Friday, June 06, 2008

Converting the Church for the 21st Century- Part 2

What does a flourishing congregation look like?

What are the marks of a congregation that is thriving and alive?

A good friend shared a profile of what a lively community of faith looks like from her work with a Lilly Endowment research project. The results come from a event sponsored by the Indianapolis Center for Congregations with the focus theme- "Flourishing Congregations: Moving from Dreams to Reality."

I've been serving as interim senior pastor of a congregation that has faced a good many struggles and challenges over the last several years, and I've discovered a hunger to know what a "flourishing congregation" looks like beyond the 3 Bs of "budget, building, and butts in the pews".

Here's the list of 16 attributes that mark a flourishing congregation drawn from the aforementioned Lilly Endowment consultation:

  1. Welcoming and deliberate about forming relationships
  2. Open to new ideas, change, etc.
  3. Risk-taking, focused on the positive
  4. Intentional about building bridges between people, between the church and its immediate community, between people who have faith and those searching for faith...
  5. Always finding commonalities- asking what are those things that unite us, rather than asking what are those things that divide us
  6. Coming together as children of God- acknowledging our mutual need of God's love in visible ways
  7. Places where each member is honored
  8. Safe places to do dangerous things
  9. Nurturing- where leaders and members are built up, instead of used up
  10. Active- reaching out- both locally and beyond
  11. Passionate
  12. Generous
  13. Spirit led
  14. Inter-generational
  15. Places to dream
  16. Energetic- where spiritual energy is always being renewed and people come away not feeling depleted, but enlivened by faith

Flourishing congregations are about new ways of helping people talk and think about what it means to be the "church at its best".

Someone asked me recently about the church I currently serve. Is there hope? My response, "of course there is hope." Where there is God, there is hope! And God never abandons us!

This challenges the business as usual side of church life, according to the consultation on "Flourishing Congregations". Too often, church life is the opposite of hope. Instead, we're entangled in such things as long meetings to balance budgets, resolve staff conflicts, restore aging facilities, or to plan the next strategic plan. Everything becomes a downward spiral of negative energy. We can't allow such things to diminish the energy, passion, and imagination of church leaders and members.

Here are a few questions that I have been asking church members and leaders in the last year quite regularly.

"What gives life in your congregation when it functions at its best?

"What drew you to this community of faith?"

"Where in worship and fellowship and service do you experience God and the love of God's people?"

Spend some time in conversations about questions like these, and spend some time focusing on the 16 attributes of flourishing congregations. You just might begin to discover renewed spiritual energy, which is a gift of God and a call to nurture.


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