by Kathye Hamm
Many of us have heard that the church is at a crossroads. Perhaps for years or decades now, as prominent writers Diana Butler Bass and Phyllis Tickle have reflected.  You may also have heard the phrase “the church is not declining but changing.” I myself have used these phrases in some mission conversations or congregational visits, not to pacify our fears, but to invite us to face the challenge of our call and participate both in words and deeds. We may have different assessments of what is happening in the church in general, but to be aware of it or asking questions is already a good start.
In some of my recent visits and meetings around our synod, I added another term that you may have heard or read about it before and wonder what it means – Congregational Vitality. I have been immersing myself in learning more about it while listening and visiting various communities around our synod, and discerning and reflecting with Bishop Mark and our synod staff. Although one of the first topics that will come out if you Google is the Congregational Vitality Project (Survey),  it is not just a project. It is also NOT a new program that is being done for someone by someone else. It is not a linear process but it is also not static. And it is definitely not a new model. So what is it?
Our church has been on this congregational vitality journey, through intentional listening, brainstorming, and assessment, accompanied by praying together. From the ELCA Future Directions 2025 two major priorities emerged: congregational vitality and leadership formation. With no intention to impose a prescription or a definition, a working description of a vital congregation was put forward to begin the conversation, challenge and work towards embodiment: “communities of Jesus that nurture life changing relationships with God, one another, and around the world.”
The hope is that this journey towards congregational vitality is more contextual, driven by grassroots movement and expressing more of our interdependence as a church together. Congregational Vitality also calls for collaboration, innovation, transformational learning from one another, and accountability. I hope that as we explore congregational vitality and talk about it with a different lense of time and context, you will become more interested in this opportunity to work together.
This week, eight pastors and mission developers from our Synod are attending the ELCA Mission Developers Conference in Seattle, WA. It is a transitional conference as we embrace the congregational vitality journey and experience. Some will attend trainings and network and share with various cohorts or facilitate a cohort. Some of us will attend the Synodical Renewal Strategies to learn more about Congregational Vitality through what is already happening around our church and from other synods. The hope is that we would be able to have a better framework to contextualize so that our synod will be able to better support our congregations towards vitality.
Perhaps you have more questions. I welcome those questions. As we seek for what congregational vitality means in our context, I encourage you to ask these questions:
- How would you describe a vital congregation?
- What are you doing to grow innovative, collaborative, committed leaders towards vital congregations?
- What have you been learning as a community? How would you like to share this with others?
If you have time, please email me some of your reflections on these questions at email@example.com. Yes, our church is at a crossroad and changing, but it is towards a transforming, lifegiving and hope filled journey. So let us pray for all of us on this journey together!
Pr. Tita Valeriano
Director for Evangelical Mission and Assistant to the Bishop
“Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of New Spiritual Awakening” by Diana Butler Bass, “The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why” by Phyllis Tickle.
The Congregational Vitality Project developed by Ms. Linda Bobbit (former Vice-President by Rocky Mountain Synod 2005-2013) in consultation with the ELCA Research and Evaluation department is a “simple, statistically reliable and valid survey”. I have been in touch with her to train coaches and evaluators so I hope to reach out to congregations interested in using this survey. For more information and for the survey which is offered freely through the ELCA Mission Support check its website: congregationalvitalitysurvey.com
May 14, 2019