Speaker: Kathy Wimett, Consultant from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Planning for Growth Program
"I want to describe a couple of particular challenges in mid-size churches," said Kathy Wimett, a consultant in the UUA Planning for Growth program for the past decade, "and I want to talk about your role as a leader in your mid size church."
Wimett, a founding member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Glen Allen, VA, has direct experience as a leader in a growing mid-size congregation. The Glen Allen church was founded in 1994 with 50 members, and now has 215 members. She defined a mid-size congregation as having between 150 and 350 members.
"Being familiar with the four types of congregational growth is essential to any type of growth," said Wimett. Drawing on the book More Than Numbers by Loren Mead, Wimett outlined four types of congregational growth: numerical growth, maturational growth, organic growth, and incarnational growth.
Numerical growth involves factors like Sunday worship attendance, church school attendance, size of the budget, and number of activities. Wimett emphasized that leaders should look at trends in these numbers, rather than a snapshot at any given time.
Maturational growth involves "the growth of individual members," said Wimett. "Are they maturing in their faith?" In maturational growth, individuals develop their religious faith so that they can share their unique gifts and talents. "What I mean by religion," she said, "is what it is that you believe in that guides you in your everyday life."
Organic growth involves the systems, processes, and programs that a congregation has in place. Wimett said a "right relations covenant" is an example of a system and process that can be in place in a congregation. Other types of organic growth might include: improving succession planning (i.e., identifying and developing new board members); the addition of evaluation mechanisms for paid staff and volunteers; evaluations of programs; etc.
Incarnational growth involves how a congregation engages in the larger community "to make the world more loving," said Wimett. "How is your church known in the community?" She gave examples like congregation that are known as social justice centers, or as being welcoming to gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons.
"These types of growth are so related," said Wimett. "Can you see that if your members are maturing in their faith, you're likely to grow numerically, as people are more likely to invite their friends to the church?" Similarly, Wimett added, "if you grow disproportionately, without [e.g.] the organic structure under numerical growth, you're going to have problems."
Wimett then turned to the particular problems faced in mid-size congregations. "Mid-size churches are busy places," she said, and sometimes negative words are associated with life there." But, she added, it is possible to provide good leadership that will lead to productive change. She gave three principles that leaders in mid-size congregations need to know.
First, leaders in mid-size congregations must "build a mission and ministry focus for your church," said Wimett. Ministry can be broken down into the congregation's ministry, personal ministries, and shared ministry.
When it comes to a congregation's ministry, she advocated for congregational mission statements. "The most important thing about a mission statement is that it needs to be current. If your church hasn't worked on the mission statement in the past five years you need to do it again." Wimett also stated that "it's the process around creating the mission that's so important."
Turning to personal ministry, Wimett asked, "What is it that you spend your spare time doing, how is it that you give to other people?" She believes that all congregational members should know what their personal ministries are. She suggested doing and exercise with congregational members, where each person is asked to list their unique gifts and talents. Then each person is asked to come up with their vision of the perfect world. Then each person develops a personal ministry statement that tells how to use those unique gifts and talents to get to the perfect world.
"Now that you know what your church mission is, and people are in synch with that mission, shared ministry is a sort of natural following," said Wimett, "and that's when people work together in ministry, work on the same projects."
Once a mission is in place, and once ministries have been developed, mid-size congregations can focus more on growth and transitions. "Leaders need to know what it takes to make the transition," Wimett said. Leaders must learn how to manage change. She focused on the minister's role.
In a mid-size congregation, the minister "by necessity picks up more administration," she said. "Another role of the minister in a mid-size church is to recruit lay leaders, helping lay leaders develop." As they take on new roles in growing congregations, ministers' roles as a communication conduit must decrease. In general, as a congregation grows, the minister becomes more of an administrator.
As growth continues, the congregation will need additional paid program staff (e.g., directors of religious education, associate ministers, etc.). Experts in growth say that a congregation needs at least one program staff person for every 150 members. "If you want to grow," said Wimett, "hire that second person before you get to 150 members."
As the minister's role changes in a growing congregation, long-time members miss the old functions of that minister. For example, they might miss the full-time pastor that they had become accustomed to. "That's what it's all about, missing something that you used to have, giving it up for the sake of the growth of your church, and that's very hard," said Wimett. She said she spoke from personal experience, adding, "Change is very personal. It's a real struggle between having a small close community, and growing and providing services that will draw others through the door." As a resource for managing change in a growing congregation, she recommended the book Leading Change in the Congregation by Gilbert Rendle.
Additional resources for congregational growth in mid size congregations can be found at the "Planning for Growth and Vitality for Midsize Congregations" website.