Pay attention to the basics

As our congregations respond bravely to the worsening recession, we should also learn from it.

No one explanation tells all, of course, and no single hunt for villains will name every flaw. A complex economy staggers for complex reasons.

But one thing is clear: People who should have been tending to the basics were asleep or distracted. They were packaging mortgages as securities but weren’t examining the basic condition of those mortgages. They were producing dazzling ads for products but weren’t examining those products for value added and quality conferred. People were spending money they didn’t have on goods they didn’t need.

Our Church Wellness Project is grounded on a principle: If congregations pay attention to the basics, they will serve effectively and thrive. Every congregation can be healthy, whatever its size, demographics, or inherited overhead.

The cost of being healthy isn’t money, it’s paying attention to the basics.

That means adopting “best practices” in fundamentals: welcoming visitors, recruiting effective leaders, communicating well, training members to grow in faith, monitoring outcomes.

It’s always tempting to undertake the “grand gesture,” the breathtaking new idea or program that will erase all debts and light the future’s fire. There certainly is need for bold venturing. But the foundation must be solid. Otherwise, energy devoted to the grand gesture will evaporate, leaving planners discouraged that no one picked up their enthusiasm.

The bad news is that tackling the basics is, well, basic. It isn’t glamorous or exotic. Sometimes it isn’t even fun. The good news, however, is that it works, and working hand-in-hand on projects that bear fruit can transform a faith community. Seeing lives change because they were greeted effectively and engaged personally can make the entire faith enterprise seem hopeful. Seeing people move beyond low-level grousing and into listening to other people’s faith questions can make God seem brilliantly present.

It’s like a family. An exotic and expensive vacation can be fun. But families are built one meal at a time, one bandaged wound at a time, one “Welcome home!” at a time.

For more information on “best practices” in the basics, please visit and join the Church Wellness Project.


Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.