The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

2015 Strategic Plan




The Congregation at Duke Chapel

July 2014

Congregation logo

Discernment Team for Strategic Planning
Report to Council

Discernment Team Process:

The Discernment Team for Strategic Planning was formed in January 2014 and met six times in the first six months of 2014. In addition, members of the team attended the Winter Retreat, Lenten lunch discussion, three focus groups, and the Overnight Retreat. The charge to the team was to prayerfully seek God’s will for the Congregation at Duke University Chapel for the next chapter in its life together. The committee used their own expertise to develop a process of listening to God and the Congregation.

The Team began its work by reviewing the strategic plans from 2003 and 2010.

The Discernment Team engaged approximately 125 members in conversation regarding the future of the Congregation through the events listed below. Total participation was 206 people, but as some members attended several events we estimate 125 individuals were involved.

February 8 Winter Retreat: Presentation on the "Trends in American Christianity" (43 attended)

March 9 Lenten Lunch: directed conversation after the meal (35 attended)

April 21, April 23, April 24: focus group conversations in homes (24 attended)

May 8: Surveys to members in current leadership positions and to the youth (18 and 11 responded, respectively)

May 31-June 1 Overnight Retreat: Small group discussions on discerning God’s will for the congregation (75 attended)

eNews and Newsletter articles invited members of the Congregation to comment on the future of the church (0 responses)

Through these various strategies, the Discernment Team believes that they have heard from a significant portion of active members of the Congregation. The team tried to reach out to members of the congregation who are less engaged in the Congregation, such as those who are not involved in a ministry or attend fellowship events. The team members made numerous targeted phone calls to members to invite them to attend a focus group in their neighborhood, but found limited success with that effort. The Discernment Team heard reports of members who left the congregation either due to the recent failed pastoral search or due to the transition in position of Dean of the Chapel. The Discernment Team did not reach out to disaffected members. Because the team engaged primarily those who are active, we assume that the results of these conversations may be skewed in the positive direction.

The style of questions given by the Discernment Team to the members of the Congregation was intentionally open-ended. The team strove not to direct the process, but rather to listen to the hearts and minds of the congregation, believing that the Holy Spirit is already at work within the life of the Congregation and its members. In doing so, the team detected several major themes.


General Satisfaction

  1. Overall, members of the congregation are satisfied with the current ministries offered, value the accomplishments of the congregation, and appreciate the relationships they have built within the congregation. There were no major problems reported regarding the ministries of the congregation, though there is a desire for increased meeting space.
  2. The congregation continues to affirm the existing mission statement, which has been in use for a number of years. The mission statement is:
            Believing that God has reached out to us with love and forgiveness,
            We seek to grow together in faith through worship, study, service, and, celebration
            To the end that we embody Christ's compassion and holiness
  3. In confronting the closure of the Chapel for the 2015-16 academic year, members of the congregation acknowledged the challenges that the situation will create including the possible decrease in attendance and giving, but also recognized the potential blessings in the challenge, such as the opportunity to grow closer together as a congregation.

fellowship committee

Affirmation of Current Ministries

  1. Members of the congregation affirm the ministries of education, mission, fellowship, and chapel support. Ongoing activities such as Urban Ministries dinners, financial grants to local agencies, fellowship meals, and educational opportunities are appreciated.
  2. Members also highlighted times when the congregation "came together" in singular events to support a family in crisis or to raise funds for a guesthouse in Haiti.
  3. Some members also honestly acknowledged that due to their current stage in life, interests, or work schedule they were not interested or able to add additional church activities to their schedule.

A Desire to Deepen

  1. While members of the congregation affirm current ministries, the Discernment Team did hear a desire to deepen and strengthen particular ministries. There seems to be a longing among some members for more profound engagement with their faith, a desire for deeper relationships within the congregation, with our mission partners, and with God.
  2. Members would like to connect more deeply with one another, supporting each other in times of joy and need. Given the uniqueness of our context, interactions that may be customary in a traditional church setting are difficult at the chapel (such as the lack of a weekly fellowship time after worship and the high percentage of visitors in the Sunday morning worship service.)
  3. Members would like to deepen their engagement in mission through such means as larger financial grants to local agencies or an intergenerational mission trip.
  4. Members want substantive educational opportunities, for children, youth and adults. There is a desire to reach out to young families as well as to engage in in-depth studies.

  in the carrilon
mission project

Stuctures for Ministry

  1. In listening to members of the congregation, the Discernment Team believes we will need to adjust our internal, administrative structure to provide sufficient entry points for visitors and members alike and to meet the ministry goals of the congregation. The team does not have, nor have they heard, specific recommendations to this regard but does recognize the need. For instance, we need a systematic way to be in touch with our members on a regular basis so that we can be aware of and responsive to needs of individuals and families, and we need regular and predictable opportunities for individuals to participate in a group or ministry.
  2. Communication within the congregation needs improvement. Some members are not aware of the activities of the Congregation, which demonstrates a need for continued interpretation.
  3. Careful review of our administrative structure reveals significant complexity, yet without significant participation. For instance, there are committees which rarely meet and subcommittees comprised of a single individual. Simplifying the structure may focus our energies, ease communication, and enable greater access and participation.


The Discernment Team respectfully submits this report to the Congregation Council. The Team recommends that the Council develop strategies to implement ways to build on our existing ministries with the goal of deepening our relationships with God, with members of the Congregation, and members of the wider community.


  youth group

Discernment Team Members:

Caroline Haynes: long-time Durham resident, active church leader in a neighboring church, psychiatrist and student affairs dean at the medical school; joined Congregation in 2013

Katherine Manuel: Duke alumna, parent of young children, strategic planner for Thomson Reuters, joined Congregation in 2008

Carol Matteson: active church leader in several congregations, new resident of Durham, retired president of Mount Ida College, joined Congregation in 2013

Anna Shea: spouse of former staff person, parent of young child, public school teacher, joined Congregation in 2011

Whitney Schwab: Vice President of Council, co-owner of New Leaf Landscaping, joined Congregation in 2009

Mel Snyder: long-time Chapel Hill resident, member of former strategic planning committee, raised sons in the congregation, IT professional, joined Congregation in 1996

Guy Solie: long-time Durham resident, participated in committee electronically, owner of Trinity Properties; joined Congregation in 1985, founding member

Carol Gregg: pastor, joined Congregation in 2013