All posts by Carolyn M. Chilton

About Carolyn M. Chilton

I am the author of "Cut Mine Half in Two", a book of stories and musings on growing up in a large family in a VERY small town. The book is organized around the seasons of the year - weather and religious - and my mother's recipes. Her name was Nellie. I am also a retreat leader on the spiritual life and growth, and a consultant with churches to help them with strategic planning, conferences and retreats.

Do You Need a Coach?

The fall program calendar is in full swing in most of our churches. It can be especially busy for clergy and lay employees.  How are you managing your time and balancing family, work, and self care?  Do you need a time and way for your soul to catch up with your body? 

After 30+ years as a lay employee of the Episcopal Church, I continue to serve in many ways, particularly in coaching and spiritual direction with clergy and lay employees.

I am in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and can meet you at the Bishop’s Fall Conference at Shrine Mont this month if you’d like to ask me questions.

You may be familiar with spiritual direction, or have a spiritual director.  Coaching is a bit different.  What is it?

  • Coaching is a purposeful dialogue in God’s presence between the two of us, that helps unlock your potential and enrich your ministry and leadership.
  • I will:
    • Seek to create a safe space where you can share, reflect, try on new ideas…
    • Help you ask questions and unlock the answers.
    • Use deep listening, empathy, curiosity, and  give feedback.
  • You set the agenda – what is working well or not so well? What are the outcomes you hope for? I adapt the strategy based on what you want out of this.

Are you in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia?

If so, and if you’ll be at the Fall Bishop’s Conference at Shrine Mont this month I’d be happy to meet with you and answer your questions.  Send me an email and we’ll set up a time.

Learn more: email me.

You can read a fuller bio of me here.

Carolyn Moomaw Chilton


Involving New People in Your Church

There are certain times of the year when churches are more likely to see an increase in the number of visitors.  One of them is early fall when summer is over and the program year re-starts.  Now that we’re a month into that, it’s time to think about how you are beginning to incorporate new people into the life of your community.

First this:  What we are NOT about in the church is filling empty volunteer slots or looking for warm bodies to do a job.  What we ARE about is building disciples of Jesus Christ.  We are forming Christians in education, worship and service.  It’s important to keep a holistic picture in mind.

Prayers for VolunteersOne of my favorite newsletters is from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.  They recently had this article about incorporating new people.  The five points in the article are very good.  But….I’m going to add a few of my own.

  1. Ask people what they like to do and then match them with a group or opportunity.
  2. Introduce them directly to one of the people in charge or involved and say clearly why you are doing this. Ask that person to take the new person under their wing to help them learn the ministry and meet people.
  3. Explain to them that this is ministry and why this ministry is important.
  4. Let them “try on” the ministry.  Let’s say they are interested in the altar guild and flower arranging.  Let them try it for a month or two and then follow up and see how they’re doing and ask if they’d like to continue.
  5. Be very clear about the commitment and expectations.  Staying with our altar guild example, you might say that they’ll be on a team that sets up the altar and flowers one Saturday a month and it takes about 2 hours.
  6. Follow up and stay in touch.  Be gracious if they say they don’t like what they’re doing and want to try something else.
  7. If they want to join a small group or study group, again make clear introductions, be clear on commitments (perhaps this might involve purchasing a book…), and follow up with them.

I bet you have some best practices at your church.  Share them with us!

Carolyn M. Chilton 

New survey ranks welcoming top factor in church choice

The Barna Group, on behalf of United Methodist Communications, recently published the findings of a new study  on spiritual “seekers” and their top motivations for considering a church.  The top reasons? Knowing that everyone will be welcomed (32%), making friends and nurturing friendships (29%),  during difficult times (28%) and learning more about God (27%). Less motivating are opportunities for Bible study, volunteer opportunities, discussions of issues and topics and the provision of child care. (Download the  helpful infographic here.)

Looking for genuine community

“The findings point to a desire for genuine community,” said Dan Krause, general secretary of United Methodist Communications. “About three-quarters of those who might visit a church said that having friendly and welcoming people might cause them to continue attending.”

