Friday, June 15, 2012

New Hope for Congregations and Their Leaders

If you have ever planned great programs and had them fail miserably, you may want to make a fresh start in congregational development.  If so, take a look at the work of Fr. Steve Rottgers, D.Min.,  Assistant for Congregational Development in the Diocese of West Missouri.  Based on his own near death experience at age sixteen and his subsequent surrender to the power of God in his life, Fr. Rottgers combines "Biblical Theology and Quality/Systems Theory that exists in the mentor ship of Jesus and Paul for the modern Church."

Complete manuals for implementing his process are found in three self published books:  The Quality Questions, Ripe for the Harvest, and I am Yours.  Instead of struggling with self-designed vision and mission statements, Fr. Rottgers believes that all congregations should adopt the universal mission statement of Jesus: The Great Commandment to love God, neighbor and self.  Then all parishes should adopt as their mission statement The Great Commission; "go into the world and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...".  Thus biblical theology forms the basis of all congregational development.  He then pulls them together in a number of ways, including the Trinity, the Pareto Principle (80% of resources applied to 20% of the leaders effects 80-90% of church members), and systems theory applied to "Paul's analogy of the church as consisting of many parts, united in the one Spirit, possessing unique gifts."  Instead of a linear and divisive model of church organization, he proposes a different model where clergy and laity cooperatively work together to discern needs and develop programs to respond effectively.

In a classical definition of sin as "missing the mark" and the Hebrew notion of "tearing apart of close relationships," Fr. Rottgers connects sin with the Taguchi Loss Function, which essentially means that we sin when we put the parish system above  the voice of the congregation.  When this happens, the people lose confidence in the very system they are attached to.  On the other hand when people are valued, it is probable that they will function more enthusiastically; a modern words with ancient Greek roots that means "to be possessed by the spirit of God."

The heart of the process is the distrubution of  3x5 cards where data is gathered from the congregation in areas of Celebration, Pains/Concerns, and Dreams.  Over the three week period the data is gathered and then put on the wall as "wall paper."  People are then asked to put three ranked sticky notes on their favorites.  This is an anonymous and inclusive process the result of which is to elicit program commitment.  The value here is that neither the Rector, the Vestry, or any other top down group is making program decisions. While this method of data collecting may not appear to be remarkably different, when you examine the process closely you will find out that it is more precise, democratic and accountable. 

It is important to the author that the leader has "the capacity and goal to be Theo-Centric.  He writes, "The Transforming power of Christ at the center of an Entheos Leader enables him/her to be Christ-centered, a servant, a visionary, knowledgeable of their limits, dependent upon God, authentic, and able to give power to others."

Rottgers approach is different from the church organiational gurus of the past 50 years.  The value lies in his unique ability to draw together the Holy Scriptures and fundamentally sound organizational procedures.  His data collecting is different in that he gives adequate time to elicit opinions from the hearts of people, and it is anonymous.  Of course the anonymity gives way at the time of making a commitment.  You can buy his books at: or google Steve Rottgers Consulting.  Quality Questions sells for $15.  Ripe for the Harvest is $35.  I am Yours sells for $25.


  1. Good review, thanks Bob. Hope it helps Steve's work get greater notice and can help more congregations thrive.

  2. I love the idea of stopping to write parish mission statements! I am not sure the great commission is the one theme to gather under unless there is a broader discussion of the historical harm done by the colonial Anglican elements of missionary theologies under the biblical mandate. The Diocese of Massachusetts has a covenant with their parishes that dioceses might model after. Definitely value in the work being done that you describe here.

  3. This is basically a form of "open space technology" that has been around the organizational development profession since the 80's. Nothing really new here, nor does it change much.

    I suppose if people in the pews knew how to fix the church and empower it they would have fixed the church and empowered it already. The church is vastly lead by lay people and mostly from the bottom up. I'm glad they found someone with old techniques to do conferences and workshops that move deck chairs around while the ship sinks.