January 26, 2016 by Richelle Thompson
Too many cooks in the kitchen describes a lot of my projects. Collaboration is a vital component to a successful organization but it can sometimes devolve and create headaches. Surely you’ve been there too.
Imagine you’re planning a fundraising event with lots of moving parts. You have an initial meeting to gauge interest, brainstorm ideas, and begin to shape the project. No problem. The issues typically begin in the middle of the project and rise to a frothy foam near the end. Lots of people want to weigh in—some with the mettle to work for a solution and others who prefer armchair quarterbacking. By the final days before the event, everyone has an opinion and suggestions for improvement. And you’re pulling your hair out (or at least I am). 
How do you highlight the good ideas and dismiss the nitpicky ones? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?
A good project management system can help. These can range from low-tech (a dry-erase board or binder) to high-tech (complicated online systems that require specialized training to comprehend). The one that we use is at the higher end (but not highest!) but it’s easy-to-use and has helped avoid some of the last-minute micromanaging. For about two years, we’ve relied on Basecamp for project management. This works pretty well for us, but there’s a monthly charge, which may not be in the budget for some churches. I don’t have a single recommendation for the perfect project management system that will fit everyone’s needs but I can offer some tips as you begin your research. 

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Topics: Administration
January 22, 2016 by Nurya Love Parish

Last December, the Acts 8 Movement released a video which could be customized and shared via social media to proclaim the gospel and invite people to worship.

After it came out, I posted a tutorial about how to do just that, providing video for you to follow along as I customized the video for the church I serve and created the Facebook ad. (Full disclosure: I'm on the core team of the Acts 8 Movement and had advance notice that the video was coming out.) My goal was to help others use the ad in their contexts.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xA52CkfVgP0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> 

With the press of the holidays and the start of the new year (which includes a few significant initiatives which I will share soon) it took me a while to go back and analyze the outcome.

If you didn't read the tutorial post, you need to know:

I had never customized a video someone else had created before. I was new to video in general; I first edited video in 2015 for a youth group project.  I had never run a paid Facebook ad in my life.

My goal was primarily to learn from the experience. And I did!

Here's what I learned:

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Topics: Administration
December 30, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

The 4th of 4 posts - see below for the other three articles.

I can often predict whether an article, resource, or webinar will do well when pushed out in an email or posted on Facebook or Twitter.

Then there are those times that something truly wonderful, inspiring and amazing, or downright practical for everyone to have in hand just falls flat. 

Well, now is your second chance! As part of ECF Vital Practices celebration of Christmas, our editorial team has looked back over 2015 and pulled some our best content that, despite our best efforts, just flew under the radar.

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Topics: Administration
December 2, 2015 by Nancy Davidge

Advent: A time of preparation; a time of waiting. And, for our congregational leaders, especially those responsible for parish administration, time to make a master list and check it twice. First, for all of the seasonal events and services, next for all the ‘end-of-the-calendar-year’ related administrative tasks: year-end reports, “closing out” 2015’s financial matters, vestry elections, annual meeting planning, etc.

In the December Vestry Papers, we continue to share articles and stories covering some of the practical aspects of church leadership, with emphasis on the role of and providing support to parish administrators – be they employees or volunteer, full or part time.

Our articles include:

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Topics: Administration
November 25, 2015 by Greg Syler

My memories are probably very slanted because even as a boy I was a pretty serious church nerd, but I remember how much I looked forward to one of the latter Sundays in January. Lots of people would turn out to the one worship service my church had that day. The social hall – through which we passed on our way to church and Sunday School – had lots of tables and chairs set up, and nicely decorated tables at that. By 10:00 am Mrs. Pitlock, the neighborhood caterer, and her crew were already bustling in our church kitchen getting the luncheon ready, and every year I knew I could look forward to her delicious glazed carrots.

It was the Sunday of our congregation’s Annual Meeting, and it was a big deal. The lunch was tasty and, even more remarkable, served to us at our seats …on real plates! But, mostly, the meeting was business and a series of people making committee reports. While I was in awe of the seriousness with which my parents participated in this assembly, I confess that I got bored with most of it really quickly; my friends and I would, by the second report or so, have already gotten permission to go play in the churchyard.

