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The resources frame is all about understanding what’s available to a congregation in its efforts to carry out its religious and social functions. Turns out it takes a lot!

(A) People.

The most important resource of any congregation is its people. No people, no congregation! Yet, many congregations struggle to mobilize participants. People volunteering, their gifts/talents, relationships and shared experiences, members and non-members are all resources for the congregation.

(B) Commitment.

When they are mobilized, people are committed. Commitment though comes in many forms: worship attendance, volunteering, giving of financial resources, participating in small groups, community outreach, political organizing, etc. All these are ways people in congregations express their commitment.

(C) Financial.

The most obvious resources are likely financial ones. Participants in religious congregations donate a staggering about of money each year. And it’s a good thing because its takes a significant amount of money to keep a congregation going. Financial resources include offerings, endowments, legacy gifts, and other investments. Research shows that most congregations have a very hard time talking openly about money. This makes the task of resourcing a congregation quite challenging.

(D) Building.

If finances are the most obvious resource of a congregation, often the most under utilized one is a congregation’s building or physical space. Many congregations use their buildings only a few times a week. This has led many congregations to explore new ways of gathering in non-traditional spaces (e.g. coffee shops and pubs), online gatherings and shared spaces within the community.

Frame in Action

What to do about the building

A recent article in The Atlantic proclaimed ”an epidemic of empty churches.” And the very same week the Washington Post asked, ”Does a religious community need its own building to flourish?” Both authors pointed to the reality that buildings are often a problem, and finding the right solution will require congregations and their leaders to do a careful assessment of their resources — but also of their place in the community and their own culture and theology. Some congregations are wondering if rented space or ”pop up” space or a corner table at the pub might not better suit today’s needs. In their infancy, congregations have long sought out spaces that are otherwise empty on...
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Who is Your Neighbor? Who Decides?

Immigration has become one of the most difficult issues facing people throughout Europe and North America. And congregations are on the front lines in many ways. Whether offering services to immigrants and refugees once they arrive or protecting those facing deportation, being involved with these neighbors also brings congregations into conversation with a larger public and with legal authorities. Governmental agencies are a part of the community ecology that is invisible most of the time to most religious leaders – but they shouldn’t be. There are, of course, building inspections and financial regulations. And when congregations choose to become part of the social safety net, they...
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Finding Resources in Unexpected Places

Mike Mather has spent most of his adult life pastoring churches in neighborhoods most people would call ”deprived.”  Not Mike.  When he greets someone at the food pantry or on the street, he’s more apt to see their gifts than their ”needs.” And he sees those things in part because he asks the right questions. I’ve gotten to know Mike over the last couple of years, and I’ve constantly been amazed at his ability to make me think hard about what I assume about the resources in a community or a congregation.  Now he has a new book that shares that wisdom. It’s aptly titled Having Nothing, Possessing Everything. Anyone who is seriously thinking about the resources available for doing...
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Creative Callings at Boston University (and Beyond)

A new collaborative project at BU School of Theology is bringing together teams of innovative leaders who are seeking new ways to live faithfully in their own unique contexts. Participants in ’Creative Callings’ are designing creative hub learning events, assembling resources, and mentoring each other. is proud to be a core resource for this project.  Groups that do this creative work need to have a clear vision of what vocation and calling look like in their context so that they can design programs that are deeply grounded in the particular commitments, realities, and capacities. They will need to be serious about the theological foundations on which they can...
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Theologians in the Field

Over the last couple of decades, the field of practical theology has increasingly drawn on methods from the social sciences.  Most especially, people seeking to understand the theological wisdom of a community have practiced ethnographic methods for gathering information and analyzing what they find – much as we describe in this website on ”studying congregations.”  By interviewing people and directly observing what they do together, practical theologians seek to understand and critique the implicit theologies that may or may not reveal the picture of God that official creeds or academic theologies do. But it’s not just academic theologians who have been doing this work.  It is also...
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When Congregations Share Their Properties – 5 Principles for Good Decisions

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Feature Photo Information: Muslim women perform Ramadan prayers at Heartsong Church, suburban Memphis. Heartsong Church: Source: Photo by Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal.   Written by Paul D. Numrich, Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Capital University My recent studies of congregations have shown me that a shared parking lot often isn’t just about parking. More than that, any kind of property-sharing arrangement, whether with outside groups or diverse internal groups, requires careful assessment of why and how, as well as careful tending of the relationship. Guiding these...
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Before the Disaster Strikes

As disasters strike – all too often, it seems – we often see churches, synagogues and mosques in the news. They may be shelters or food distribution centers or coordinators of volunteers or places to comfort and grieve. As the most ubiquitous form of voluntary organization in the U.S., congregations are present in every community, and never moreso than when the local world gets turned upside down. A couple of decades of research has explored the many ways congregations of all sorts are involved in their local communities. You can find references to a rich array of those sources in our research database. Try checking “civic engagement” and/or “social service and activism” to...
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Examining a Jewish Enclave: Ecology and Resources

Michelle Boorstein at The Washington Post wrote an article about a small Jewish community in Western Maryland. Cumberland Maryland had been a Jewish enclave in the Appalachian Mountains, with four synagogues and many Jewish-owned stores and businesses. But now the Jewish community has mostly left, likely to larger cities, with only around 50 families — many of whom are older couples — left to support the remaining synagogue. The article raises a few important issues related to Studying Congregations. First, the local community — or ecology — matters. When there were many Jewish families in the rural community, there were enough people to support four different...
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Related Tools

Asking Questions

Even though it's hard to talk honestly about money and resources, sitting down and asking questions is a good place to start.
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Survey Says!

When it comes to identifying the resources of a congregation, especially beyond just money, a survey of the participants can be very helpful.
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Who's Out There?

When the community changes, it's likely to have an impact on a congregation and it's resources. After all, resources are all about people.
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