Vital Signs at Work in Our Parishes

by | Mar 30, 2023

Parish Vitality Wheel In 2019, the Diocese of Washington gathered together over a series of listening sessions to discern our next faithful steps and craft a strategic plan to help guide our way. We asked: Where is God calling us to show up? How is God calling us to show up? And most importantly, why is God calling us to show up?

During those months of sharing and reflecting, as we narrowed our focus to three primary goals – the revitalization of our parishes, the spiritual growth of our people, and striving for justice and equity in our communities – we realized that God is calling us to this work so that our worshiping communities become a spiritual home for our children and grandchildren, spaces of vitality, connection, and Jesus’ Way of Love.

In order to implement a church revitalization strategy that leads to healthy, thriving congregations, though, we needed to answer another question, “How do congregations grow?”

The answer is that congregations grow – spiritually and numerically – by being attentive to areas that contribute to a healthy church. With this knowledge in hand, in 2020, a group of diocesan leaders developed what we now call the Parish Vital Signs.

While these signs aren’t new – if fact, your congregation may already track them using a different label – we find it helpful to have a common language to describe the various areas of parish health.

No single sign holds more significance than another. You might find your parish is healthy in four or five of the areas while also identifying one or two where opportunity for strategic effort exists. The vital signs are a useful way to engage the question of where to go next in your ministry efforts.

Below you’ll find a definition for each of the vital signs. In the coming months, we will be highlighting parishes in the Diocese that exemplify these vital signs as they share a story about their ministry.

Compelling Mission & Vision. A healthy parish has a clear understanding of its mission, states the mission clearly, and creates ministries which align to that mission. The mission is shared and supported by all levels of ministry leadership, lay and ordained.

Clear Discipleship Path. A healthy parish offers clear opportunities for members of all ages to take next steps of Christian practices to deepen their faith. This discipleship path is clearly articulated, has multiple on-ramps, and provides growth opportunities for all ages to engage in formation and ministries.

Faithful Financial Practices. A healthy parish utilizes financial best practices such as transparency, on-time reporting to the diocese, and forecasting sustainable budgeting. Finances are a faithful conversation, understood as Christian stewardship and formation.

Inspiring & Capable Leadership. A healthy parish invests in continuing education, training, and rest for its lay and ordained leaders, who are nurtured, valued and appreciated.

Welcoming & Connecting Ministries. A healthy parish is intentional and strategic about welcoming guests; it is prepared to invite and provide next step connections. Guests are valued. Welcoming ministries are dependent on the leadership of active lay members.

Uplifting & Inviting Worship. A healthy parish gathers for worship that engages people with inspirational experiences and relevant teaching; it engages and offers full participation for all. While shaped by our Episcopal ethos, worship expresses the cultural and ethnic heritage of members and the surrounding community.

Blessing Our Community. A healthy parish advocates for and partners with the local community and other organizations. This engagement focuses on the welfare of our neighbors and justice initiatives such as food scarcity, racial inequities, and immigration concerns. The parish is invested in the health and well-being of its local community.

We invite you to consider on your own or with your vestry: how does our parish exemplify each of these vital signs? What are our strengths? Our opportunities for growth?