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Congregations: Challenges, hope Study guide

By Robert C. Blezard

hange is the only thing that doesn’t change. This maxim offers wisdom to ELCA leaders. Our world and nation have changed much in recent years, and our congre- gations are changing too. For some, the change is in the form of decline, yet for others change is in growth and strength as they find new ways to bring the gospel to the world.


Exercise 1: Church vital signs Doctors know a patient’s pulse and blood pressure are basic indicators of health. Some say worship attendance and giving are the basic indicators of congregational health. Looking at your congregation’s “trend report” (available at, how is its health? What’s been happening in your congregation to bring it to that state? What would be your prescrip- tion for better health?

Exercise 2: All things are possible Jesus said with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Can you disagree? How does that reality offer hope in any situation? Does it mean God will do everything for us? All things are possible—does that mean all things are easy? How can your congregation use Matthew 19:26 to grow and thrive? How can you?

Exercise 3: Dream on A line from the musical South Pacific says a lot: “You got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” What dreams do you have for your congregation?

Ask study group members to pair up and write down their wildest dreams for the congregation. Collect

the cards, read them and discuss. For action: Print the members’ dreams in the newsletter or give them to the congregational council.

Exercise 4: Congregational assets Faced with problems, many of us dwell on the negative and lose sight of our blessings. Struggling congre- gations can fall into this trap. Take an inventory of your congre-

gation’s assets, tangible and intan- gible, in the following areas: build- ing, grounds, furnishings, worship, finance, preaching, social activities, outreach, Christian education, pasto- ral leadership, lay leadership, com- munity, talent among the member- ship, attitude. Discuss: What are your congrega-

tion’s greatest assets? What strengths can you build on? What needs the most improvement?

Exercise 5: Mission unknown? Begin by discussing and taking notes: What is your congregation for? Why does it exist? What Scripture passages guide you? Why do people join? What are your congregation’s expectations of members? How does it integrate with the community? Now look at your congregation’s mission statement. Is it in sync with your discussion? Is your congrega- tion living up to its mission state- ment? Does it need to be revised?

Exercise 6: Need for new members Struggling congregations always know why they need and want new members: to help balance the bud- get, fill the pews and breed the next generation of leaders. But fewer

congregations know why new mem- bers would want and need to join their church. What does your church have to offer an individual or family? What are the tangible and intangible benefits of membership in your con- gregation? Why would someone find your church preferable over others in town? What could your church do better?

Exercise 7: See with new eyes What do visitors experience when they come to your church? Longtime members are often so accustomed to their congregations they no lon- ger see them as they are. As a study group, walk through the church, fol- low the liturgy and attend the social events with the mindset of a visitor. Discuss: What would visitors’ impressions be of the church, its cleanliness and overall layout? How would they find the liturgy and wor- ship? The social events? How could your congregation make these more attractive to visitors?

Exercise 8: Pray, watch, listen Is there any situation that prayer can’t help? If your congregation is struggling, in what ways can it pray actively—lifting up voices and hearts to God while also listening, watch- ing and responding to community needs? Why not take on the job as a study group to pray daily, asking God to open your congregation’s eyes, ears and hearts to what needs to be done in the name of Christ in your church’s neighborhood.

This study guide is offered as one example of the more than 300 that are currently available on The Lutheran’s website. Download guides—free to print and Web subscribers—at (click “study guides”).

Blezard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Arendtsville, Pa. He has a master of divinity degree from Boston University and did subsequent study at the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) and the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia.

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