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The purpose of this doctoral project is to help mainline pastors and declining congregations in the United States understand practices that will move them from decline focused ministry to a model of shared gospel mission and sustainable ministry.

In 2011 I was the pastor of a declining mainline church that had lost connection to the missional needs of their neighborhood while distracted by an overwhelming building debt and accompanying years of conflict. I searched frantically for books, practitioners, and conferences that might help. What I found was limited writing from a more fundamentalist or evangelical perspective that I had to work to translate to my theological setting and often did not sync up. Slowly I discovered a disconnected network of pastors doing similar work with fascinating and unheard stories of transformation. These brave pastors and congregations were a breath of fresh air from God’s Spirit amidst the constant barrage of bad news about mainline congregations. They helped carry me and my church forward and served as a constant resource.

This project provides a handbook for pastors to lead congregations in conversations that address institutional health, defining resources and partners, the work of evangelism, and mimicking the mission of Jesus’ disciples described in Matthew 25. This project tells stories of transformation in which a U.S. mainline church moved from a time of decline to a renewed understanding of missio dei in its own context and a model of ministry that is sustainable and financially responsible. Major commonalities of these turnaround churches are highlighted so they may be a running thread throughout this tapestry of transformation.

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry (DMin)

First Advisor

Lee, Cindy

Document Type





Mainline churches, Church, Mission of the church, Church growth, Church management, Disciples of Christ, Discipling, Church renewal


Practical Theology


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