How do you enter a new congregation quickly? My personal method is the “25 Interviews” Approach.
It includes my normal research, reading ten years of Annual Reports and ten years of Council minutes. Then, at an early Council meeting, I announce my plan to visit a representative sample of about twenty-five families, old, young, new, old, etc. I request Council’s assistance in suggesting families to visit. For each family suggested, I ask whether council would rank that family as a priority A, B or C. I usually have a prioritized list of suggested families (priority A, B, or C) within about 30 to 40 minutes. I add or subtract names later as that seems advisable.
I make an appointment with the 25 families I’ve selected, either at their home (preferred) or in the church. My interview consists of only two questions (which I tell them in advance if they ask.) Question #1 is “Tell me about yourself,” i.e., getting to know each other. Question #2 is “Tell me about St. Nowhere’s.” I schedule two hours. The interviews average about 90 minutes, although some are shorter and some go much longer. I can usually complete all 25 interviews within about 4 – 6 weeks.
My goal is to hear from the members themselves how they perceive their church, because I don’t want to depend on possibly biased sources of information, such as the previous pastor. (I speak with the pastor after the 25 interviews.) During the interviews, I try to keep my mouth shut (really!), because one key piece of information is what subjects they choose to voluntarily bring up. I sometimes refer to this as “taking the emotional temperature of the congregation.”
I’ve found this method to be very helpful. It’s fast and it provides me with face time with key members of the congregation, which usually includes most movers and shakers. By the end of the 25 interviews (and my reading), I have a fairly good idea of the emotional mood of the congregation and what’s on their minds, as well as face-to-face relationships with most of the key players. Of course, that’s when the difficult work begins!
Rev. Richard A. Mathisen is an Intentional Interim Pastor in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod ELCA, where he has served 12 congregations in 16 years. He also serves on the board of the Interim Ministry Association of the ELCA (IMA-ELCA).