About the Author: Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com.
  • By Published On: June 1, 2017

    It’s a long step from having one’s name on a church roster to being deeply engaged in that faith community. An engagement rate of 100% is unreachable. But the current engagement rate of maybe 25% isn’t working out well – for constituents or for churches. Many people want more, but they find engagement elusive, especially when Sunday worship is the only avenue offered. They want significant relationships, or direct mission duty, or small group activity. Getting “fannies in the pew,” as one pastor put it, doesn’t accomplish such objectives, even over time.

  • By Published On: May 6, 2017

    Yet another change battle is under way in mainline Protestant churches: breaking the hold that Sunday worship has on staffing, budgeting, and overall priorities. Below are four strategies for doing what needs to be done.

  • By Published On: April 15, 2017

    The HOW of effective communications strategy can be figured out, maybe with outside help, and implemented without great expense. The WHY, however, might be the hardest sell I have ever had to make as a church consultant. Church leaders find it difficult to imagine any audience beyond the members they know.

  • By Published On: March 17, 2017

    Renowned essayist Tom Ehrich turns to poetry as a fresh form of expression. His work draws on daily life: a couple breaking up in a coffee shop, a grandchild sleeping, hearing a train whistle on the Kansas prairie. Ehrich looks for the central meaning of small events.

  • By Published On: March 17, 2017

    As we know from church conflicts, anger can destabilize a system. When an angry voice erupts at a gathering, some other voices get angry, too, either because they share the angry person’s anger or because they find the anger repellant and having to deal with it makes them angry.

  • By Published On: February 25, 2017

    Jesus acted. He also wept. He spoke truth to power. He taught about wealth and power. He welcomed all manner of people into his presence. He called outliers to be disciples. Most of all, he acted. Faced with a situation, he did something. He fed hungry people, he healed the sick, he protected the vulnerable. Instead of building an institution, he traveled around. Instead of promulgating doctrines and institutional rules, he took action.

  • By Published On: February 2, 2017

    Communications Strategy isn’t the only thing a church does, but it has a way of revealing what a congregation values – and where its future lies. Churches also engage with new members, train their people in spiritual disciplines, raise up effective leaders, pay special attention to young adults, and do mission. They worship, they extend pastoral care, they educate, and they transform lives. In other words, a church has a full plate. Communications Strategy tends to shape what gets on that plate.

  • By Published On: January 9, 2017

    People assume the “conventional wisdom” is actually wise. In the church world, as I wrote last week, that means the belief that churches must have facilities, must worship on Sunday morning, and must have ordained clergy. But as economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, the “conventional wisdom” is likely to be wrong. Acceptable, yes, and comfortable, but running counter to facts, ideas, emerging constituencies and new needs.

  • By Published On: December 31, 2016

    Extraordinary times call for extraordinary churches. In America and in much of Europe, right-wing politicians backed by screaming mobs of white nationalists are taking power. The anger, fear and hatred are so strong that democracy itself might not survive.

  • By Published On: December 17, 2016

    As church leaders conclude annual stewardship campaigns and turn their attention to operating budgets, it’s important to examine how a healthy church handles money.

  • By Published On: December 9, 2016

    Sometimes reality changes. Events cascade into our plans and desires, forcing us to rethink, recalibrate, reconsider. What seemed okay and important yesterday now appears irrelevant or not so urgent.

  • By Published On: December 1, 2016

    Progressive churches have important work to do in the four years ahead. They don’t need to become aligned with the Democratic Party. But they do need to become political. By that I mean tending to the politics of the day, namely, change, frustration, anger, some truly awful people planning to do bad things to their enemies, and a lot of good people on all sides wondering what direction American democracy is going.

  • By Published On: November 20, 2016

    ny church can grow. It won’t happen just by opening the doors on Sunday and welcoming whoever shows up. Growth isn't that easy or passive. But growth can happen if leaders are willing to work at it, to use best practices and best tools, and to change whatever gets in their way. That’s a tall order, of course, because most established institutions struggle with change and resist doing more than the known and the minimum.

