Main Content
Recommended Reading for Large Congregations
Membership Growth & Outreach, Large Congregations

Here is a selection of books that are especially valuable for the leaders of large congregations. Books are available from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Bookstore, Amazon, or for those books that are out-of-print, from Advanced Book Exchange.

General Works

  • Lyle E. Schaller, J.V. Thomas, and J. Timothy Ahlen, One Church, Many Congregations (Abingdon Press)
    At the heart of the authors' "key church strategy" is the belief that a church can be comprised of many congregations, meeting separately yet ministering together, in a variety of different settings-a strategy that has been adopted by 300 churches in 27 states
  • Lyle E. Schaller, The Very Large Church (Abingdon Press).
    One of the most crucial changes in North American life, Lyle E. Schaller explains, has been the shift from small to large institutions. Sixty years ago one-teacher, one-room schoolhouses still abounded, and the average number of students in all American schools was one hundred. Now new construction on elementary schools is often for facilities that will accommodate more than twelve hundred students, and average school size is over six hundred. Similar changes have happened in several other branches of American life. These changes, Schaller contends, mean that the rules have changed for everyone involved in organization life. Very large churches will increasingly come to embody the new rule-book for congregations. The Very Large Church was written for those congregational leaders, both volunteer and paid staff, who recognize that their old rule-book is obsolete and who are eager to learn how to participate effectively in the very large church in a context that is defined by the culture, the societal context, clearly defined expectations, a theological belief system, a passion for evangelism, a high level of competence, creativity, innovation, and a new and different set of rules, rather than by local traditions, geographical boundaries, or yesterday's stereotypes.

Covenant Groups and Small Group Ministry

  • Carl F. George, The Coming Church Revolution: Empowering Leaders for the Future (Baker Book House)
    Carl George offers a model of ministry that stresses the importance of relationships over programs, outlining methods for enhancing congregational life through small group ministry. While written from a conservative Christian perspective, this book is the one most often recommended by Unitarian Universalists doing small group ministry.
  • Thomas G. Kirkpatrick, Small Groups in the Church: A Handbook for Creating Community (The Alban Institute)
    This planning and leader training handbook offers a distinctive broad-based, small-group approach to building community. From the Jewish havurot to Christian koinonia, you will gain a thorough understanding of community, learn how to plan an effective small-group ministry, how to select and train leaders for all kinds of small groups, and how to start small groups that are a part of and not apart from their congregations.
  • Neal F. McBride, How to Build a Small Groups Ministry (Navpress)
    A management and organizing tool, this book identifies the basic principles that apply to all small groups and then outlines twelve logical steps for organizing, administering and evaluating a small groups ministry program.
  • Corinne Ware, Connecting to God: Nurturing Spirituality through Small Groups (The Alban Institute)
    Although spiritual growth occurs within an individual, Ware explains that it is the calling of the congregation to be a community of support and encouragement. Indeed, it is amidst the support of a group that an individual learns how to live out personal faith. Ware provides a very practical and accessible model of spiritual formation for self-directing groups that can be led by clergy or laity. Includes thorough guidelines, do's and don'ts, and ground rules for the successful pursuit of spiritual growth in small groups.


  • Michael Durall, Creating Congregations of Generous People (The Alban Institute)
    Asking parishioners for money is very different from creating congregations of generous people. In this provocative book, stewardship consultant Michael Durall argues convincingly that annual pledge drives inadvertently perpetuate low-level and same-level giving in congregations. Written with the voice of experience, this book will help clergy and lay leaders initiate and sustain effective stewardship programs. Durall believes that asking for money eventually becomes routine, even tedious-but creating a congregation of generous people becomes ever more meaningful with passing time. Durall is a Unitarian Universalist.


  • Beth Ann Gaede, Size Transitions In Congregations (The Alban Institute)
    Congregations that seek growth are often frustrated at hitting a plateau-caught in a transition zone between sizes. The Alban Institute has long been recognized as a leader in size transition research and learning, and this anthology offers an in-depth collection of resources, through new articles developed for the book as well as previously published and highly regarded pieces that inform and provoke. In a new essay, Arlin Rothauge, director of the Seabury Institute and author of Sizing Up a Congregation for New Member Ministry, a classic on the subject, offers his reflections on the state of the research and the models that have been used to frame discussion about size transitions. Alban senior consultant Alice Mann describes key findings from her current research on the pastoral-to-program size transition, perhaps the most common and most difficult to address. Other new material focuses on size transition in synagogues; the program-to-corporate transition; and the "awkward size" congregation with the resources of a pastor-centered congregation, but the desire to be program size.
  • Carl F. George, How to Break Growth Barriers (Baker Book House)
    Addressing himself to those who are frustrated by declining or static church membership, Carl George argues that growth occurs when "effective leadership and delegation skills are working hand-in-hand, when the focus shifts from the sheepherder (primary caregiver) to the rancher." Part of the book specifically addresses breaking through the 400-in-attendance barrier and the 800-in-attendance barrier, when congregations tend to plateau in size.
  • Alice Mann, The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations (The Alban Institute)
    Alice Mann draws on her lengthy experience in helping congregations deal with the hurdles and anxieties of expansion or contraction in size. Often, congregations experiencing size change do not recognize the need to change culture and form as part of the successful adaptation process. Mann details the adjustments in attitude-as well as practice-that are necessary to support successful size change.
  • Loren B. Mead, More Than Numbers: The Ways Churches Grow (The Alban Institute)
    Mead explores what church growth really means in a time when it is mathematically impossible for every congregation to achieve significant numerical growth. He argues provocatively that spiritual, organizational, and missional growth are just as important as numerical growth, and that all four are needed for a truly healthy and growing church. Case studies and discussion questions are included.
  • UUA Commission on Appraisal, Belonging (PDF, 166 pages): The Meaning of Membership, with Study Guide
    Examines the reciprocal relationship between members and congregations: What do people seek when they affiliate with our congregations? What do congregations owe to their membership, and members to their congregation? Who are included as members of congregations?

