Is the congregation where you are serving thriving? Exactly what is “thriving” anyway? In the December, 2018 mailing, I offered links to help pastoral leaders think about what we measure in congregational life. Certainly, the things we measure imply that we believe they are important. Do measures of success or effectiveness—even good ones—mean a congregation is thriving? I hope the article links below will help you wrestle with this important question and ultimately help the churches you serve to thrive.
This Huffington Post article from 2016 is entitled, How Tiny Congregations Survive and Thrive Despite The Odds, (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/american-congregations-thriving_n_568c0c7ce4b0b958f65d1c83) discusses the growing number of small churches (100 or less) and their capacity to survive and thrive. It takes a deeper look at some of the findings from the 2015 Faith Communities Today research (https://faithcommunitiestoday.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/American-Congregations-2015.pdf).
Speaking of the ongoing Faith Communities Today research project, their latest report is now available. It is entitled, Vital Congregations (https://faithcommunitiestoday.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/FACT-Congregational-Vitality-Report-2018.pdf). This report provides insight into what they call “spiritually vital” congregations. The report is based on responses from ten different faith traditions ranging from Baha’i to United Methodists. They found that spiritually vital congregations share a few common (but important) characteristics.
This article by Chris Morton from the Missio Alliance (https://www.missioalliance.org) is entitled, Churches are Closing. These Four Models are Thriving (https://www.missioalliance.org/churches-are-closing-these-four-models-are-thriving/). Morton describes four very different models of church that he calls “thriving.” He writes that, “Models that are thriving today and in the future will have certain things in common, such as a commitment to making disciples of modern secularized Americans, a deep knowledge of the changing cultural landscape that exists outside of Christian enclaves, and a capacity to grow and multiply without the traditional funding sources that churches have traditionally relied on.”
Finally, Allen T. Stanton has addressed the issue of congregations thriving in rural communities (https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/9353/thriving-rural-congregations). He identified three “pillars of vitality.” The three pillars are (1) a clear theological identity, (2) understanding their local communities and their connection to the Kingdom of God, and (3) sustainability. For an even deeper look at thriving rural communities, you might want to look at the longer report from the Duke Endowment: https://dukeendowment.org/sites/default/files//evalutaion-reports/Final%20TRCI%201.0%20Report%20and%20Appendices%206-30-2014.pdf
My hope for all of us is that we find ways to thrive as ministers and find ways to help the congregations we serve to thrive.
Rev. Christopher R. Gambill, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Congregational Health