The model of waiting for people to walk through our doors on Sunday morning no longer works as the

primary model for inviting people into our church.  We have to go where people are, build community there and invite them to join us at our church.  Where do you find these spiritual seekers?  Two-thirds spend free time at restaurants and coffee houses, especially high-income earners and those without children, while parents are more often found at parks. More than 90% use smartphones and Internet daily, while 83% use social media every day and about half watch TV or listen to radio.

“This data provides insights into how and where churches can connect with people who may be looking for a faith community where they can belong,” said Krause. The infographic gives quick insight to this finding.

The survey included people aged 25-49 who consider themselves spiritual, socially conscious and seeking meaning in their lives, but who are not affiliated with a church.

The study was conducted in November 2017 and included 606 interviews with a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults drawn from an online panel. Individuals on the panel were screened to identify people who met criteria identifying them as a “seeker.”

(This article is adapted from the original from United Methodist Communications and Leading Ideas from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.)

Give Up Your Scarcity Mindset for Lent

Lent is the season when the church calls on us to focus on our spiritual life, and those things that get in the way of growing in our relationship with God, the world, and others.  Many of us give up something.  Many of us take on something.

And if you’re like me, perhaps you are just figuring out your Lenten discipline as your eat your Shrove Tuesday pancakes! And so…I share this…

I’ve just discovered a wonderful resource for Lent – a Gifts gratitude calendar – developed by Laura Stephens-Reed, a pastor and church coach and consultant.

Look at the questions she poses.  Do they sound familiar?

“I don’t have enough time to do all the things.”

“I don’t have anything worth contributing.”

“Our congregation is so much smaller and grayer than it used to be.”

“We’re gonna have to send these church budget requests back to committees to be pared down, because our projected giving is down 10%.”

She goes on to write:

[These sentiments] play in loops in individuals’ heads and reverberate through sanctuaries of all sizes. They are the product of scarcity thinking, of focusing on what we don’t have. The scarcity mindset is rampant in our culture, manifesting in the beliefs that we need to guard what we have and prepare for the worst possible scenario. And unfortunately, while we worship a God who created the universe out of a dark and formless void and follow a Savior who was all about opening up the law and the bounds of community, this thinking has trickled down into our churches. The result is that many of our people are afraid to dream and reach out, instead turning inward and wondering how long our congregations will be able to hold on.

(You can read the full article here, and access her other writing and resources.)

Our God is one who created out of scarcity a world full of abundance and a people full of faith, love, hope and creativity.  What if this year for Lent you gave up thinking that you’re no longer doing effective ministry? What if you gave up seeing the scarcity and instead focused on the abundance? What might you find for your work in God’s abundant world? Can you make abundance contagious?

Blessings for a Holy Lent!

Carolyn Moomaw Chilton


Asking the Right Question

We’re headed into the season when many church councils and vestries hold their annual planning retreat.  If you’re interested in leadership and consultative help contact me.  I’d love to meet you and talk about your hopes, goals and dreams for 2019.

A planning retreat can take many forms, and I will work with you to design what best suits your needs.  A common approach is looking at and evaluating your church’s past and present ministries , and then looking into the future to set new goals and strategies.

A tweak that I sometimes put on this is to look at your present ministries first, then look back a few years, and then forward into the future.  Why? I find that starting with the past can, simply, take too much time.  Rather we start with where your are right now, look then back for some context and perspective, and then forward to what do you want to be and do in 2019.

The Lewis Center for Church Leadership offers great resources, and their e-newsletter is one of my favorites.  If you don’t follow them I recommend you take a look. One of my favorite sections is “The Right Question”.  This section of the January 2 newsletter offers another approach with different questions that might frame a planning retreat.  Here they are:

The Right Question: Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions. 

A few years ago, the Lewis Center staff were all asked to respond to four questions as a way of determining the shape of the Center’s next chapter. Perhaps these questions can help in your situation.
1. Raise? What acts and activities could profitably be raised above their current level? 
2. Reduce? What acts and activities could be reduced from the current level of time and energy? 
3. Eliminate? What acts and activities could be eliminated? 