  • By Published On: November 15, 2016

    The signal revelation from a recent consulting engagement in Kansas wasn’t that the congregation was trapped in old ways, or paying a steep price for it in declining membership. The revelation was that hardly anyone had any stake in remaining stuck. In one way or another, they said, “Let’s move on.” “We need to get outside ourselves.” “We have got to change things.”

  • By Published On: November 10, 2016

    Now that I am venturing onto the terrain called “aging,” I would like a do-over in how I responded to people over 65 when I was their pastor. I don’t think I began to comprehend the complexity of aging. I viewed it as a single-track pastoral problem to be solved by regular home visits and the occasional group event, like a bus tour. I tended to treat the elderly as needy, more like patients in a hospital than self-differentiating adults. Some were hospital patients, of course. But I missed seeing the rest of their journeys.

  • By Published On: November 4, 2016

    The tension between “bricks and mortar” and “mission and ministry” is never easy to navigate. Facilities seem so real and practical, while mission and ministry tend to be ambiguous and unmeasurable. The tension gets especially complicated when facilities are enshrined as “historic.” Some constituents derive personal status from things historic, whether or not it is deserved, and the old implies a certain continuity that many desire.

  • By Published On: October 28, 2016

    If you were to plan a Spiritual Development ministry for your church, you might start with prayer: the simple but far-reaching act of talking to God. Your second element might be meditation: the not-quite-so-simple act of listening to God. On you would go with study, worship, confession – each harder the one before.

  • By Published On: October 13, 2016

    In general, mainline congregations have missed two successive generations of young adults. Funerals far outnumber baptisms and weddings. Our average age is pushing 65. Sunday schools and youth groups are sparse. Young families in our community don’t aim their SUVs toward us. Many church activities serving young families happen away from Sunday morning, anyway, which our Sunday-oriented elderly don’t understand or value. Meanwhile, the elderly are dealing with isolation, an epidemic of loneliness, and a range of health issues that only other elderly appreciate.

  • By Published On: October 6, 2016

    If yours is a typical mainline church, your congregation’s average age is pushing past 60 and moving toward 70. Every Sunday, you see more “gray” in your pews and more empty spaces. So what do you do? You have three choices:

  • By Published On: September 23, 2016

    In 1958 – as, coincidentally, mainline Protestant churches were enjoying their happy heyday – economist John Kenneth Galbraith began to use a term

  • By Published On: September 9, 2016

    ... the familiar point that mainline and evangelical congregations are weighted toward elderly constituents and have little appeal to younger cohorts. Okay, okay. Old news to anyone who has been observing the changing shape of Christianity in America. But the question remains, what do we do about it? I have six suggestions for moving on to a better future.

  • By Published On: August 25, 2016

    Can people who draw energy primarily from within themselves be effective as entrepreneurial church leaders? In a word, yes. For the entrepreneurial role isn’t about extroversion or introversion. In fact, some of the most effective entrepreneurs in business are introverts. Bill Gates, of Microsoft, for example. Also Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook; Marissa Meyer, of Yahoo; investor Warren Buffett.

  • By Published On: August 16, 2016

    The path forward is clearly marked: reach beyond our walls, communicate more aggressively, stop relying on Sunday worship, encourage clergy to be entrepreneurs and not chaplains, form small groups, turn our funds to mission work, seek to change people’s lives. Many congregations are trying it. But it’s like installing a swimming pool. Everything is new, and the new things that need to be done now are the hard ones.

  • By Published On: August 6, 2016

    Let’s start with a “what if”: what if you were starting a church today, what would you do? You can do this. It’s like the state motto of New Hampshire: “Live free, or die.” You can live free of negative overhead, dysfunctional practices, and old expectations. You can make fresh decisions – “choose life,” said Moses. Or you can die.