Agile Church: Slides and Case Studies

I can see that.

Folks who attended my workshop last week at NEXT: things have been pretty crazy around here since then, so I haven’t had a chance to play around with uploading my Keynote slides to the Blue Room. But if you’d like me to send them to you, e-mail me at maryannmcdana at gmail and I’ll pass them along.

However, I can post the case studies easily and have done so below.

During the workshop, after I’d done a short overview of agile as I understand it, we looked at these case studies and answered these questions in small groups:

Where do you see intersections between this church’s processes and agile process?
Where do you see places that agile methodology might help them?
What impediments do you see standing in the way of this church becoming more agile?
What next step would you suggest?

Here are the case studies. These are adapted from actual churches I queried. Hope they prove helpful.


Agile Church: Case Studies

Case A. Edgy Urban Church with a Smooth Traditional Center:
Medium-Sized Pastoral/Program Oriented Church


  • elders chaired committees
  • session meetings were run as committee of the whole
  • meetings were “terrible”
  • elders were burning out


  • elders do not run committees; in fact they do not even serve on committees
  • new system of volunteer staff coordinators who oversee the ministries of the church
  • volunteer staff are empowered to get the work done any way they want (individually, through teams, regular meetings, online), but they have written job descriptions that describe their work
  • volunteer staff are also empowered to spend within their budget without session approval
  • the week before session, volunteer and staff meet for dinner—each coordinator prepares a one-page report for session containing basic information, actions taken, any major items requiring session approval, and examples of transformation/new growth that have occurred
  • these reports are compiled and given to elders several days before session meeting—elders are expected to get any questions answered prior to meeting
  • session meetings involve 30 minutes of business; the rest of the time is spent on prayer, equipping/study, and visioning “big picture” tasks for the congregation


Case B. Church of the Leafy Suburb: Large Program-Sized Church

  • Session consists of fifteen elders that are divided into pairs or triads for partnership, support and accountability—for example, children, youth and adult education elders form a triad; small group elder and fellowship elder form a pair; facilities and office operations elders form a pair.
  • Elders chair the committees and ensure that the ministry gets done, using whatever means they wish (regular meetings, retreats, “divide and conquer,” etc.)
  • Elders are expected to report back to session whenever there are items requiring session input or approval
  • In addition, each month a different ministry is highlighted as an order of the day: the elders prepare a more in-depth report, seek feedback, basically delve deeper into their ministry so elders are well versed in it
  • Session meetings consist mainly of business, but with 30 minutes of study/discipleship each month.


Case C.

Same as Case B but with the elders serving as a liaison to the team rather than the chair. As liaison, they have no power on the committee other than a vote when one is required.


Case D. Our Ecumenical Neighbor: Governance Model from Another Reformed Denomination

  • Ministers, elders and deacons
  • Elders=church council. Deacons=board of deacons. Combined elders and deacons=consistory
  • Elders are understood to be responsible for the spiritual life of the church, including pastoral care.
  • Deacons are responsible for the physical life of the church, mostly the finances and the charitable and social justice life of the church.
  • Major financial decisions are made by the consistory
  • “Elder districts”: each elder is assigned a certain group of people in congregation, often alphabetical or geographical. Every person in the congregation has an elder. If a person lands in the hospital, they would expect to see their elder and their pastor. These districts are sometimes small groups.
  • Not every elder is assigned to a committee. Committees report to council, but sometimes they don’t have a member seated on council. Councils will often have someone assigned or asked to be on a committee, but not to run it necessarily.
  • Council meetings were usually focused on worship; education; and even a review of what was going on with people in your elder district. And, of course, anything else that needed to be dealt with. Often, Council and Deacons met concurrently so that they could check in with each other if needed.
  • Elders team together (three panels of three elders) to coordinate ministry areas
  • Ideas for new ministries (from congregation members) would be referred to the Elder relationship area panel (and the full Session if necessary) for review as to whether they fit into CPC’s current mission/vision

Case E. Church on the Highway: Medium-Sized Program Oriented Church

  • If approved, the Elder panel will identify a task leader to create a taskforce for implementing the program
  • If no leader or volunteers can be found for an approved taskforce, the program is not implemented
  • Ministry Initiation Form is completed by congregation member or group desiring to implement a new ministry, event or “task”
  • Ministry Status Reports include:
    • Submitted by Task Leader to Elder Relationship Area Panel
    • Monthly Status Reports when there is an activity or issue to be resolved
    • Ministry Completion/Annual Report at the completion of a short-term ministry task, or annually for long-term and on-going ministries



Harvesting from NEXT: Open Space

One of the most interesting happenings at NEXT was Open Space. After a presentation that included a description of the topic, people shouted out topics they wanted to discuss, then people clustered to the conversations that interested them and we were off! There were probably 30-40 discussions going on around the room.

