A Fresh Approach to Cooperative Parishes
By Kay L. Kotan
The idea of cooperative parishes is nothing new. In the past couple of decades, they have most commonly been used to solve an appointive dilemma. In other words, when a church can no longer afford a full-time pastor, no pastor at all, or if it experiences some other reduction in pastoral support, the judicatory leader responsible for that church brings together another nearby church to be in some sort of cooperative ministry. Typically, the reduction in pastoral support is driven by shrinking financial resources. The church believes it is at a crossroads with no option other than reducing pastoral compensation. Structure rather than vision is clearly driving this decision. When structure drives organizational decisions, the church is on the declining side of the lifecycle.
When structure drives organizational decisions, the church is on the declining side of the lifecycle.
Since pastoral appointments are year to year, congregational leaders are forced to make critical decisions each year about appointments. Pastoral appointment decisions are unlike other decisions that congregations can delay month after month and year after year (such as missional effectiveness in reaching new people). Because the judicatory leader typically has only one real influence and tool for each congregation—the appointment of pastors—forming a cooperative parish or multiple-point charge is the only option the leader can use for congregations in this situation. By using the cooperative parish as a solution to appointment issues, leaders have limited the understanding of the meaning and purpose of cooperative parishes. In addition, such leaders have also severely limited what might be possible if they were to use the cooperative parish model more as it was intended and even outlined in The United Methodist Book of Discipline. In fact, there are multiple models of cooperative parishes offered in the Book of Discipline! Check out the distinctive models in the Book of Discipline in Part VI, Section II, ❡206. You just might be surprised at the variety of cooperative parishes offered.
By using the cooperative parish as a solution to appointment issues, leaders have limited the understanding of the meaning and purpose of cooperative parishes.
What is this fresh approach we are challenging churches to consider? In our book, An Effective Approach to Cooperative Parishes: A Congregational Guide to Discernment and Implementation, my co-author, Rev. Jason Stanley, and I suggest that the approach in becoming a cooperative parish is much healthier when it is organic and congregationally-driven. The process to make the decision to enter into a cooperative parish takes time and must be part of discernment by all the congregations involved in the potential cooperative parish. A decision for congregations to become a cooperative parish due to a judicatory mandate (top-down approach) hardly ever proves to be effective or vital. It often feels imposed and heavy-handed to the congregations. Therefore, there is often low commitment by the congregations.
Becoming a cooperative parish is much healthier when it is organic and congregationally-driven.
On the other hand, when congregations take an organic journey through a process of discernment (grassroots, bottom-up approach) by holding holy conversations, facing current reality, making critical decisions upfront, and having a shared vision for God’s preferred future for the cooperative parish, there is a much higher likelihood that the cooperative parish will be healthy, vital, and have kingdom impact within its mission field. This approach is not structurally driven like the top-down approach. Instead, this approach is driven by vision and provides the opportunity for a new lifecycle to be birthed together by the newly formed cooperative parish. Leaders who want more information on this organic approach to cooperative parishes will want to check out, An Effective Approach to Cooperative Parishes: A Congregational Guide to Discernment and Implementation. This resource is for churches that are considering forming a cooperative parish together. When lay and clergy leaders go through a step-by-step process of discernment and understanding, they learn what a truly cooperative ministry actually means and how to enter into a cooperative parish model with a comprehensive plan and shared commitment from the start.
This congregational guide for laity and clergy walks leaders through the process of developing a shared and cooperative vision. Once the vision for the cooperative parish has been established, this approach then guides lay and clergy leaders through a process of developing a plan for cooperating ministry, resources, and strategic alignment. No stone is left unturned!
Through questions, surveys, analysis, and conversations that help leaders clearly understand the current reality of their own ministry landscape as well as the ministry landscape of the other potential cooperative parish partners upfront, they discover the power of paying attention to the place God is calling them to love. The guide also aids leaders in having tough conversations about alignment, planning, resource allocation, and more. It is the premarital counseling equivalent for cooperative parishes!
[By] making critical decisions upfront and having a shared vision for God’s preferred future for the cooperative parish, there is a much higher likelihood that the cooperative parish will be healthy…and have kingdom impact.
Finally, we believe there are four key advantages for cooperative parishes for church leaders:
1. Greater Leadership Impact
When local church leaders decide on their own to form expressions of cooperative parishes, local church leaders lead local congregations in the discernment and decision-making process.
2. More Creativity
When local congregants participate in the process from the very beginning, there is a much higher likelihood of creativity and innovation in the options and implementation. Local congregants are likely to be more engaged in creative solutions to make the cooperative parish successful when moving forward.
3. Widespread Engagement
When the cooperative parish idea springs up organically from the local context, the excitement and enthusiasm build and spread from leader to leader and congregant to congregant. Before long, there is a snowball effect— rolling down a giant hill, picking up steam, and growing in size and momentum.
4. Deeper Commitment and Buy-In
When laypeople are a part of the decision-making process, they have a deeper sense of commitment and buy-in. They are more likely to sacrifice their preferences for the greater good since their voices are part of the decision-making process. They participated in the discussions and decisions along the way. They were privy to the information, the “why” from the very beginning, and they heard varying pros and cons for each step in the decision-making process.
Join Kay L. Kotan and Rev. Jason C. Stanley for a free webinar on An Effective Approach to Cooperative Parishes: A Congregational Guide, Thursday, October 27. at 6:30 p.m. CDT.
Kay Kotan is a professionally credentialed coach who has coached hundreds of pastors and churches across the nation, helping them become more vital in reaching new people. She has authored more than a dozen books on church and leadership transformation. Kay is a Coach U & Advanced Coach U Graduate, and a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) of the International Coaching Federation. Kay also served on the faculty of Coaching4Clergy, is a Certified Path One Coach for the UMC, and was a member of the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI) Executive Team for the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. She has worked with hundreds of pastors and congregations across the nation in becoming more missionally effective through coaching, workshops, and consulting.
Jason C. Stanley is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, a certified church consultant, and a coach. Jason now serves as the Coordinator for Church Revitalization for the Coastal Virginian District in the Virginia Annual Conference, helping church leaders to discern innovative ways to make disciples of Jesus Christ.