In 2020 the Diocese of Washington launched the Tending Our Soil Thriving Congregations initiative. We have been working with 12 congregations since September and learning more and more about the practices of thriving congregations. We are not alone in such an endeavor. More than 80 institutions across the United States are leading thriving congregations initiatives. Among them is Vibrant Faith, based in Minnesota.
After working with 28 congregations across the country, they have identified these six practices of thriving congregations:
Practice 1: Presence Matters—Thriving follows an increased capacity to be present to God, to one another, and to the world. What is your church already doing to fuel presence in these three targets? What can you subtract from what you’re doing so you can add more presence-practices into your mix?
Practice 2: Look to the Early Church—Yes, our context is completely different. But Churches in the early centuries grew and spread throughout the world because Christians:
- Loved Jesus above all else,
- Loved one another well (took care of conflict and took care of the poor), and
- Made their relationship with God central to their daily lives.
The power of those things hasn’t changed. How can your church focus on intentional relationships even more than you do now?
Practice 3: Listen—We asked our Thriving Congregations churches to listen before they planned. They listened in their community, to the people of their congregation, and online. They asked questions about people’s longings and losses. They used what they heard to plan a faith-formation experiment. What can you do to make listening a regular practice in your ministry?
Practice 4: Focus on Formation—What is shaping the lives and concerns of your people? How can you use those shaping influences as ways to connect people to an everyday relationship with the God who loves them?
Practice 5: Re-Invent—Many of our “ways of doing things” have lost their meaning. Or it might be that what has been meaningful to us is no longer meaningful for others. Often, we get overwhelmed by these realities and think we must come up with whole new ways of being Christian and practicing our faith. In reality, we just need to do what Christians have always done—re-invent ways that will meet the needs of people in today’s world. To use an obvious example, Christians have always practiced hospitality. What does it look like to practice hospitality online?
Practice 6: Experiment—Try one re-invention for four months. Evaluate and tweak. Decide whether to keep at it or give it up for another re-invention that might be more promising. Don’t think of any re-inventions as permanent changes… yet.
Note: These six practices and their description are reprinted from an April 26th, 2022 Vibrant Faith article by Dr. Nancy Going, Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. If you want to learn more about these 6 practices, consider purchasing the recording of the Vibrant Faith Master Class that explores them here.
The School for Chrisitain Faith and Leadership is proud to offer a host of courses, both live and on-demand, to help your congregation thrive. Take a look and join us!
The Rev. Jenifer Gamber
Director of the School for Christian Faith and Leadership and Tending Our Soil Thriving Congregations