When Barnabas came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.
Acts 11: 22-24
The Parish Vitality Working Group
The verse above comes from a longer passage in Acts 11:19-30 that describes one of the high points of the early church. In Acts we can find lots of passages about the struggles of the early church, but there are also passages like this one which relate stories of the early Christians thriving. In a recent meeting of the Parish Vitality Working Group–a collection of diocesan leaders and staff working to advance our strategic plan around vitality–we spent time sharing the same kind of stories of where we’ve seen congregations thriving.
Identifying Vital Signs in Scripture
In that meeting we read the longer Acts passage and identified the vital signs in their story. We heard “Compelling Mission and Vision” in Barnabas’ exhortation for the people to remain faithful to the Lord. We heard “Inspiring and Capable Leadership” in how Barnabas was described as a “good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” Although the passage didn’t specifically mention worship, we saw “Inviting and Uplifting Worship” and “Welcoming and Connecting Ministries” present in the rejoicing and exhorting.
In other parts of the passage, we noticed “Blessing of the Community” as they sent help to those who were suffering from famine and “Faithful Financial Practices” in how they determined what they could send. This exercise showed us how the seven Vital Signs can serve as touch points to see where a Christian community is doing well.
Using the Vital Signs to Share Stories About Our Own Recent Experiences and Innovations
Locating the Vital Signs in the Acts passage became a jumping off point for us to share stories of how we saw the vital signs at work in our own parishes, especially in the last 18 months of our pandemic journey. The stories soon took on a recognizable rhythm: Members of the working group would identify a need or challenge that arose at their parish, explain what was done to address the issue, then share the outcome, relating each story to a Vital Sign.
It was an energizing, informative, and inspiring conversation–and when we shared our takeaways at the end, each member of the working group offered an encouraging or empowering insight: “Stay creative.”, “Let’s keep shaking it up!”, “Surfacing people’s gifts”, “Meeting people where they are”, and “Moving from our building dependence”.
An Invitation to the Diocese
This fall, the Parish Vitality Working Group will invite the whole diocese to share stories about the ways in which our parishes have experienced vitality in the last 18 months, framed by the seven Vital Signs.
In addition to being a great opportunity to cross-pollinate ministry ideas, this Zoom gathering will allow us to document the creativity and innovation demonstrated by our congregations during a time of immense challenge. The Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery, Canon for Congregational Vitality will facilitate.
Have questions about the Parish Vitality Working Group or how to use the seven Vital Signs to help with storytelling? Contact the Rev. Canon Anne-Marie Jeffery.