By Andy Bryan
Those two words: “Required Reading.” Although they can sometimes place immediate roadblocks between myself and a book (I’ll confess it!), this time the “required reading” was insightful, practical, and helpful.
Participants in a continuing education event were asked to read “Inside the Large Congregation” by Susan Beaumont in preparation for her presentation. And after reading it, I am happy to recommend it, even to those for whom it is not “required!”
The book would be helpful for people in leadership of mid-sized to large congregations. Congregations of fewer than 250 in worship may find the material a bit irrelevant to that particular setting. Though a “large” congregation is defined here as 400 or more, a mid-sized congregation growing towards 400 would benefit greatly from the practical suggestions presented.
What I find particularly refreshing about Beaumont’s approach is her openness. She is not prescribing in a heavy-handed way. She is observing, suggesting, and describing systems that she has seen working well. As she puts it, “Congregations are living, breathing organisms. They grow, change, and evolve under our feet as we walk” (p. 41). I remember a presenter who stated, “I’m not saying this is the only way to do it. I am saying this is the only way that works.” Rest assured, this is not Beaumont’s approach.
The text presents five broad organizational systems for consideration: clergy leadership, the staff team, governance, engagement of the laity, and strategic identity. Beaumont spends a chapter exploring each system, focusing on how the systems must change as the congregation changes. A term that is used throughout the book is “right-sizing.” The idea is for the organizational systems present within the congregation to be the right size and shape in order for the congregation to be as fruitful in ministry as possible.
Each chapter is followed by a handful of reflection questions. These are excellent for personal or for small group use. The questions are geared toward the readers’ own context, and intended to spur assessment and improvement of the systems in place within the readers’ congregation. Again, Beaumont does not prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach, but encourages church leaders to assess our own local contexts using the resources she very helpfully provides.
“Inside the Large Congregation” may have been required reading, but that does not mean I read it begrudgingly! It is clearly written, very practical, and grounded in a healthy ecclesiology. Whether your congregation needs a complete overhaul or a few minor adjustments, this book would be a good place to start.