Introducing Paracletos!

A NEXT Church Revitalization CohortParacletos Logo

NEXT Church is excited to announce Paracletos, a pilot program on church revitalization! In the next twelve months, we will explore what’s next for two particular congregations—one on the east coast and one on the west coast. We hope you’ll follow along through monthly updates and periodic conversations. Want to get started already? Check out the reading list that grounds us as we begin.

The Adaptive Challenge of Our Time

Our current era is one in which mainline religious communities are declining in membership numbers and budget dollars. Those who tell pollsters they do not affiliate with any religion are on the rise. Institutions are suspect. The internet has drastically changed the way we communicate and learn. Geopolitically the world is simultaneously smaller – as we learn news from around the globe instantly and are intimately tied together through trade – and faces the challenges of growing population, global warming and regional conflicts.

All of our churches face what leadership gurus call adaptive challenges. That is, problems that cannot be solved by our current know-how or standard operating procedures. These are challenges that require experiments, discoveries, and adjustments across the community to help us change attitudes, values and behaviors.

Paracletos seeks to provide the space and resources to two congregations to engage the adaptive challenge of being the faithful church of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century with hopes that these learnings can be more broadly instructive across the church.

Community of Practice

Paracletos promotes a particular philosophy toward the support of and/or re-formation of vibrant congregations. In a time when there are no clear answers or solutions to the problems churches face, we believe our call is to pay attention to the Spirit of God already at work among us. Thus, we seek to create what Gil Rendle calls a “community of practice,” wherein we bring to consciousness the wisdom/learning we do have and share it with one another.

Many leaders across the PC(USA) recognize that their congregations need to change and adapt to the current cultural and community landscapes, however most have not figured out what changes need to occur or how to implement them. Instead, leaders are expending more and more energy doing the same things bigger, better, or flashier. Indeed, the wisdom from family systems theory seems fitting: when a system doesn’t know what to do, it does what it knows.

The other way of coping with significant change is to look for the “silver bullet” that can re-invent and save the church. We do not believe such silver bullets exist. In this era of change, there are no one-size-fits-all answers to our questions, nor are there canned programs that will usher in the kingdom of heaven in twelve easy steps.

This cohort group seeks to engage both of these stalemate scenarios by bringing two congregations into relationship with one another as well as with coaches and conversation-partners across the country for the purposes of learning, support, and accountability to the difficult work of adaptive change.

The gospel of John names the Holy Spirit the parakletos  — the one who comes alongside.  The word parakletos painted a unique word picture for sailors of the ancient world, one that would not have been lost on the fisherman in Jesus entourage. When a ship became stalled another ship would be dispatched to come alongside the first one and accompany the vessel to safe harbor. The second ship was called a parakletos.

Our NEXT coaches are coming alongside these particular congregations. We plan, over this year, to catch the wind of the Spirit.

What’s Involved

Because this is a pilot project, we will learn, adjust and course-correct as we go. That said, the initial expectations are these:

  • A year-long coaching relationship with the pastor and leaders in the congregation toward the recovery of missional purpose.
  • Additional conversation partners who will enhance particular aspects of the ministry challenges faced by each congregation. For example, if building cost is a particular issue, we will engage pastors and leaders from churches who have dealt with this in effective and creative ways to share their learning.
  • Sharing the Learning
    • Monthly blog posts that share an insight, a process, or a particularly helpful resource.
    • The two congregations and NEXT Church will have regular dialogue to share what is being learned in each context, provide support to one another and accountability to the process.

Click here to read about the two congregations and coaches involved in this project.

Want more information? Check with NEXT Church Director, Jessica Tate

2 replies
  1. Paul Rack
    Paul Rack says:

    You are absolutely right about broken systems. I look forward to watching and learning from this project. It would also be helpful if NextChurch could find and lift up some of the churches in our denomination that actually are transforming in the ways you describe. Part of the problem that they face, and you will undoubtedly face, is the quantitative mentality in which churches are evaluated purely on the basis of what are sometimes called the 3-B’s: butts, bucks, and bricks. (Membership, money, buildings.) Until we lose this way of thinking we will not be missional or meet the challenges of ministry in this century. The fixation on the 3-B’s, when expressed by the leaders of a church or presbytery, have the capacity to kill innovative, transformative ministry. I hope your exemplary transforming churches do not imagine that this is all about getting more members and money, at the outset. I hope they realize that what is most important is discipleship and witness, and building a strong community. You may want to check out two posts in which I address some of these issues:

    Paul Rack

  2. Peggy Hinds
    Peggy Hinds says:

    Thanking for making coaching a part of this initiative. I am a ICF certified congregational coach, and would like to know about your criteria for coaches and how coaches are being utilized. I may be interested in participating.

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