Friday, October 16, 2009

Leadership in the Small Congregation Summer Collegium at Virginia Theological Seminary

Applications are now available for the Summer Collegium, a project in support of small congregations at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Clergy (and their spouses or partners) from 25 small churches of all Christian denominations are invited to spend nine days at Virginia Seminary for encouragement, education, rest and renewal. All expenses, including travel, books, meals, lodging, child care at home and pulpit supply, are paid by a grant from the Lilly Endowment.

The theme of the Summer Collegium this year is Leadership in the Small Congregation. Our keynote speaker will be Alice Mann, a prolific writer on congregational ministry, and John Bell from the Iona Community in Scotland will join our worship team for the conference.

The dates for the Summer Collegium are June 23 - July 1, 2010. Application forms are on our website, or will be sent in the mail by emailing or by calling 703-461-1760. Applications must be postmarked by December 15, 2009, to be considered.

Marilyn Johns, D. Min.

Project Manager, The Summer Collegium

Virginia Theological Seminary

3737 Seminary Road

Alexandria, Virginia 22304


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Virginia Theological Seminary makes resource available

Hi everybody. I just came across this great link (thanks JC) to a resource provided by Virginia Theological Seminary. It is video of a D.Min class at VTS focusing on applying Family Systems Theory to ministry (think Murray Bowen, Ed Friedman, and Peter Steinke). If you want to learn more about this great material, click on the link below:



Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Roanridge 2010 Applications Available

Greetings all,

Grant applications are now being accepted through September 1, 2009 for the 2010 granting cycle of funds through the Roanridge Foundation Trust.

"What is the Roanridge Foundation?" you may ask. Well, it is named for a farm in Missouri which had originally been donated to the Episcopal Church for clergy and laity to develop a deeper understanding of rural and small-town ministry. Eventually the farm was sold, and the proceeds became the corpus of a fund which annually distributes grants specifically for the "training of town and country clergy and rural Christian workers" of the Episcopal Church. In other words, it is for the development of ministry resources for rural and small town settings across the country.

To learn more about the Roanridge Trust... and to access an application, simply click on:

I invite you to apply for Roanridge funding for your most creative ministry opportunities.

God's Peace,

Bob Honeychurch

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Great story about work in Iowa

I've posted a link here from the on-line version of the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, which tells the story of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Ankeny, IA. They are a small church doing some marvelous work with the various immigrant families in their community. Their $25,000 grant comes by way of the Roanridge Trust fund, a pool of funds available to churches across the country through an annual distribution process. New Roanridge Fund applications will be accepted beginning on June 1, 2009. When those applications are available, I'll post another blog letting folks know how to access it. But in the mean time, check out the great stuff happening in Iowa. "Go, St. Anne's"

Monday, May 04, 2009

What's a "vital congregation"?

Based on my experiences, conversations, and insights of working with communities of faith across the country, I have developed the following “definition” of a vital congregation… which is very much a work-in-progress. It is constantly being informed and revised as I continue my conversations across the church. But for the moment, it goes like this:

A vital congregation is a community of faith which:
Invites people to become passionate followers of Jesus Christ
Creates opportunities for personal and corporate transformation
Equips and empowers people for gospel mission in the world

All that said, this definition says nothing about a congregation’s size or budget, whether it is rural or urban, whether it can afford the services of full-time clergy, or what part of the country this church may be located in. In other words, I believe that all congregations have the potential to be “vital” congregations. Let me briefly unpack that definition above just a little (though in reality I could go on and on about it).

“Invites people to become passionate followers of Jesus Christ” I believe that this invitation contains 3 necessary dimensions: Teaching people how to pray; teaching people how to engage the scriptures; and teaching people how to live in community. Lots of congregations tend to dabble in this, but not necessarily in a way that gives each individual member a point of entry into that life of passion.

“Creates opportunities for personal and corporate transformation” If our lives aren’t changed by being a part of a faith community, then what’s the point of being there? I believe that transformation is a two-edged sword as well. Communities of faith are places where my life can be changed, but they’re also places where our life can be changed as well as the holy People of God. Certainly from an Episcopal perspective, one of the primary (although certainly not the only) opportunities we have for transformation is through our worship. I tell worship leaders (lay and ordained) that, when they design and lead a worship service – every worship service they lead – if they are not doing so with the intention that somebody’s life might be changed as a result of that worship service, then they’re wasting their time. Worship has to be a lot more than “going through the motions” if it’s going to have meaning in people’s lives.

