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Non-Profits & Community Groups: Litigation Avoidance

Issue

Faced with declining membership and a need to somehow change its direction, how did a church leadership group and other parishioners overcome differences with their long-serving pastor, make critical changes to the survival and growth of the church, and avoid litigation that would have sought the pastor’s removal?

What Happened?

Over a period of five years, a church experienced a tremendous drop in youth and young adult memberships.  The pastor who had led the church for over 45 years was respected and adored by the older members of the congregation; however, he was unwilling to change the method and style of his religious teachings, and the manner in which the church was organized. The church leadership group,comprised ofa mix of long- and short- term members, generally recognized a need for changes to enhance the church’s growth and development.  While a portion of the leadership group attempted to oust the pastor, others were in support of him remaining with the church.  In the meantime, various issues existed among and between the pastor, the church leadership group, and the parishioners.

Special Considerations

  • All sides were determined to resolve the issues as expeditiously as possible, and because the church’s finances were in dire straits, no one was interested in going to court.
  • The pastor claimed the church owed him a substantial amount of money, and did not feel that he was required to attend “gripe sessions”thathe felt were initiated by a few disgruntled members.
  • The church leadership group supported the church as a whole, but several factions within the group and other parishioners differedon the path the church should take to move forward.

How did PREMi help?

A PREMi facilitator who possessed strong interpersonal relationship and communication skills assisted the church in reaching an agreement amenable to all of the parties by:

  • Establishing and prioritizing goals and objectives for the overall facilitation process, and creating roadmaps and measurable benchmarks to ensure accountability and success
  • Conductingboth group meetings and one-on-one sessions with parishioners at all levels to obtain information about the problems that existed and their concerns
  • Facilitating larger group meetings to communicate input and brainstorm strategies for improvement
  • Setting ground rules and norms to ensure maximum involvement and productivity
  • Compiling information, identifying common areas of concern, and recommending areas for change

What was the Outcome?

The PREMi facilitator helped the parties come together and have meaningful communication regarding the issues. During their discussions, all sides became aware of specific needs that begged for attention, and as a result:

  • The parties developed a new mutual respect and common understanding
  • The pastorrevealed that he had been burdened by the church’s lack of growth, but felt that he could not leave the church in its current condition
  • The church leadership group explained its need to take the church to another level in terms of activities and finance
  • The parishioners communicated their fear of losing their pastor without having a contingency plan to ensure continuing leadership and guidance
  • The parties mutually agreed to a severance plan for the pastor that allowed him to continue in a modified leadership role at the church, with acceptable compensation levels, while the church continued to re-establish and develop programs and activities that inured to the benefit of members at all levels within the congregation

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Disclaimer: This summary is illustrative of the types of cases and the manner in which the PREMI associate dealt with the matter. Care has been taken to avoid disclosure of sensitive or confidential information.