We’ve implemented Open Space in our presbytery, National Capital. Here is a good description from our website. Note that the purpose of OS is not to deliberate on an issue or to seek consensus on something. The point is for people to come together to share ideas and potentially even form partnerships. (See the video at the NCP link about “flipping the presbytery.”)

Robert Austell had a good “friendly critique” of the process at NEXT. Some of his comments reflected limitations of the conference: the space was not ideal, and it’s hard to start from a place of trust when you don’t know one another. Some of the discussions were better facilitated than others. However, his post provides a good overview of what we did and some ways it could be better.

Rather than provide a broad description of Open Space, I want to share two moments I witnessed in OS recently, one in our own presbytery and one at the NEXT Conference. I share them for people who may be looking to implement Open Space. They are not huge moments, but I found them revealing in their own way:

1. After our first OS at National Capital, we had one of the crankiest meetings I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. (There’s a reason I call us National Crankypants, but this was cranky even for us.) People were pulling out all the Roberts Rules of Order stops: Division in the house! Substitute motions! I think we were even wordsmithing a motion en masse at one point. Blech. Now granted it was a contentious issue we were dealing with (I can’t even remember what it was) and there was some confusion too. But I am certain that Open Space played a role in this dynamic. It’s like things were so unstructured that people just clamped down afterwards.

Some people find Open Space exciting and refreshing. Others find it scary in its sheer open-endedness. If you get a bunch of Presbyterians in a room together and ask them to be open source… to go off the agenda… to meander around in a topic to see what generative stuff might result… there is going to be blowback. It is such a different way of being that some folks will overcorrect. That is basic family systems stuff right there. We should have anticipated it and planned for it in our meeting, in retrospect. (I say that as a member of the committee that plans presbytery meetings.)

2. Following the NEXT conference Open Space, there was a report back of “harvestings.” These were supposed to be short sentences that reflected some aspect of the discussion. One person got up and, instead of sharing the results of the discussion, launched into what felt a lot like a public service announcement. It felt like talking points. Don’t get me wrong; the information was really important. But the difference between this report-back and the others was obvious and it shifted the energy palpably. I found myself wondering what that group’s discussion had been like.

Not sure what the takeaway is there, though it seems related to number 1. You can’t shift a culture overnight. There will be pockets of resistance. And resistance doesn’t always appear as frowny crossed arms. Sometimes resistance is friendly, but still speaking the old language.

It’s OK. But be aware of it, plan for it, correct and redirect as necessary… but don’t let it stop you either.

Image: the rules of Open Space.

NEXT Church Blog Roundup

OK. I had every intention of taking notes (graphical or otherwise) during the NEXT Conference, but I got totally caught up in what was going on—the ideas, the conversations, the tweets—that I just plumb didn’t.

Kinda like when you go on vacation and don’t take any pictures because you’re having too much fun.

So in lieu of notes, here are some reactions from around the blogosphere for interested folks to peruse. I will post my own reaction later—not so much a post-mortem as a specific comment about Open Space, which is something we’ve started doing here in National Capital Presbytery and we got a taste of at the conference.

And of course, a regular Friday Link Love will be on tap for tomorrow.

The roundup:

What’s Next PCUSA: Living in the Wilderness — Theresa Cho

NEXT Church 2012 — Adam Copeland

NEXT Church Pts. 1 – 3 — Robert Austell (he’s written three posts so I’m linking to his homepage, not a specific post)

NEXT Church… Just Whelmed — Wendy Bailey (I wish she’d been able to stay until the next day!)

Prototypes and Process Modalities — Rocky Supinger (this is part 1, looks like there will be a part 2 to come)

NEXT Church 2012 — John Vest

The Church Come of Age — Fritz Risch

NEXT Church 2012, A Twenty-First Century Revival — Mary Harris Todd

If there are others, please let me know.