Annual meetings don’t get a lot of attention in our common conversation about becoming more mission-minded instead of maintenance-focused. I get it. Annual meetings are, perhaps, one of the last significant vestiges of ‘things congregations have to do,’ and there’s not a lot of imagination or creativity or, frankly, desire around them, in general.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about annual meetings, primarily for two reasons. First, ours is coming up. St. George’s Annual Meeting is on the first Sunday in December. (It makes Advent and Thanksgiving kind of crazy, but I’ve come to really appreciate having everything done – budget, vestry, officers – before the calendar year kicks in.) Second, because I’ve been looking very seriously at turning (most) everything we do into opportunities to form and send forth disciples of Jesus, I wondered if we couldn’t make our annual meeting something more, placing the emphasis instead on a celebratory, grace-filled annual gathering of disciples.

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Topics: Administration
November 10, 2015 by Richelle Thompson
Vestries are working on their budgets for the next year. It can be a daunting task, whether or not resources are limited. Money—and talk of it—is uncomfortable for a lot of people.
But giving voice to the line items of a church budget is a vital practice for healthy congregations. While most congregations share the nuts-and-bolts budget (the spreadsheet one with numbers and a bottom line), few expand the budget into a document for ministry. A full-fledged narrative budget can seem overwhelming, but I encourage vestries (and finance committees) to consider creating a document that puts flesh on the budget.
Take the staff line item. This is often a large percentage of a church’s budget and can sometimes be a place of contention. I recommend crafting a paragraph that frames that line item by mission and ministry. In other words, when the church elects to fund the salary line item, what does that mean?

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Topics: Administration
November 4, 2015 by Nancy Davidge

Happy Birthday ECF Vital Practices! We’re celebrating five years of ECF Vital Practices. To date, we’ve published 60 Vestry Papers issues online (that’s 240 articles), plus thousands of Vital Posts blogs. 

The best part? We couldn’t do this without you – our contributors who share their stories, all of our readers and subscribers, and all of you who share each issue with others. Together, we’ve reached 391,531 unique visitors (and close to 2 million page views) since the site went live in late October 2010. Thank you.

At ECFVP we recognize how much attention to detail goes into any organization or effort. In this issue of Vestry Papers, we share articles and stories covering some of the practical aspects of managing a congregation. Our articles include:

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Topics: Administration
October 2, 2015 by Nina Nicholson

All websites need a domain name and a web host. These are easy to acquire, but sometimes churches have a hard time keeping track of them – and end up losing them, with dire results. They could find themselves locked out of their own website, or the website could vanish altogether. Here’s what you need to know to prevent this from happening to your church.

First, some definitions. A web host refers to space on a server accessible via the World Wide Web, on which the files making up your website reside. Using the analogy of a house, the webhost is like the lot on which the house is built.

Each “lot” on a web host has a numeric address called an IP address (where IP stands for Internet Protocol) written as four numbers of one to three digits, separated by periods. The IP address of the [Diocese of Newark] website is Since a meaningful name is easier to remember than a number, a domain name is registered to refer to the IP address. The diocese registered dioceseofnewark.org as its domain name.

You can register a domain name for a small annual fee, and obtain a web host for a somewhat larger annual fee. You can get both together from the same company, or separately from different companies.

Here’s where the potential problems come in.

Unlike traditional utilities such as the church’s phone line or electricity provider, which are tangible and linked to the church’s address, the web host and domain name are more intangible – in the cloud – and not necessarily officially linked to the church at all. Here are some scenarios in which things can go wrong.

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Topics: Administration
September 23, 2015 by Greg Syler

Autumn’s annual return means that most congregations are starting to put together financial plans for next year. The annual fundraising campaign or pledge drive is about to begin. Alongside this work, and at the same time, vestries and finance committees are undertaking aggressive analyses of the current year’s budget, plus projections for next year’s priorities.

By way of a generous dose of honesty, I think we who are raised up as leaders in the church need to take a good hard look at what’s driving our attention and focus. The mission of the church, as defined in the Prayer Book, is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP p.855) That sounds to me like a very clear call to raise up and equip disciples of Jesus Christ. You’d expect, then, that a church’s budget would reflect that its chief source of income is from those persons who are practicing generosity, including financial generosity, because they are disciples of Jesus. And the second largest income source should be those ministry events that clearly are ministries, not fundraisers. This is true, in large part, but I’m not certain we’re fully investing in making our budgets match our talking points. In too many cases, what’s missing most of all from many congregations is a willingness to line up talk with actions, to make our money speak mission, and to do so clearly and unambiguously.