4. Add? What things could we do that we are not now doing that, if done well, would take us to new levels of mission effectiveness? 

The form of the retreat is important.  The fact that you this type of planning is even more important!

Contact me for more information.  New Year’s Blessings!

Carolyn M. Chilton

Welcoming Visitors at Christmas

The major seasons and feasts of the Church year are important times to be sure you’re hospitality and welcome are in top form.  Below are links to two articles I’ve written about welcoming church visitors at Christmas.  I hope they’ll be helpful to you and your church.  It isn’t too late to implement them!

7 Ways to Welcome Visitors on Christmas Eve

Practical Tips for Welcoming Visitors at Christmas

Blessings during the Advent season, and Merry Christmas! 


The Top 5 Ways to Scare Away Visitors to Your Church

How do you feel when you walk into a room full of strangers?  I feel nervous, shy, and apprehensive.  Probably you do too.  It can be hard.  Will anyone speak to me?  Will I be able to figure out what these people are doing?  Will I fit in?  What if my child screams?  These are the same feelings that people visiting your church have.

What can your church do to make them feel less nervous and more welcomed?  Below are my top five things NOT to do. There are lots of lists like this around on blogs and twitter, but these happen to be my favorites…or should I say pet peeves?!  I work for an Episcopal church and one of my two main areas of focus is evangelism so I think about welcoming and visitors a lot!

Number One:  There are no signs in the building to tell visitors where to find important rooms.

Sure you know where the bathrooms and nursery are, but visitors don’t.  Put up signs. Simple and clear.  Using arrows is okay.  The most important ones are: Church/worship, bathrooms and nursery.

Number Two:  Nobody speaks to visitors when they enter the building.

Put greeters at all your major entry points.  They should smile, welcome people, introduce themselves and provide instructions to major areas of the building.  If the visitors have children, ask if they’d like to know about the nursery or child care.  Greeters are NOT allowed to talk to their friends during this time.  Their job is to talk to visitors.  They are to be at their post 15 minutes before the service starts and stay there until 10 minutes after the service has started.

Number Three:  Visitors and new members stand by themselves after church and at the coffee hour

This is a seriously bad.  Greeters can be asked to speak to them AND introduce them to others.  It is not just the job of the clergy or other staff to speak to visitors. We are all called to the ministry of hospitality.

Number Four:  You ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves during the announcement period

Don’t single out visitors. They really just want to blend in. Speak to them after the service and introduce them to others at coffee hour.

Number Five:  You don’t follow up with them

If they will give you their contact information, you must follow up with them within 36 hours.  That’s by Tuesday.  Give them a warm and gentle call, note or email thanking them for visiting and asking if they have any questions.

Finally, none of this matters a bit if they can’t find your church or find out the times of your worship services.  So Carolyn’s Number One rule about that is: you have to have a website and it has to be easy to find information on: worship times, nursery times, parking and directions.  It should be no more than one click to this information.

Did you know that visitors to a church often decide within the first 11 minutes whether or not they’ll visit a second time?  It’s true.  Our parents told us that first impressions are important, and it turns out the same are true for our churches.

Carolyn M. Chilton

Searching for America

“I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why”, sang Simon and Garfunkel in 1968.

NPR’s Morning Edition had a great story this morning about the song and what it has meant to people through the years, and what it means today. (Be sure to listen to the story and not just read it. It’s only 4 minutes and includes the music.)

“The line that stands out for me is ‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why'”, said one of the interviewee’s.  She went on to talk about how she felt like that as a young adult, and  now does again. “We are still searching for America,” said another.

The 2018 mid-term elections are over though many races are still in a re-count.  The rancor hasn’t dissipated (in my opinion).  Who are we in America?  Is this who we want to be or can we be more?

Can the church help us explore these questions? For ourselves as individuals and as a community?

What if…

  • The church offered time and resources in Advent to explore these questions? It doesn’t have to be fancy.  I realize that Advent starts soon! Play the song on video, ask for remembrances and stories, reflect on them.  Invite people to journal during the week.
  • You invited people to do this around their Thanksgiving tables, giving them some questions and tools for amiable discussion.
  • The church continued the conversation in Lent perhaps looking at how your community can wrestle with the questions.  Invite those outside your church to join you.  Take road trips to member’s churches inviting their neighbors to join you.

