Alban Institute, consultant for mainline congregations, shuttering after 40 years

An organization known for innovation and revitalizing congregational and ministerial life says its own business model is no longer sustainable.

By Bob Allen

The Alban Institute is closing shop after 40 years as an independent consulting, educational and publishing firm catering to mainline Protestants, directors of the Herndon, Va.,-based nonprofit announced March 19.

As of March 31, Alban Institute consultants will work either individually or under a new banner of “Congregational Consulting,” board chair Case Hoogendoorn said in a letter on the ministry website. Educational events after April 1 will either be canceled or transferred to another sponsor.

Alban recently sold its publishing program, which features authors including Peter Steinke, Roy Oswald and Diana Butler Bass, to Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, headquartered in Lanham, Md.

loren meadFounded in 1974 by Loren Mead, an ordained Episcopal priest and pioneer in congregational studies who authored bestselling books including The Once and Future Church, the Alban Institute emerged as a go-to resource on issues like conflict, transition and mission in congregational and ministerial life.

With the rise of other organizations offering similar services and changes in publishing, Hoogendoorn said the time has come for Alban’s leaders to “embrace the kind of radical change that has been so successful for the congregations they counsel.”

Talks are underway with Duke Divinity School about the creation of an “Alban Endowment Fund” to continue access to congregational resources including the past editions of Alban Weekly and other research developed over the decades.

The institute has struggled financially in recent years. According to its most recent 990 form, which nonprofits must file with the IRS, Alban finished 2012 with its budget of $2.8 million nearly $275,000 in the red. Net assets dropped from $4.2 million in 2010 to $2.75 million in 2012.

Directors say the Alban legacy will continue, even though the business model is no longer sustainable.

“Much has changed since Alban was founded 40 years ago, and we believe it is time for a new model that will carry our work forward,” George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas who serves on the Alban Institute board of directors, said in a news release.

"In light of all that Alban originally set out to do, the institute has achieved its mission of highlighting the critical importance of local congregations in the ever-changing religious landscape and modeling the means by which the needs of congregations could be addressed,” said Mason, an Alban author with titles including Preparing the Pastors We Need: Reclaiming the Congregation’s Role in Training Clergy released in 2012.

“We believe that the changes that we announce today will allow that mission to continue, albeit in a different form.” Mason said. “And we trust in the scriptural promise that ‘God is making all things new.’”