Saint Paul’s Parish, Seattle: Growth & Decline
Friday, August 30, 2019 at 3:14PM
Robert Gallagher

Follow up on St. Paul's Growth and Decline (Feast of the Holy Cross 9/14/19)

As promised we've posted an article on responses received, events, and our reflections.  You can find that here. 

An act of offering: This is our contribution to the conversation in our parish and in other parishes around the issues and dynamics of growth and decline. It's a piece of independent journalism. It's not an "official" parish document. No one asked for it. No one got to approve it or remove material that made them uncomfortable. We aren't functioning as consultants in our own parish (usually a bad idea). But like everyone else in the Eucharistic community we offer our gifts. We lay them upon the altar for God to use as God decides. 

 We hope to hear from more of you -- what do you think are the factors involved in growth & decline? Are there facts we have wrong? Let us know. Are there assumptions or characterizations you see differently? We'd be glad to hear from you. What do you think might be fruitful ways forward?

Our hope is that parish leaders will use it as one small part of a larger parish dialogue. Such dialogue, and the pursuit of truth, never harms a Christian community. The fruits are in the response. When engaged with an open heart other views and the related dialogue can enrich a community.When responded to defensively it can decrease trust and make people afraid to offer views that may differ from the leaders.


We’ve reported on the life and ministry of Saint Paul’s over the years. It’s mostly been about the extraordinary growth of the parish and the transition period from one rector to another.

This posting is about the process of growth and decline between 2005 and now.

We will explore factors that may have contributed to both the parish’s growth and decline. We’ll come at that task in our usual manner with a mixed approach drawing on the fields of organization development and ascetical and pastoral theology and practice.

Our hope is that those who read this will offer intercession for St. Paul’s; hold us on your heart before God. We also hope this will stimulate those not from St. Paul’s to better understand the issues and dynamics of their own parish and to approach the difficulties of their parishes with generosity and prayer. Those who are from St. Paul’s are invited to allow this article to stimulate their own thinking and prayer. Where our choice of words or ideas does seem quite right, we hope you’ll offer your thinking to us and parish leaders. When we have missed some important element of the story, we hope you’ll add it in.

There are two elements to this.

A paper presenting our hypotheses about the parish’s growth and decline. 

               Here’s that PDF - Saint Paul's Parish, Seattle: Growth & Decline

Also, below are a series of PDFs and links. Those at the top are theories, models, people and issues that are mentioned in the paper. Those that follow are background resources on the parish, mostly earlier blog postings.



You may find this paper helpful in understanding our approach. Understanding from Within: Working with Religious Systems, Heyne & Gallagher  It's a piece we wrote in 2015 for the OD Practitioner, a professional journal of the Organization Development Network. The paper offers an overview of how organization development (OD) came to be used in religious systems, especially in the Episcopal Church. It goes on to discuss how the "secular" resources of OD were modified to better fit their use in the church. The paper  includes a discussion of how St. Paul's used the knowledge and methods of OD beginning in 2005. 


Theories, models, people and issues that are mentioned in the paper, by section

The issue we face

Order of the Ascension       Website

About Michelle Heyne, OA & Robert Gallagher, OA     Webpage

Contextual Issues        A PDF


Why the growth - decline?

Action research      A PDF       A web page


Related to 2005 - 2013

Appreciative stance & behavior     AI Fact Sheet     A worksheet for the parish   Web page

       Rob Voyle’s “Creating Sustainable Change through Incarnational Leadership” (About St. Paul's)

       Three Approaches to Planned Change   Voyles' Clergy Leadership Institute

Liturgical Presence Booklet and related     

            web page (for booklet-go down to "The Ministers of the Altar")

John Orens’ “The Anglo Catholic Vision”   PDF 

SWOT Analysis   webpage 1      webpage 2     worksheet PDF

Christian Proficiency by Martian Thornton   web site for book     An excerpt


Training programs         Church Development Institute     College for Congregational Development                                                                        Organization Development Certificate 

Pastoral theology models     Renewal-Apostolate Cycle   Shape of the Parish 


Parish Size: Issues & Dynamics      A PDF - issues & dynamics    Doug Walrath size chart

          A PDF of the Average Sunday Attendance of Seattle parishes

          "Transitions in Parish Size"

Development of the 5:00 mass     Praying at the Edges      Gallagher notes      GTS article

      CJN - from hostility to hospitality 


Related to the interim period 2014-15

Parish Profile 2014    a PDF

Holy Cow! Consulting and the CAT survey   website 


Related to 2015 - 2019

Intervention Theory - C. Argyris       PDF       Argyris webpage

Organizational culture      webpage   Changing culture PDF

Conflict avoidance        A web page   

Bonding: Priest & People    A web page

What we can best influence 

St. Paul's - a future    web page

The Benedictine Promise     PDF-dynamics of parish   PDF-Spiritual Life 

Loving Critics       PDF-one page overview     John Gardner's remarks

Daily Office     web page (links to resources at bottom of the posting)

Anglo Catholic tradition and social issues    PDF-Ken Leech     PDF-Orens    PDF-inner city

       The Renewal of Catholic Spirituality-Leech

Means of Grace, Hope of Glory - Parish Development Blog    web page    

The Church's Way of Reconciliation and Forgiveness     web page


Background resources on Saint Paul's Parish

Saint Paul's Parish  website


From 2011

The Hospitality of God     webpage   The book has a chapter on St. Paul's


From 2013

These are blog postings from 2013. They look at the growth in spiritual vitality and attendance. The first report centers on the visit of two bishops in 2010. 

 “But it was at St. Paul’s Seattle that we experienced most fully the power of shared gesture for building up a sense of the body of Christ and of a community intent on God.” They then described the liturgy and then asked themselves a question, “What was special about this worship?”

They noted that it was fundamentally “familiar” and “conventional” and went on to share three elements that “contributed to its being a stunning and moving experience.” First, “a deep spirituality of engagement by the entire congregation.” Second, it was carefully choreographed and rehearsed, yet it did not feel precious or stilted; the whole liturgy was a beautiful dance.” Third, “the non-verbal participation by the entire congregation” referring to acts of mutual reverence that had the effect of “creating a sense of a community engaged in something entirely corporate and significant for them.”

The other reports explore the process by which the revitalization took place.



From 2014

A look at common issues and dynamics in the search process. In retrospect its possible to see a few places where what happened during the search process had an impact on growth and decline.


From 2015


Understanding from Within: Working with Religious Systems, Heyne & Gallagher  An article in the OD Practitioner, a professional journal of the Organization Development Network. The paper includes a discussion of how St. Paul's used the knowledge and methods of OD,


From 2018

Thoughts on how the parish could take bolder action in protecting its institutional life and making use of its resources. 


From 2019


A presentation by the Rt. Rev. Melissa Skelton on her work at Saint Paul’s  A very useful overview of how Mother Melissa approached the revitalization and growth of St. Paul's beginning in 2005. You may find that it helps in understanding both the actions taken, and the mostly effective place of her temperament, in the development work at St. Paul's. You may also notice that a small part of that included a rather hard edge as she describes taking punitive action against a priest associate and against the parish's treasurer at the time she arrived at the parish. A decade after the events describes, Melissa seems to take pride in actions that many priests might be embarrassed about. The treasurer is not named but was in fact Michelle Heyne, the co-author of this paper. The truth is that Michelle cleaned up a huge mess and made it possible to present the new rector with an accurate picture of the parish's financial troubles. 


Books and a web page: organization development and ascetical and pastoral theology and practice

This is the reading list for Associates of the Order of the Ascension 

The History of Parish Development in the Episcopal Church  


Article originally appeared on Congregational Development (
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