I’m here at the NEXT Conference, which means a very full schedule the next few days. I brought along a big spiral notebook that I use to take graphical notes. I thought in lieu of blogging the conference each night I would upload a photo or two of these notes.

The image below is actually from Saturday’s transformation training, but it’s an insight I’m bringing with me today:

Love the questions today.

Monday Miscellany

1. Preacher Camp was awesome as usual. I always come back physically exhausted but energized in every other way.

2. Robert gets super props for holding down the fort while I was gone, and not once griping on the phone about it. Caroline was home sick from school on Wednesday, Margaret on Thursday, and James Friday. That’s pretty typical when I’m gone.

3. Which means we’re bracing for the end of the month, when I go to NEXT Church in Dallas. (Are you going?) Thanks, by the way, to everyone who’s sharing ideas about vital congregational structures.

4. I received an e-mail from my editor last week with the marked up manuscript attached. His message was so darn nice and affirming, I can’t stop reading it. Really, it’s just sitting in my inbox, and I return to it several times a day. I suspect, however, that he was simply cushioning the blow of all. those. comments. Yeah. I’m in denial about those. I need to snap out of it soon, otherwise the publisher’s going to call in a few weeks and I’ll be all, “What, you need more from me? But he said it was a fun, lively, likable, compelling read!”

Yes, I have it memorized.

5. The Fellowship of Prayer is still available through Chalice, assuming members of my family have not snatched up every last copy. Which is possible. Though it is nice to receive rave reviews from one’s Catholic grandmother.

6. Caroline had a great birthday, though a little slapdash since I was away the week before. She’ll celebrate with friends this weekend—it’s a slumber party, Lord help us. I thought the Presidents Day weekend was good timing for a sleepover, since there will be a long weekend to recuperate.

7. Caroline got a number of lovely things, but her favorites included a panflute I got her from Ten Thousand Villages, and a rock carved into the shape of a heart that has the word STRENGTH etched on it. Got a big hug for that one. Have I mentioned my girl’s absolute love for rocks and random musical instruments?

8. An elder in our church preached yesterday. It was nice not to have to get right back into the pulpit after preacher camp, but I actually received a good word from him as well. He’s a builder by trade and avocation, and is always doing some kind of work on his house. He said people always ask him, “Won’t you be happy when this is all done?” He always says, “I’m happy now.”

I tend to be a destination-not-journey person, but of course he’s right. There is no “destination” anyway. Not really.

Agile Church: Beyond the Committee Structure

It’s been a long fabulous day at Preacher Camp.

This evening at dinner I was sitting with a friend who is helping coordinate the NEXT Church conference in Dallas in just a few weeks. (Not too late to register! 400+ and counting.) He was fiddling with his phone as we all ate and talked, and I found out he was receiving updates as people have begun registering for workshops. “14 people are registered for your workshop, MaryAnn.” A few minutes later: “Now it’s up to 20.”

The workshop is called “Agile Church” and will be partly about our experience at Tiny Church. When I got there, we had nine elders and eleven committees, many of which were committees of one—or zero. We have moved to something that is messier and still nascent but hopefully more agile. And no committees. We will be reading and working with the agile manifesto, mining this business/software development resource for wisdom in how we do our work as a church community. It’s not all directly translatable, but I contend that much of it is.

But I need your help. I also want to talk about other churches that have moved beyond outdated bureaucratic structures into other models that are more effective and life giving.

Do you have ideas to share?

Do you know someone I should be talking to?

Failures and challenges are important to hear about as well. I especially need to hear from folks in larger churches. Are committees the worst structure except for all the others? Or can large churches also move beyond the committee?

Comment here or e-mail me at maryannmcdana at gmail dot com. I’d be grateful, and I know those 20 people (and counting?) will be thankful too.

Reflections on the Next Conference

Non-Presbyterians, thanks for standing by as I engage in a bit of inside baseball.

I wasn’t able to attend the Next Conference, but I followed the Twitter feeds and am making my way through the videos. Several good friends were involved in the leadership, so I have a bit of insight into what this group is about. From their website:

“New occasions teach new duties,” the old hymn suggests.  For some months a group of friends and colleagues across the church have been in conversation about the “next” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We have focused less on denominational controversies and other matters and more on vital, faithful and connectional congregational ministry. We held an initial gathering at the 2010 General Assembly to spark a larger conversation. There is strong interest in continuing and expanding the conversation to explore the movement of the Holy Spirit in the church and God’s intention for the future of the Presbyterian Church.