Leadership and Governance

  • Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)
    "[This book] should be required reading for top managers in all sectors-private, public, and nonprofit," says author M. Scott Peck. Heifetz, director of the Leadership Education Project at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, examines the qualities necessary for effective leadership.
  • Gaylord Noyce, Church Meetings That Work (The Alban Institute)
    Discover how meetings can help build stronger congregations as you explore the three basic purposes of meetings-decision making, learning, and community building. Learn the group processes at work in meetings and how to manage them more effectively, how to move forward when disagreement occurs, how to encourage full participation, the difference between process and task and more!
  • Charles M. Olsen, Transforming Church Boards into Communities of Spiritual Leaders (The Alban Institute)
    Discover inspiring, practical ways your board can make its meetings become opportunities for deepening faith, developing leadership, and church renewal. Research included interviews with lay leaders; clergy; and seminary, judicatory, and denominational staff from mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Evangelical Christian faith traditions.
  • Gilbert R. Rendle, Leading Change in the Congregation: Spiritual and Organizational Tools for Leaders (The Alban Institute)
    Many books have been written about leadership and change, but until now none has focused on the kind of change that tears at a community's very fabric. Alban senior consultant Gil Rendle provides a respectful context for understanding change, especially the experiences and resistances that people feel. Rendle pulls together theory, research, and his work with churches facing change to provide leaders with practical diagnostic models and tools. In a time when change is the norm, this book helps to "lead change" in a spiritual and healthy way.
    UUA Commission on Appraisal, Interdependence: Renewing Congregational Polity (1997)
  • While Unitarian Universalists honor our congregational heritage, we must also strengthen the ways we relate to one another, make institutional decisions and implement policies. These changes will reform the content of our teachings and the spirit of our celebrations.


  • Kevin E. Lawson, How to Thrive in Associate Staff Ministry (The Alban Institute)
    A dead-end job? A sure route to burn-out? Congregational staff ministry is neither according to Kevin Lawson. Rather, he presents ample evidence that associate staff ministry is a calling with its own identity, integrity, and exciting possibilities. Based on his groundbreaking study of 500-plus associate staff members in 16 denominations, Lawson demonstrates here the communication and self-care skills that people in these often highly specialized positions can utilize to grow beyond mere survival into dynamic ministry.

Staff and Personnel

  • Erwin Berry, The Alban Personnel Handbook for Congregations (The Alban Institute)
    Today's congregational leaders increasingly serve as human resource managers for ordained and lay persons. This new handbook provides practical and proven strategies for managing church staff, and addresses the particular ethical issues that faith communities need to consider to serve as effective stewards of those whom they employ. Invaluable features include guidelines and forms for conducting hiring interviews and performance evaluations; providing benefits; dealing with disciplinary and discrimination issues; and developing personnel policies.
  • Gary L. McIntosh, Staff Your Church For Growth: Building Team Ministry in the 21st Century (Baker Books)
    Current data show that half of all churches have some form of multiple staff, and many others are considering the addition of professional staff in the future. Gary L. McIntosh has written a comprehensive manual for the twenty-first-century church, focusing on how, why, who, and when to add staff in a way that encourages growth. McIntosh, speaking from seventeen years of experience as a church growth consultant, carefully analyzes the rationale for multiple staffing. He provides many valuable helps, including: models for team ministry, keys to productive team ministry, ways to determine what staff to add, techniques for effective interviews, and steps to managing staff conflict.
  • Lyle E. Schaller, The Multiple Staff and the Large Church (Abingdon Press)
    Lyle Schaller's first book on the unique dynamics of large churches is still a valuable resource, two decades after its original publication. Directed at churches with between 700 and 1000 active members, this book focuses on models for church staffing, especially the respective roles of senior ministers and associate ministers (and the relationship between them). Although out-of-print, this book can often be found in used bookshops...and hidden away in ministers' libraries.

Like, Share, Print, or Explore

For more information contact