Chat with Chuck – September 2016

Chat With Chuck:

“Listening, Praying, Deciding, Moving Forward”

By Dr. Chuck Traylor


On September 17 from 9:00 am until 2:00 pm the entire congregation is invited to participate in a conversation regarding the data that has been collected during 9 “cottage meetings” conducted over the past six weeks. Childcare will be provided, as will lunch.


These cottage meetings involved approximately 1/3 of the congregation and generated over 160 mission/ministry emphases for which congregants have great passion and believe they have the gifts to incorporate into the life of the Church of the Hills Presbyterian (USA) [COTHP]. At this gathering we will receive an overview of the circumstances that precipitated the need for these conversations, the process that led to the Sept. 17 event, have explained how the planning team consolidated all of the responses into eight categories, and THEN discern which THREE of these categories constitute the primary directions the congregation will engage in moving forward. Then, on Oct. 2, we will have an extended worship service/gathering, including breakfast, at which the directions arrived at will be celebrated and the identified primary directions set in motion.

Briefly, the concept for the cottage meetings emerged from a leadership retreat in early June at the home of Marilyn and Bill Sandifer at which Ruling Elders, Deacons, Terry Buchanan, and myself talked about the ways COTHP needs to move forward to become the Christ-centered congregation God wants us to be. The urgency for this forward movement is driven by the reality that this congregation has suffered a net loss of about 200 members since 2003 (377 to 181 as of August 15, 2016) and a decline in weekly worship attendance from 225+ in 2003 to 76 as of August 15, 2016. Similarly, there has been a gradual decline in congregational giving since 2007.

Membership ChartAttendance ChartContribution Chart

The average age of the congregation at the end of 2014 was 67, whereas the denominational average is 62. (Source: Office of the General Assembly, PCUSA).

In any congregation there is a natural desire for the life of the congregation to continue the “way it has been.” This is comfortable, and safe. The “way it has been,” or the “way it was,” unfortunately, is not good enough. If COTHP continues on the trajectory it has been on for the past 13 years, following the five-year trend line as reflected in the above charts, it will enter into irreversible decline and will cease to be. As a Presbytery leader and Executive over the past 12 years I have participated in the closing of numerous churches in three different Presbyteries that would not accept the truth that “the way it was” is no longer valid or sustainable.

This does not mean that we need to panic and make wholesale changes simply for the sake of change. The above data just tells us the “truth” regarding what our present situation is. The data also challenges us to ask deeper questions, which might include:

  • Do these statistics add up to what we say we’re about as God’s people in this place?
  • If equipping Jesus-followers for the transformation of the world is our goal, is what we are doing as a congregation moving us forward toward that goal?
  • What does transformation of the world for Jesus look like for COTHP?
  • In what ways are we equipping folks to emulate Jesus in their situations and circumstances in the community and the world (what my friend Jim Webb calls “their mission context”)?
The above statistics do mean, though, that we must have a sense of urgency and must “nudge” the congregation to move in directions that will ensure the future of COTHP. The good news is that the Session has begun to implement this “nudging” in response to a program I introduced to the Session in February, “Nudging Congregations to a New Reality.” The Session is also building on the conversations with congregational consultant Tom Bandy, and my introducing ideas through the “Chat With Chuck” columns on the website and postings on Facebook. The Session has also read and discussed the book

Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions,

by John Kotter, and evaluated the process we have engaged in this summer in light of what was learned from the book.

The process we have engaged in through the cottage meetings has focused on:

  • Emphases the congregants believe to be important for the church as a whole to participate in;
  • Ministries the congregation is engaged in and/or should be engaged in, and
  • The passions and gifts individual congregants can bring to make these ministry emphases a reality.

In beginning to craft the “map” that will guide the congregation moving forward, participants in the cottage meetings were encouraged to think about:

  • Actions the congregation currently participates in and the attributes (passions and gifts) congregants contribute to those actions;
  • Ministries in which the congregation is already engaged, or should be engaged.

Participants were also asked to explain how these actions and attributes and ministries are variously Inward (congregation focused), Outward (community/world focused), and/or Upward (God focused). At the center equidistant between the three points of this triangle, as with a Venn diagram, is the Christ-centered focus toward which we are aspiring.

IOU Puzzle V2

Participants were asked to focus on actions/attributes/ministries that touched at least two of the three points on the triangle, and to explain why they placed the emphases where they did within the triangle. The input from the congregation, updated after every cottage meeting, has been on display in the narthex every week.

Throughout this process the Session and I have focused on listening to members of the congregation, asking for clarification, praying about what has been heard, and then being guided by the Holy Spirit as God’s plan for the congregation begins to be revealed through these conversations. I want to thank:

  • Terry Buchanan, Steve Nelson, and Ed Powers for their hard work in planning and facilitating this process and the cottage meetings, and particularly. Steve Nelson for compiling and analyzing all of the data;
  • Kelly Krueger and Jill Hesser for scheduling overseeing the cottage meetings, and
  • Kelly, Jill, Judy Jensen, Mike and Marjorie Clinton, Brooks Barwell, Vicki and Ken Kyle, Heidi Smithson, Steve and Tina Nelson, and Ann Joseph for hosting the gatherings either at their homes or at the church facility.

September 17 will be an important day in the life of COTHP. I pray that you will make attending this event a priority and will lend your voice and prayerful consideration to the process so that COTHP can indeed move forward toward greater Christ-centeredness.

Leave a Reply