Take a look, if you will, at overall income trends in your congregation over the past several years. I did this the other week. I looked at nine years from fiscal year 2007 through 2015’s projected numbers (based on financial activity through July). I was amazed at the results.

Here are a few things I learned.

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August 3, 2015 by Linda Buskirk

ECF Vital Practices and our new Vestry Resource Guide provide helpful insights on strategic planning and direction for congregations and dioceses. It’s uplifting to witness congregations as they identify their ministry strengths and then prayerfully create a vision for the impact they could make by using those strengths to the glory of God.

Mission. Vision. Strengths. Values. All are positive! So what happens after the strategic planning or visioning retreat in which these are so enthusiastically created? What happens when the idea-filled flip chart pages are rolled up and tossed in the recycling bin? Is the vision statement placed somewhere deep in the parish web site rarely to be seen again?

If your leadership spends valuable time and powerful prayer to create a vision and set priorities, respect that effort enough to do something really important: Commit to using them.

The nitty-gritty of implementation begins with sharing the strategic tools you’ve created with the congregation and church staff. Invite everyone to prayerfully consider what they can do in support of the mission, to help the church move toward the vision, starting with the priorities identified in strategic planning.

For instance, if your vision includes being a welcoming parish, perhaps the buildings & grounds committee might review signage and accessibility. Christian formation could plan an open house for families in the neighborhood to learn about your Sunday school. The outreach commission might invite clients of the food bank to a meal with an Evening Prayer service that introduces the newcomers to the Prayer Book and assures them that they are welcome to worship with you any Sunday.

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Topics: Administration
July 15, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

Maintenance or Mission? 5 Resources for Buildings and Grounds

Buildings and grounds upkeep can be an overwhelming, thankless task. In the July Vital Practices Digest, we’re sharing five resources to consider when thinking about managing your congregation’s buildings and grounds. Our fifth resource is to help congregations strengthen their practice of year round stewardship.

It’s easy and free to connect with these resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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Topics: Administration
July 1, 2015 by Greg Syler

In addition to all the other very exciting things happening at General Convention there’s a lively conversation on an important, sensitive, and timely topic – our church’s relationship with alcohol, addictions, recovery, substance misuse, and healing. This summer, a special committee has been appointed, of which I am a member: Committee number 22 on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse. Though it’s hard to eclipse the energetic spark that is the storyline about Presiding Bishop-elect Curry, I’d also say that this may be one of the most important conversations we’re going to have this summer, mostly because we’re hoping it’s a conversation that only begins in Salt Lake City and one that trickles down into the life of every local community in our church.

In short, we’re striving to find a new normal in our church’s relationship with alcohol, in particular, and a newer, more holistic understanding of how we deal with substance misuse in our individual lives and communities. We’re also trying to name that we need to keep our eyes fixed upon the gifts of healing and forgiveness and compassion when dealing with addiction and recovery – we are the Body of Christ, after all – at the same time that we also need to learn how to have hard conversations with one another. Will this happen because of General Convention resolutions? No, of course not. But this will begin by the conversation we have at General Convention, and that conversation has been going on in our committee as well as on the floor of both the House of Deputies and, soon, House of Bishops. This conversation is one I hope the rest of the church will also start to have, and soon.

Here are the details, and you can see everything at the website www.generalconvention.org.(Click here to look up resolutions by their number.)

First, the House of Deputies has already passed resolution D014, a resolution calling on dioceses and bishops and other bodies in the ordination process to “explore directly [with nominees, postulants and candidates for ordination] issues regarding substance use in their lives and family systems.” This passed the House of Deputies with substantial engagement and conversation; as I write on Tuesday morning, it is awaiting House of Bishops consideration and action.