“Equips and empowers people for gospel mission in the world” At the end of the day, it isn’t about “me”… it isn’t even about “us.” It’s about fulfilling the Great Commission to “go out into the world.” Vital congregations are those which give people the necessary tools – spiritual, technical, social, emotional, etc. – to ‘be the heart and hands of Jesus in the world”… for it is “in the world” where the church is ultimately called to be. We are not a cloistered community of prayer, defending ourselves from the assaults of the world around us. We are only the Church when we are fully integrated into the lives, the culture, the daily experience of our wider community. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world…” not “For God so loved the church.” And so, in the words of Kennon Callahan, “when the Church is in the world, God is in the church. And when the Church is not in the world, God is still in the world.” And so it is in the world where the Church is called to be.

As you can probably tell, this definition doesn’t provide for many specific metrics to determine how effective a congregation is. It does, however, provide some real-life, incarnated examples of congregational vitality. When I use this definition with groups, we can then play it all out in some detail… out of which we can then develop some evaluative models for how a church measures up to the definition.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Welcoming Abundance!!

The 2009 Conference on Stewardship, Evangelism, and Congregational Development is being held on May 15-16 at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center in San Diego, CA. If you're looking for a great way to connect with people from across the church (and hang out in San Diego, where the sun always shines), make plans to attend. For more information, visit the Province VIII website at

2010 Federal Budget -- What's In It for Rural America?

The Rural Policy Research Institute has drafted a response to the 2010 Federal Budget, looking especially at its impact on life in rural America. Check it out at

Want to Learn How to be a Farmer or Rancher?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding grant money to encourage the skills of new farmers and ranchers. Check out the link at

Check out the Revised Common Lectionary Bible Study Blog

Sarah Johnson, Associate Program Officer for Older Adult Formation and Resource Ministries, (now, that's a job title, isn't it?) maintains a wonderful weekly Bible Study blog based on the upcoming Sunday readings, utilizing the Revised Common Lectionary. If you're looking for ideas for sermons, wanting to reflect on thoughtful questions, or just get a peek at the lessons coming up this Sunday, do check it out. You'll find it at

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Small Church Leadership Conference in North Carolina

If you're looking for a great way to expand your understanding of some of the particular qualities of leadership in small churches -- not to mention getting connected with some other great small church leaders -- consider making the trek out to Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina on May 26-29 to be a part of "The Small Church Leadership Conference." To learn more about this great opportunity, just click on the following link:

Monday, March 02, 2009

Alban Institute Weekly

Did you know that the Alban Institute, that great resource for printed materials and conferences, also has a weekly e-newsletter that they distribute FREE OF CHARGE? It's a wonderful way to gain access to some of the most current thought on a wide variety of subjects of particular concern to the church today. This week's lead article entitled, "Ministry in Hard Times" talks about some of the unique challenges and opportunities which confront congregations across the country. The link to the article is:

If you like what you see, you can subscribe to the weekly post. Check it out... it's good stuff.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Rub

So… here’s the rub. You know the terms – “family, pastoral, program, resource – (and maybe ‘transitional’ thrown in for good measure).” They are the language of congregation size models used throughout the Church. For the past 25 years, since Arlin Rothauge wrote Sizing Up a Congregation, the “gold standard’ for most congregations in the Episcopal Church (not to mention churches in lots of other denominations as well) seems to have been “let’s work toward becoming a Program Size parish.” You see it in parish profiles. You hear it when talking with diocesan staff members. You sense it in the eyes of countless seminarians who are just looking for their first big break as a curate or associate in a Program Church.

So, if it’s such a great model, then why isn’t it working? Churches are cutting their associate positions right and left. Congregations that have languished with an Average Sunday Attendance of between 100 and 150 for the last 50 years have never “gotten over the hurdle”… despite well-meaning clergy and lay leaders; despite every new gimmick, or program, or study, or consultant they’ve tried.

Maybe it’s because “striving to become a Program Church” is a dead model, a style of church more attuned to the Age of Christendom, even though we’re now firmly ensconced in a Post-Christendom world. Let’s face it… “Build it and they will come” can’t be the mantra for the Church of the 21st Century.

So what might take its place? I think that the operative terms for the faith community of the future (and they had better become the operative terms for the faith community of the present, if there are to be faith communities of the future) are no longer “size” or “program offerings”. Instead terms like “flexibility”, “nimbleness”, and “context” should instead be at the forefront of our conversations. Vital communities of faith are asking themselves, “How do we offer the ‘faith once delivered’ in a way that will make a difference in the lives of those around us?” The question needs to be asked in churches of all sizes, in all locations, and of every theological or ecclesiological bent. Those who ask the question – and then are willing to embrace the reality of the answer – are those who will make a difference in the days to come.