Learning tools for congregational development

As part of the ever-deepening efforts of the Diocese of West Texas to strengthen and equip lay and ordained leadership in congregational development, two members of the Congregational Development Committee headed to Seattle to begin work in the College for Congregational Development (CCD) . Dexter Lesieur (Bishop's Warden at St. Matthias in Devine and second-year seminarian attending IONA) and Haley Bankey (parishioner at St. George in San Antonio and congregational consultant) enrolled in this one-year course on behalf of the diocese.

ccd-group-pic.jpgTheir purpose was two fold: to learn tried-and-true techniques for congregational development that can be brought back to the Diocese of West Texas and to assess the potential for a course and curriculum like CCD to be started here. "It’s basically the development of congregations of all sizes, locations, and conditions into more faithful, healthy, and effective communities of faith," said Lesieur, reflecting on his time spent at the college.

CCD was created by the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia as a way to train and equip its own leaders and congregations with a common language and understanding of the basics of organization development as applied to congregations. The curriculum used was straight forward and easily adaptable to any size congregation. The course material was easily understood by everyone and included practical examples from congregations all around the country. What really sets this course apart from other organization training courses is the emphasis on faith, prayer, worship, and life in the community to faith development in the community and everything in-between.

"This course is rekindling my love for helping congregations find their place in the world, even in the midst of struggling finances, membership challenges, and clergy turnover. The phrase that I heard over and over again during the college was that our goal was to guide and coach congregations to be 'local expressions of Jesus Christ in the world.' We can do this regardless of size, budget, programs, or clergy," said Bankey.

ccd-group-pic-2.jpgThis course, and the information brought back by Bankey and Lesieur, is only one of the many tools in the toolkit being built and researched by the Congregational Development Committee for use in DWTX. The Rev. Patricia Riggins (Interim Rector at St. Francis, San Antonio) has been researching and implementing a congregational assessment survey called Holy Cow; other committee members are looking into pursing an assessment tool by RenewalWorks and Jay Sidebotham; Allie Melancon (Assistant Director of College Missions for DWTX) is sharing her knowledge of Asset-Based Community Development; and the list goes on and on. Congregations throughout West Texas are beginning to use these tools, with the committee's help, to re-engage their community, assess their vision and values, and take steps toward being the truest versions of the "local expressions of Jesus Christ in the World."

The next steps for the Congregational Development Committee will be to decide the most effective way to share these tools and insights with the rest of the diocese. It is powerful for any clergy and lay person to have the ability to be change agents for their own congregations as the work is truly done in the pews. Whether the diocese utilizes the CCD for training or offers periodic workshops (more often than annual) held at different locations throughout the diocese, this faith-emphasized type of training can make significant impacts on congregations and the communities that surround them. 

Submitted by Haley Bankey. Photos courtesy of the College for Congregational Development.