In this time when most congregations hold their Annual Business Meetings, I think it’s important to reflect on what a congregation is for. Every congregation has a variety of stakeholders, people who feel a sense of ownership in their church community. And when times of change come around, often in the spring around that Annual Meeting, sometimes those stakeholders butt heads.
Rev. Dan Hotchkiss, a Unitarian Universalist minister and senior consultant at the Alban Institute, has some great insight on this question of ownership and priority. Is the minister in charge? The Board? The largest donors? Or is a congregation more than that?
Alban Institute, congregations, Dan Hotchkiss, leadership, mission, vision
Who Owns a Congregation?
by Dan Hotchkiss
Comparisons are useful but tricky. New Testament writers compare the church to a human body, a herd of sheep, a bride, and a vineyard. Synagogues are often likened to a house, a tent, or an extended family. None of these analogies is meant to be exact or literal—a church may act in some ways like a herd of sheep, but a wise leader doesn’t plan on it. Poets do exaggerate sometimes.
In the same spirit of poetic license, it may at times it may be useful to compare the clergy leader of a congregation to a corporate CEO, its members to customers or stockholders, or its staff to the employees of a charity. We can draw many useful analogies between congregations, other nonprofits, and businesses, but ultimately congregations need ideas and language of their own. It is easy to say that “the church should run more like a business,” without recognizing that in some respects the church should and does run very differently.