Since 2002 David Raymond from ChurchFuture has served over 100 congregations as a coach and consultant, generally in cooperation with denominational officials. ChurchFuture clients include ELCA, UMC, UCC, and Presbyterian churches. Through this experience ChurchFuture has learned how to help congregations uncover their shared vision and explore pathways to a brighter future, even in a difficult religious environment. ChurchFuture focuses in three areas of expertise:
1) Collaborations: Church Mergers and Partnerships
Each year 2% of US Protestant churches merge or consolidate, and another 5% talk about merger, according to a Leadership Network study. Many other churches are collaborating in one way or another—sharing staff and programs or serving the community in a joint effort. This isn’t surprising because there are compelling missional, ecological and economic reasons for churches to work together.
Raymond has served or is serving as a consultant to 20 collaboration groups involving 49 congregations as they’ve explored merger or some other form of collaboration, and he’s led workshops on church mergers for the United Church of Canada in both Toronto and Vancouver. Warren Bird’s book, Better Together Making Church Mergers Work, quotes Raymond as a “merger specialist .”
2) Congregational Renewal
There are thousands of books and articles and seminars on church growth and vitality, but the vast majority of Protestant churches are either stuck or in decline. Why? It’s not because churches don’t try—many churches work hard to attract more people—they adopt a strategic plan, sponsor new outreach efforts, send out mailings, tinker with worship, change their children’s program and more, but often find that these efforts disappoint. Churches remain stuck because congregational renewal is tough. But it’s not impossible. Congregational renewal needs a holistic approach that starts with a new understanding of the congregation and its community and then takes measures to bridge the gaps between them. It requires a new commitment and a change in the congregation’s culture, along with a clear sense of purpose, identity, and focus. ChurchFuture doesn’t have a magic formula for renewal, but after many years of working with churches we have a fairly good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
Leadership coaching is a key element in all of ChurchFuture’s work because change can’t happen without effective leadership. Leaders need the confidence and the skills to bring their members along.
Everything David Raymond has learned and taught about congregational leadership over the years was put to the test in his own congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities. In 2015 he chaired the steering committee for a multi-site merger with a suburban church. This merger was approved overwhelmingly by both churches in early 2016. In 2017 Raymond was elected president of the congregation. Five months later Bethlehem’s 22-year senior pastor died of cancer. In spite of these stresses Bethlehem moved forward. In September 2017 the congregation voted (602 to 14) to call two co-senior pastors. Two gifted new associate pastors joined the staff. Bethlehem continues to thrive in spite of these disruptions. Most of the credit goes to the pastors and staff and members, but Raymond’s leadership played a role. After the transitions Bethlehem member Richard Davis, then CEO of US Bank, sent an email to Raymond thanking him “for your remarkable and God-given leadership through this important journey toward wonderful decisions.”