This gathering in Indianapolis is open to the whole church. We will join with friends and colleagues, old and new, who care about the future of Presbyterian witness. Together, we will seek God’s guidance in discerning how to move forward in a rapidly evolving church and culture. Join us in Indianapolis for the important work of reflecting on such topics as:

  • How do we live and work together as a connectional church?
  • How do we engage the gifts of our members in Christ’s mission?
  • How do we identify and nurture leadership for the future of the church?

The Next Conference is really about conversation, so this post is very much offered in that vein. Other bloggers are reflecting on the conference too, providing helpful stuff. I also resonate with Jan Edmiston’s pre-conference reflection. Jan’s post, on listening to a variety of voices, was prescient: while the Next Conference was meeting, Rob Bell was essentially being tried for heresy on Twitter and his book dealing with heaven and hell was moving to #21 on Amazon—and it’s not even out yet. (I’ve preordered my copy for Kindle, you?)

I also have to say that, as much as being Presbyterian is the air I breathe, and I’m married to a “genetic Presbyterian,” I’m not as grounded in deep love for the denomination as many are. I am interested in the flourishing of the PCUSA because I am interested in the flourishing of those congregations that make up the PCUSA. But I do not have the deep Presbyterian roots and, perhaps, the nostalgia that some do. For what that’s worth.

One of the threads of critique I heard on Twitter (and sympathize with) is the demographic makeup of the leadership. One person estimated that of the 23 leaders on the podium during the conference listed as leaders in the conference program, 5 were female. [UPDATE: see comments for more context on this number] And the crowd was overwhelmingly white. Much of this is to be expected—the PCUSA is overwhelmingly white. And this conversation began with tall-steeple pastors, and the sad reality is, women are incredibly underrepresented among those folks.

However, this conversation began almost two years ago, if I’m counting right. This thing needs to get blown open, but quick, if it is to foment a truly faithful conversation about what’s Next. And when I say blown open, I don’t mean that we need women and people of color and small church pastors (which, of course, make up the bulk of the pastors in the PCUSA) to talk around the edges on blogs and social media, but on the platform in Dallas next February, when the conference meets again. Women outnumber men in our seminaries. Multiethnic churches are growing while historically white denominations are shrinking. And tall-steeple pastors are vastly outnumbered by the pastors of small churches. We need to hear from these groups, not to kneel to the gods of political correctness, but because that’s what’s next in the church of Jesus Christ.

Of course the gender piece is near and dear to my heart, but it’s the small church piece that’s really on my mind… for obvious reasons. I agree with whoever it was at Next who said that some little churches need to die—especially if the resources used to prop them up can be funneled into new church development and supporting already strong congregations.

That said, I also find hope in church guru Kennon Callahan, who writes, “The 21st century is the century of small, strong congregations. More people will be drawn to small, strong congregations than any other kind of congregation… Around the planet, the vast majority of congs will be small and strong, and the vast majority of people will be in those congregations.” That’s from David R. Ray’s book, The Indispensable Guide for Small Churches. Other recent books speak to the potential of small churches for being intimate, nimble, authentic and effective… indeed, a great gift to the world.

But let’s be honest. People are not going to spend their precious time and con ed money to come and listen to pastors whom nobody’s heard of. They want to hear Scott Black Johnston and Tom Are.

So here’s my modest proposal—a dialogical, dialectical format next February. What if the planning team surveyed presbyteries to identify churches of 200 members or less that are growing? What about partnering one of these small-church pastors with one of the “big names” around each of the conference topics? What if the dialogue took place right there on the stage in addition to small groups?

What about putting a new church development pastor together with a pastor of a historic congregation?

What about a seminarian with a pastor nearing retirement age?

What about an “ecumenical advisory delegate”—like we have at General Assembly? This would be a pastor or leader in another denomination that has made some of the same shifts we’re discussing, and can give us some of their wisdom. (I nominate the UCC; they are incredibly tech savvy and “get” a lot of this.)

A final suggestion: a conference “presscorps” that would liveblog and tweet the conference and serve as curators for social-media discussions.

Offered in a spirit of wanting this discussion to continue…

Image: what came up when I google-imaged “next church.”