Second, again as I write, the House of Deputies is set to consider resolutions A158 and A159. These are both resolutions the committee spent time discussing, writing, and revising. The committee, as such, was charged with updating our church’s policies on alcohol and drug abuse – last updated in 1985 – and even though the committee only had one resolution submitted before us, it’s no small thing for a legislative committee to become a policy-writing committee. That said, I commend these resolutions (as they look going into House of Deputies floor debate) and trusting the Sprit, as we all do, I’ll bet that I will also commend whatever version comes out post-GC.

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Topics: Administration
June 29, 2015 by Jeremiah Sierra

For the past several days I've spent more time than I probably should following General Convention on Twitter. We're trending! For those who don't tweet, this means our hashtag, #gc78, which basically links all the various tweets about convention, is one of the most popular on Twitter. There are millions of people on Twitter and even more hashtags, so the fact that we’re trending is a pretty big deal. 

That's how I read the news about the election of the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry as the first African American presiding bishop. That's how I saw photos of a hundreds and maybe thousands of Episcopalians marching against gun violence. 

Every now and then I came across a tweet or statement about personal responsibility, however, that I found somewhat troubling. Things like "It is going to take a change of human hearts and not human laws to stop gun violence," or that it would be hypocritical to divest from fossil fuels as a church because “we are not personally committed” to giving up using energy from oil and gas and coal. (I should say here that I'm a proponent of divestment but what I'm going to say is relevant even if you disagree with me.) 

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Topics: Administration
June 18, 2015 by Greg Syler

A few weeks ago, I finally got caught up on compiling the time-sheets our church’s parish administrator fills out every week. I know it doesn’t sound like much, nor does it sound very exciting, but it’s all part of a larger shift we’ve been at work on at St. George’s, Valley Lee. I wonder if it’s a shift happening elsewhere in the church. And, if so, I wonder where we’re going with this.

When I was called as rector, now nearly eight years ago, this congregation had only recently celebrated the end of the ministry of a part-time secretary. She was a parishioner, and she had had the job for about ten years. Prior to 1997, that is, they’d never had a secretary or anyone in the office. That was the rector’s job. He produced the bulletins and the vestry, for the most part, ran the business of the parish.

With her departure, and during the leadership of an interim priest, they decided they needed someone in the office. There was no one in the congregation they could hire. Looking back, actually, that was a good thing, and an inadvertent beginning of our current policy that parishioners cannot be employees and vice versa. They went to a local temp agency and had a string of employees, some good, some not so great.

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Topics: Administration
June 17, 2015 by Brendon Hunter

An Orderly Chaos - Episcopal Governance

For the June Vital Practices Digest, we’re sharing five resources on how governance works – or can work – in our Church, from General Convention to your parish vestry or bishop’s committee. Our fifth resource is to help congregations strengthen their practice of year-round stewardship.

It’s easy and free to connect with these resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.

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Topics: Administration
May 18, 2015 by Jeremiah Sierra

Most of us are nice people. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, least of all those of our employees or volunteers. Yet criticism is a necessary part of management.

From time to time I’ve had to manage people: interns, volunteers, and occasionally employees, and of course like most of us, I’ve worked for several managers, good and bad. Here are a few things I’ve found make giving and receiving criticism easier:

Communicate often. If you’re in regular communication with your employees, then presumably you’ll regularly be offering them positive feedback, as well as occasional critiques. This will make the negative feedback easier to hear. It also allows them to better understand your communication style so they can interpret your feedback. Consider regular check-ins with your employees or volunteers.

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Topics: Administration
May 8, 2015 by Greg Syler

I knew why he was calling so I picked up the phone. I was glad to get an update on his friend’s health condition: Some good news, some not-so-good news. (His friend is also a parishioner.) Prayers were shared. Prayers continue, I reminded him. While he had me on the phone, he asked, “Did I hear back from the local John Deere dealer about the lawn tractor?” And he had an update, which he shared, about the dishwasher in the parish hall. “Thank you,“ I said, and we wrapped up the phone call.

Later that evening, as I offered up my day in prayer, I smiled with unbreakable gratitude: How amazing it is, God reminded me, that in a quick little moment, in a span of, say, no more than fifteen minutes I attended, literally, to life-and-death and dwelt for a while in the riches of common prayer and, just as quickly, dealt with the banality of lawn mowers and plumbing.

