by EDOW | May 25, 2023
While “A Compelling Mission & Vision” is just one of seven vital signs identified by our Diocese [as areas that contribute to a healthy, growing church], I would argue that it’s the most important. A compelling mission and vision are the roots from which all the other vital signs grow.
The Diocesan Vital Signs resources suggest that a parish’s mission and vision are “vital” when they are stated clearly, when all of a parish’s ministries are aligned to that mission and vision, and when the mission and vision are supported by all levels of ministry leadership.
The way we’ve approached this work at St. Margaret’s is by articulating a clear, concise, and relatively permanent purpose statement, and a longer, specific, and measurable five-year vision statement. Both were a result of a strategic planning process, which we undertook in 2019 through engagement with the Unstuck Group.
Our purpose statement is in essence our mission: an articulation of why we exist. For us, it was useful to articulate this through the lens of our neighborhood’s demographics and the new people we hoped to reach. Of course, it also is informed by and resonates with those who are already part of our faith community.
St. Margaret’s purpose statement is:
St. Margaret’s is a warm place to renew faith in God, care for one another, and thrive in a diverse, LGBTQIA-affirming, and inclusive community.
Our vision statement is future-oriented–an articulation of where we’re going. And we’re not talking about 100 years from now–just five. After five years have passed, the intention is to repeat the process, recasting a new vision for the next five years. Year by year, the vision statement serves as a roadmap for our ministries and a filter for our priorities.
To discern our vision, we prayed, asking the question, “What is God’s preferred future for St. Margaret’s?” The resulting statement is our faithful answer.
St. Margaret’s vision statement begins: “Drawing on the diversity of our people and their gifts, with God’s help we will grow spiritually and numerically over the next five years by…”
We then list three overall “buckets,” each of which are action-oriented. In other words, they’re gerund verbs–each an articulation of how we aim to grow.
St. Margaret’s vision states that we seek to grow by:
- Inspiring every person to experience the love of God in Christ;
- Educating disciples of Christ and equipping people to put their faith in action;
- Growing generosity and neighborliness.
Under each of these three areas, we then list three specific objectives we hope to accomplish. Under the first, “Inspiring every person to experience the love of God in Christ,” we list goals related to worship; hospitality and newcomers; and sacramental commitments. We also track various metrics related to each objective. For example, under the second, “Educating disciples and equipping them to put their faith in action,” we measure parish engagement. That is, what percentage of our active members are engaged in formation programs, are serving regularly as worship leaders, or are volunteering through our outreach programs. By 2026, we’re shooting for the lofty goal of 100% engagement.
Similar to the process the Diocese is following with its strategic plan, St. Margaret’s Vestry meets annually to set three priorities for the year, informed by our self-assessment of the gaps between our vision’s objectives and where we currently are. Setting these priorities has arguably been one of the most challenging aspects of this work. Now that we have an energizing vision of where we want to go, it’s hard to slow down and acknowledge that we can’t accomplish everything in just one year. We’re constantly reminding one another, “This is a five-year vision–not a one-year sprint.”
You can check out St. Margaret’s full Purpose and Vision here.
For any parish considering the work of strategic planning and visioning, I highly commend you to make it a priority. For us at St. Margaret’s, it has been a vital, clarifying, and energizing tool, which has helped us align our purpose and calling with our day-to-day, year-by-year activities and resources. To God be the glory.
The Rev. Richard Weiberg
Rector, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, DC
In the coming months, we will continue to highlight parishes in the Diocese that exemplify each of the Parish Vital Signs through a story they share about their ministry. Read the series launch article
by EDOW | Mar 30, 2023
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?
by Anne-Marie Jeffrey | Nov 24, 2021
As I reflect on this season of thanksgiving, I find I am grateful for our Regional Gatherings this fall. They were great in helping me get to know the people of this diocese better. I am especially grateful for the discussions we had around the Vital Signs of Parish Health. Developed out of diocesan-wide conversations held in 2020 to identify what areas of focus go into creating a health church, the Vital Signs are now an integral part of all of our revitalization work. At each of the Regional Gatherings, we took 10 minutes in Zoom breakout rooms to answer the following questions.
Which Vital Sign do you think is your congregation’s greatest strength?
Where do you think God is calling you to invest your energy?
Watching the expression on people’s faces as they described their greatest strength became a source of growing joy. They lit up with energy and enthusiasm, eager to share that area of ministry in their church. And even as they moved to share what area they felt called to invest in, the energy–and the sense of possibility–remained. I love hearing these stories. Especially amazing are those that came out of this pandemic time. They give me great hope for our churches and how we are going about sharing the gospel in this world.
Last Thursday, the Parish Vitality Working Group and I hosted Sharing Vital Stories through the School for Christian Faith and Leadership, an event inviting 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. We did the work in small groups. And while I was a bit worried when we began because many of the people in my group had done this previously in a trial run — Would they tell the same story as last time? — new stories were told. New stories that were just as awe inspiring as those from that first test round. As the evening ended, I gave great thanks for how we have embraced the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in a pandemic time that could have shut us down physically, mentally, and spiritually. As the evening ended, I gave great thanks. This pandemic time could have shut us down, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Instead, we embraced the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And as we continue sharing vital stories, continue embracing the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, continue investing in possibility, we surely will also continue our path toward revitalization.
The Rev. Canon Anne-Marie Jeffery, Canon for Congregational Vitality
by EDOW | Nov 24, 2021
When the COVID pandemic reached the Washington, D.C. area in March 2020, forcing our congregations to cease in-person worship, I immediately sent an email to two adults in my parish who were planning to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. The postponement was particularly difficult since we did not know when we would be able to resume baptisms.
Later that spring, after an adult formation class where we discussed the ancient baptismal preparation process – the catechumenate – one of the two adults in the parish who was awaiting baptism contacted me to ask if it would be possible for her to complete a catechumenal process. The idea of creating a catechumenate at St. Andrew’s had been a dream of mine for quite some time, and after a time of intense planning and preparation, the resulting product was a ten-month catechumenal process that would begin in the fall, with two-hour monthly meetings and supplemental readings. In addition, we also decided to utilize all of the accompanying catechumenal liturgical rites contained in the Book of Occasional Services.
The process was an overwhelming success, and it will be offered each fall, with the intention that lay catechists and sponsors will assume full leadership next year. This fall’s group includes someone who found St. Andrew’s through our livestreamed Sunday services and discovered the catechumenate through our website. The presence of a catechumenate in our parish, along with the celebration of the associated liturgical rites, has created a renewed appreciation for the importance of baptism and prompted the parish to change the position of our baptismal font, taking it off casters and permanently affixing it to a limestone base in the narthex of the church, immediately inside the front doors. The baptismal font stands as a physical reminder of God’s boundless grace and our commitment to follow Christ.
The Rev. Timothy Johnson, rector, St. Andrew’s, College Park