Teaching people about church.

Today is the first day of class for MIN 427 Church Management and Administration. It’s a course I’ve been teaching each fall for several years. This year is different.

It’s always been online, so that’s no change. But sometime in July, I realized that the way that churches in the US have operated changed in March. And the changes will be, I believe, enduring.

So what do you include in a course for people who will start their full-time work in churches after March 2020? Working in congregations marked by closures and pandemics and deep-seated arguments? In faith communities where touch had to disappear, where talk became technologized?

I thought briefly about abandoning the course. I realized that was silly. So I started thinking.

I decided to leave the categories in place. Congregations still have to think about being stewards of people and resources. They still have to identify the policies most helpful for providing safety and accountability. They still have to organize activities and care.

But I decided to add in conversations with friends who were competently leading before the pandemic who have addressed the adjustments with wisdom and creativity

I asked them questions like, “I’m wondering if we need to rethink WHAT we are administering? We used to allocate resources of time, talent, treasure, facilities to support a building-gathering centric model of church. But what did you see changing in what was being managed?”

We talked about how congregational values shaped decisions. We talked about the balance between broadcasting the music and preaching, and inviting conversations and community.

We talked about the importance of self-care for leaders who are involved in something that no one has done before, and the value of giving up on perfection for the sake of learning.

They have been amazing conversations. I have great friends. And I’m reminded that in all the noise, there are people who are listening for God and caring for people. 


The books I use are Thomas F. Tumblin,  (Ad) ministry; Kem Meyer, Less Chaos. Less Noise; and Jon Swanson,  A Great Work: A Conversation with Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Work. Yes, I am one of those professors who requires their own book. But the wisdom from Nehemiah, who led people in the middle of their own chaos, is valuable for us, too.

2 thoughts on “Teaching people about church.

  1. billhanifin

    It is an interesting time for all of us who are dedicated to a faith based life. The concept of church is being redefined and I’m thinking that the outcome of all that has happened in the past six months will be to shake away that which was not core to the concept. Maybe buildings become less important, but community remains as a critical element that our human natures needs and benefits from. I applaud you and other leaders who are carefully thinking through what church will look like in the future and helping the rest of us process these changes in our lives. Thanks.


    1. Jon Swanson

      I realized this morning that I need to share some of the stories I’m hearing and the insights I’m having about what we’re learning from what churches (or the gatherings of people known as churches) are doing. I will start doing that sharing here and on my other places. Thanks.


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