community is one of the three major occasions when church members "drop out" of an active role in the life of the worshiping congregation? (The other two major drop-out points are graduation from high school and soon after the youngest child leaves home.)

In his recent book, Political Organizations, James Q. Wilson has suggested that "Finding and explaining uniformities, both trivial and important, is the special competence, and perhaps the chief function of social science," (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1973). This quotation offers a relevant introduction to a brief description of the contents of this volume. The first chapter suggests a frame of reference for examining three issues which cut across the lines dividing congregations by types. These three subjects come up time after time in parish planning in most congregations regardless of age, location, or type.

The next six chapters describe six different types of congregations. Each chapter is devoted to one of the more common types of churches. The basic approach is to begin with a brief description of one or more kinds of congregations followed by a summary of the more common characteristics of its type and to close with prescriptive comments which may be of help to leaders as they plan for ministry today and tomorrow. Readers who would like to pursue this approach to church planning and seek descriptive statements of other types of congregation are encouraged to turn to the fifty-page sixth chapter of Parish Planning (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971).

The eighth chapter is related to the six previous, chapters in general and to the seventh chapter in particular. In this chapter an attempt has been made to describe the distinctive characteristics of the contemporary church. Those who seek a conceptual handle for the congregation which is forced to redefine its role before it can begin to plan for today and tomorrow may find the ninth chapter to be of assistance. This chapter begins with a brief description of five different types of congregations caught in an identity crisis and concludes with both general and specific suggestions on responding to this issue.

The last chapter is intended to be a transition between the reading of a book and the practice of church planning. For nearly all congregations faced with the necessity of moving from an emphasis on survival goals to a redefinition of role -- and also for a substantial proportion of all other types of churches -- this may be the logical beginning point in planning for the future.

During the past fifteen years I have had the enviable opportunity of visiting a total of approximately three thousand congregations in forty states and three nations. Many of these visits are for only an hour or two or perhaps a long evening session with a leadership group. Others are for a full day and an evening, while every year twenty to thirty of these visits are two, three, or four-day in-depth consultations with a single congregation. The material in this volume is drawn from these visits which annually provide firsthand contacts, interviews, and discussions with approximately three thousand people in congregations from a score or more denominations.

While it may be tempting, it would be inconsiderate, illegal, irresponsible, unethical, and contrary to a major thesis of this book to attempt to place on others the responsibility for errors of fact, analysis, or interpretation which may be scattered through this volume. That responsibility must rest on the shoulders of the author.

It also is impossible to thank by name the hundreds of dedicated church members, both lay and clergy, who have helped write this book. There are, however, a dozen to whom I am especially indebted for their insights, intellectual stimulation, and assistance. This list includes Ron Cochran, Gerald Jones, Mike Murray, John Parks, Leon Phillips, Dave Quill, George Reeves, Mel Sterba, Walter Welch, Charles Lee Wilson, Rip Winkler, and Lloyd Wright.

This volume is dedicated to two wonderful people who continually radiate to everyone around them the finest of the virtues of the committed Christian including faith in God, a love of Christ, a profound neighbor-centered concern, a wholesome respect for God's creation, and a never-failing cheerfulness, humility, patience, hope, and wry sense of good humor. All of us who have been blessed by knowing them are in their debt.

Copyright © 1975 by Abingdon Press

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