A Church for Today

Congregational “Transformation”
Resources You Can Use

Edited by Rev. Dr. Roger Sizemore

"The world of the 21st century is new and filled with change.  The way the gospel is presented and brought to life is changing also.  Churches are discovering new calls and new visions for their mission and ministry.  This discovery is the process of  ‘Transformation,’ bringing the church into mission and ministry in the 21st century."
(From The Disciples of Christ, Division of Homeland Ministry web site.)

So how do we begin?

  • There is much conversation today about “Transformation.” What do we mean by this phrase? Are we all talking about the same things? As a leader in my congregation, why should I be at all interested in this current conversation?

  • Then, we must ask: what is “Congregational Transformation” and what are the criteria to be considered in discovering “Best Practices” to be recommended for consideration.

  1. How do I know if my congregation is “ready” for a journey toward “Transformation”?

  2. If we need outside “consultation and coaching” where do we go for help?

  • The suggestions summarized on this resource page must have proven effective in their approach, taking into account the great mountain of information currently available? {See, for one example, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Division of Homeland Ministry, DHM, web page at: http://www.disciples.org/Ministries/DivisionofHomelandMinistries/Transformation and the links from this site to “Best Practices,” and the “Directory of Resources.”} All of these many DHM recommendations require interpretation and guidance, without which there is only frustration and a sense of being overwhelmed. This page offers some of this needed assistance.

  • For this resource page to be of value there must be a discussion of the current conversations in the related areas of: (1) The “Missional Church” scholars and writers, or attaining a keen awareness of distinctions: “What is the difference between “missional” and “maintenance” oriented congregations.” --- see, The Center for Parish Development, The Center Letter on - line essays, at http://www.missionalchurch.org and in particular the work of Inagrace Dietrich, Ph.D.

How this resource came into being?

  • A Lilly Foundation grant made it possible to investigate “best practices” in congregational transformation during the summer and fall of 2007. This resource page summarizes the results of this study. The final recommendations resulted from spending time with the consulting organizations and interviewing those who had used these services.

  • The prerequisite criteria for determining “best practices” for consultation and coaching organizations, before they could be recommended, include the following:

  1. The need to operate from a “systems” or “family systems” approach to congregational life.

  2. A sound Biblical and Theological foundation, with a survey of current best scholarship.

  3. The avoidance of “quick fixes,” the imposition of formulaic, non-individualized approaches or “one size fits all.”

  4. Resources and strategies presented could not be merely “academic,” but the result of “on-the-ground” consultation/coaching of congregations over time.

  5. “Missional Church” and “The Gospel in our Culture Network” research and considerations, which affirm the role of the Holy Spirit, “leading into all truth,” must be evident--- (See the essays on the Center for Parish Development web site: The assumption being here, by Bullard, and others, is that the Holy Spirit will “call” congregations into their own unique future. This “Future Story” of each congregation cannot be determined upon the basis of past ideas of what has worked before.

Consulting / Coaching Organizations

As a result of this Lilly Grant Study,  The following Consulting/Coaching organizations were judged to have met all of the above criteria and are therefore recommended without reservation:

  1. The Columbia Partnership/George Bullard, Dick Hamm and Partners. http://www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org (*The Columbia Partnership currently works with Disciples congregations and judicatories)

  2. The Center for Parish Development, Ray Schulte, Dale Zeimer and Associates. http://www.missionalchurch.org (*The Center for Parish Development currently works with Disciples congregations and Judicatories)

  3. Church Innovations/Allelon, Pat Keifert, Alan Roxburgh and Associates. Keifert and Roxburgh frequently consult together. For Pat Keifert, http://www.churchinnovations.org and for Alan Roxburgh, http://allelon.org (*Alan Roxburgh currently works with Disciples congregations and judicatories).

  4. The Alban Institute people produce quality work in the general area of Congregational Transformation research. However, there are only a few of their “consultants” --- (Among them, the work of those known to me, are Alice Mann and Gil Rendle. See the bibliography and description of their work below.) --- who work extensively with congregations, and in this study, at least, these two are judged to have met all of the criteria outlined above --- http://www.alban.org

  5. The “Church Growth” consultants are not included in this recommended list in so far as they do not meet all of the criteria outlined above.

  6. For “conflict resolution” in congregations, first consult the Regional Minister, Ray Miles, who has several interventions and resources to recommend? As a result of this Lilly Grant study, however, the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, Chicago, is recommended. http://www.lmpeacecenter.org

Contact, the Regional Office, Denise Bell, Regional Minister, Denise.bell@gadisciples.org for more detail on these three consulting firms and what you should consider before approaching them.

Books and Web Resources

If there were only a few, new books and web resources on congregational transformation, coaching and consultation, what would they be, and why recommend them?

  1. George W. Bullard, Jr., Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation (St. Louis: Lake Hickory Resources, 2005).

  • Bullard has a wonderful summary of all the other approaches to congregational transformation currently operating, with an explanation of why he thinks the model he uses, “A Spiritual, Strategic Journey,” works best for achieving what he calls the Holy Spirit’s call upon the congregation for achieving its full kingdom potential.

  • Other models for congregational transformation which Bullard summarize include: Past approaches to “Church Growth,” Health, Faithfulness, filling in the “gaps,” (“gapology”) an emphasis upon what constitutes “success,” “renewal,” “revitalization” and there is even an extensive discussion of congregational “transformation,” all of which approaches, according to Bullard, have their severe limits.

  • Bullard utilizes the “Life Cycle and Stages of your Congregation’s Development” graphic, as a tool for helping identify congregational readiness for the journey.

  • A measurement of “readiness” and how to develop a sense of “urgency” for change is included. In getting your congregation prepared for this journey, a sense of urgency is measured by how the congregation views its future. He has a way of determining a congregation’s “score” on “The Congregational Issues for Generative Dialogue” assessment. Unless there is a sense of “urgency” for transformation, a congregation will not yield fruitful results.

  • See his main web resource with links to his other “blogs” http://www.BullardJournal.org

  1. Richard L. Hamm, Recreating the Church: Leadership for the Postmodern Age (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007)

  • Bullard and Hamm are part of “The Columbia Partnership,” which has a long history of results-oriented consultation and coaching with congregations. http://www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org

  • Hamm has a wonderful description of the generational differences challenging congregations today, the need for “contextual analysis,” the crisis in “governance” --- (How decisions get made) --- in our congregations --- (substituting democracy for discernment) --- and an explanation of why there is so much anxiety in our society and in our churches, today.

  • Hamm refers to the excellent, seminal work on “adaptive change,” by Ron Heifeitz, who is Director of the Center for Public Leadership, at The John. F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University --- (Leadership on the Line; Leadership Without Easy Answers, see http://www.cambridge-leadership.com).

  1. The many works by the “Gospel in Our Cultural Network”--- (a “network emerging in North America to address ‘post-modern’ mission challenges of congregations, in the late 1980s, continuing the discussion initiated in Great Britain during 1983 by the publication of Bishop Leslie Newbingin’s short monograph: The Other Side of 1984: Questions for the Churches, reissued as a study document by the World Council of Churches) --- and the “Missional Church” scholars and congregational consultant practitioners, will be reviewed extensively (See: George R. Hunsberger, Craig Van Gelder, Darrell L. Guder, Phillip D. Kenneson, Inagrace Dietterich, Alan Roxburgh, Pat Kiefert, Ray Schulte, Dale Zeimer, among others). See: http://www.gocn.org

Other resource ideas

See the Disciples Homeland Missions board web site, to become one of the 1000 transforming congregations. http://www.disciples.org/DivisionofHomelandMinistries.

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