“I walked off to look for America,” Simon & Garfunkel sing.  How can the church help people do just that?

Carolyn M. Chilton

Hospitality has many forms…

…and one of those, I believe, is mindfulness.  In particular I want to highlight how being intentional and caring are acts of hospitality to ourselves,  to others, and within our congregations.

On Being has a wonderful interview today about mindfulness and care.  I noticed this:

“Type out your email. Then stop, take three deep breaths, follow your breath in and out, and in and out, and in and out. Then read the email. Read it from the perspective of the person who is going to receive it. Think about it from that person’s perspective and then either change it or not and then send.”

I use email a lot.  I love the written word and as an introvert it lets me process and shape my thoughts in a way that verbal communication often does not.  It became doubly important to me in my work in the church because I quickly came to see email as an act of care and hospitality.  It was especially important in my communication  – in the moment or later – with visitors and new members in our congregation.

Showing care in email is extending Christ’s hand of love to others.  When we do this, we focus beyond ourselves.

Practicing intentionality and care in our communication, can spill over to other aspects of hospitality and evangelism in our congregations. What if you were intentional about speaking to people at church that you don’t know?  Intentionally welcoming children, teens, and young adults?  Sharing social media posts from your church with others? Making sure your church has signs that help people find their way around the building?


“There are no signs in your church that direct visitors to the sanctuary, nursery, or bathrooms,” I commented at a evangelism workshop. “Why do we need those?” a woman replied.  “We know where they are.”

Congregations that don’t practice hospitality in all its forms are ones that are focused inward.  And they don’t grow.  Churches can no longer expect to grow by hoping enough people will wander in the door to help them keep the doors open.  Churches grow because they focus outward and extend Christ’s hands of love and hospitality to all whom they encounter in all forms of communication and interaction.

A wise friend said:

People used to come to church seeking God.  And along the way they found community.

Now people come to church seeking community.  And along the way they find God.

How are YOU and your church offering hospitality and community? And along the way helping people to find God?

Carolyn M. Chilton

Attractional Evangelism Isn’t Working

Has your church changed over the past few years?  It seems to me that even a tangentially involved church-goer will notice that this is not the church of a decade or less ago.  Some of these changes,  hopefully many, are for the good…more emphasis on Christ’s mission in the world, vibrant worship, increased diversity, greater involvement in our neighborhoods.

But some of the changes we see worry us, with the top among these I think being decreased involvement and attendance.  Or certainly it gets the most conversation and questions that I hear.  And these bring added worries such as financial viability, building usage and upkeep, staff changes.

Many things in the church of years ago no longer work.  And one of the biggest is what is called “attractional evangelism”.  This is when we open our doors and expect people to come to us.  This is when we work hard to offer better and bigger programs, and diverse forms of worship and expect people to find us just because of those.

People who study congregations, religion, and evangelism are talking and writing more about the church (which is you and me not the buildings) needing to go out into our neighborhoods instead of waiting for the neighborhood to find us.

This is an interesting article which I urge you to read.  What the author is saying is that our attractional models of evangelism are no longer enough.  They have to be balanced with “go to them” models.  Make sure you read the whole article because you need to read about the shifts in this thinking and the 5 practices the author recommends.

I’ll highlight two of them:

  • The first is a Radical Hospitality that we individually extend to our neighbors and neighborhoods and which is more than Sunday morning hospitality to the visitor.
  • The third is Intentional Faith Development.  If we don’t involve people in their spiritual development how can we expect them to become active disciples of Christ? Our places of employment offer skill and knowledge development.  Why shouldn’t the church?  How can the church learn to listen to people about their spiritual questions and the constraints that hold back their church involvement?  Go over to my Facebook page and listen to the video about Big Buts!

What would this look like for you and your church?  What are the practical ways a “go to: model of evangelism works?

Carolyn M. Chilton