Diocese Launches Two New Programs to Strengthen Congregations

The Diocese of Chicago is launching a new congregational vitality initiative and a new stewardship initiative in 2016-17.

The College for Congregational Development (CCD), which aims to educate and empower lay and ordained congregational leaders, was rolled out late in February. Later this month, ten “incubator churches” will be introduced to Project Resource, which provides a toolkit of resources for annual giving, legacy giving, major donor development and membership growth.

Bishop Jeff Lee says the two programs bring practices from organization development, nonprofit management and theology to the task of building vital and financially healthy congregations. “We don’t have exclusive license on how God is at work in the world of creativity,” he says. “We are looking at the horizon to see what tools are out there that we can make use of, that we can marinate in scripture and prayer. Gregory the Great said, ‘Go and see what you find, and baptize what you can.’ That’s what we are doing.”

CCD originated in the Diocese of Olympia in Western Washington, where Bishop Greg Rickel was interested in establishing a comprehensive training program that could be rolled out to parishes throughout the diocese. Rickel enlisted the help of the Rt. Rev. Melissa Skelton, who is now bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada, but was then rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Skelton developed what became CCD – a comprehensive training program for lay and ordained congregational development leaders.

“I heard about the College for Congregational Development (CCD) two years ago,” says the Rev. Jim Steen, the diocese’s director of ministry. “So I went to a training week, and I was really impressed. The program is challenging enough that it really takes the enterprise of congregational development seriously. From the moment we arrived, we were leading. You didn’t just slowly work into it — you did it immediately, even before you were very comfortable. This program requires that people be vulnerable, be willing to take risks.”

The CCD roll-out began last week, when a diverse group of 22 lay and clergy representatives chosen from multiple regions within the diocese came together to be trained as consultants. The group was led by three trainers from CCD. Participants who completed the training will be able to lead this work not only in their own congregations but also in other congregations in their geographic regions.

A second CCD training session will take place in Lincoln Park from July 24 to July 30. This session is designed for congregational teams interested in taking CCD back to their parishes. Look for registration details in an upcoming edition of the newsletter. In order to complete the two-year program, those who participate in the February and July training will come back in 2017 for a second week-long training session.

“When we’re out in the field we hear a real openness to and a hunger for formation around leadership and what it means to be effective leaders in a church today,” says the Rev. Andrea Mysen, the diocese’s associate for ministries. “The way CCD is designed, it’s for any size congregation in any context. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. This is going to help any congregation no matter its setting do that leadership work.”

Thrive, the diocese’s previous congregational development program, involved some 60 parishes during the last four years. It was steered primarily by the bishop’s staff. CCD takes a different approach, training people from throughout the diocese to act as consultants. “We are taking a centralized model of leadership development and pushing it out into the diocese in a dispersed model,” Lee says.

The Project Resource program, sponsored by the College for Bishops, the Episcopal Church Foundation, and the Development Office of the Episcopal Church, hopes to include every diocese in the Episcopal Church in sharing resources and practices that foster financially healthy congregations.

The program will be made available to all congregations in the Diocese of Chicago in 2017. In preparation for the official launch, ten “incubator churches” that represent diverse demographics from across the diocese will work with Project Resource this year. Each of the ten incubator churches will send a lay leader to quarterly training sessions at the Nicholas Center.

Small, rural congregations in the western part of the Diocese of Chicago, which extends to the state’s western border, will be able to participate in a special Project Resource program tailored to their needs. The diocese has been awarded a Roanridge Trust grant of $20,000 by the Episcopal Church to support four rural “incubator churches” who will participate in Project Resource together during 2016 and receive training in their region of the state.

“Each participant will be assigned a coach,” said Shay Craig, associate for resource development.  “The coach will help them through the year with their annual campaigns and help them learn to use the resources available to them. We are hoping to see a bump in those churches that very first year.” Coaches will also gather data on what works and does not work in specific parish cultures. For example, what works in a rural environment may not work in an urban parish.

There will be a workshop on the program at this year’s Diocesan Convention during which representatives from incubator churches will be available to talk about their experiences. When the program is rolled out to the entire diocese in 2017, there will be representatives from incubator churches who have walked through the process for a year in each region. “So they are regionally located and contextually located to be able to help other churches walk through the method,” Craig says.

There is no expense associated with Project Resource. “So the idea is you can run this annual campaign without a bump in costs – nothing more than you usually would have spent,” Craig says. “I’m hearing from churches they want to know more about planned giving and how to get started. I’m also hearing a lack of energy around annual giving. These new, easily-adaptable resources address those experiences.”

Lee says both new programs are an effort to “discern the gifts people have and call them out.

“We need to say—that thing you do? We need that! “

To learn more about the College for Congregational Development, email Mysen, who will serve as the director of the program. To learn more about Project Resource, email Craig.