This story from a day-in-the-life of a parish priest is really very common, probably so much so that lay leaders and clergy don’t give it much notice. Dealing with so many disparate things can be confusing, especially early in one’s ministry. It can also be frustrating: “I’ve used my tool box more than my Prayer Book!” being a common refrain. I am reminded of what my friend calls “psychic mobility” – the ability to go from and be present to one subject, one encounter, one person to the next; often transitioning in nanoseconds, drawing on different skill sets in so doing. For all of these reasons, and so many more, serving a Christian community is always exciting and seldom grows dull!

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Topics: Administration
May 4, 2015 by Jeremiah Sierra

Like communicators everywhere, Episcopal communicators need data to evaluate their effectiveness. But what kind of data: big or small?

It’s relatively easy to get numbers: How many people visit the website, how many followers we have on Twitter and how many people “like” our Facebook page, and, of course, how many people attend worship on Sunday.

But there is also less easily quantified measurements a church communicator must consider as well, or what this article in yesterday’s The New York Times calls small data. “The things we can measure are never exactly what we care about,” the authors write. You need both kinds of data.

The communications office at Trinity Wall Street where I work has been considering this question lately. We, like all church communicators, do many things that don’t generate big numbers. Maybe we wrote a story for our website about a parishioner that doesn’t get a lot of readers, for example, but means the world to that one person.

All of us communicators must consider both the big data—page views, likes, retweets, etc.— as well as the data that can only be collected by asking questions and knowing the community.

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Topics: Administration
April 21, 2015 by Richelle Thompson

The clerk shrugged apologetically.   

Sorry, it’s a little warm in here, she said. Our corporate office controls the thermostat.   

So we shopped, a sheen of sweat on our foreheads. The sweet wind of spring was outside.   

Oh, and did I mention we were in Kentucky? And the corporate office? Texas, naturally.
It’s ludicrous, really, to think that a corporate office controls the temperature of a local store. Somebody made that decision based on dollars, not sense.   

But even as I shake my head in wonder, I think about how we do this in the institutional church. Decisions are all too often made at the wrong level, control arbitrarily (or traditionally) held by certain groups when common sense and expediency argues for another solution.   

This is not a bash against church-wide offices or leaders of a diocese. We definitely need to reexamine our structures and imbue decision-making power in the right places. But our local churches are guilty of this same practice. Consider the relationships between commissions and vestries. All too often, leaders say they want to empower others to act. The vestry creates a building and grounds committee, for example. That group delves into the nitty-gritty of maintenance schedules and energy-saving practices. But when it comes to action, the committee has to get permission. And frequently the vestry wants to rehash the entire process, undermining the committee’s work and removing any authority or ownership.   

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Topics: Administration
February 27, 2015 by Bob Leopold

Okay, so my last post about paid and unpaid, professional and amateur Christians sparked some discussion. I need to be clear about something from the beginning. I am not a cynic. I know that it is tough to discern tone from prose, but am not jaded, fed up, or otherwise done with the Church. In fact, I love the movement that Jesus started. I am spiritually fed by what people would consider “typical” church worship. As we have been clear from the beginning, Southside Abbey is not a move away from anything, but rather a branch of the same limb.

The reality of the numbers is stark. What are the two largest expenses facing every Episcopal church in the land? Property and Personnel. Southside Abbey is a model of another way to be church without a building. Notice I said “a” model, not “the” model. We are providing one solution to the problem of the expense of a building.

Now what about that other expense? Can't you just feel the collective sphincter tightening at the very mention of this issue? In the Episcopal Church, we like our priests. We like to have someone up there we can point to as the expert on God, someone who will interact – on our behalf – with those we don't want to see or know.

Let me break it down in our context. The Diocese of East Tennessee's minimum compensation package for full time employment is $47,000. Church Pension adds eighteen percent, or $8,460. Include (as we must for full time work) health insurance to the tune of $11,148 for the cheapest plan for a couple. Including the life and disability insurance offered by our diocese adds another $1,036. That makes a total of $67,644. If we are to take the Church Pension formula, the math is similarly inflated. Their minimum compensation for full time work is $18,500, which costs $34,014. Now that you know the context, let me put it in perspective.

Southside Abbey's budget for 2014 was $33,811. For that amount we:

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Topics: Administration