Vital Congregations

I received the conference books from the Alaska Methodist annual conference earlier this year. I wasn’t able to participate this year, so I didn’t know as much about the conference as I did last year. For example, the conference theme this year was “Disciple is a Verb.”

That reminded me of the United Methodist “Vital Congregations” initiative. Rather than imposing a directive from the top down, Vital Congregations attempts to describe vital congregations in sufficient detail that less vital congregations would have something to emulate, if they are looking for help. That means there is a lot of depressing information about how few congregations are truly vital, but it’s not just numbers. Here are the “big three” takeaways. Vital congregations are:

  • Spirit-filled, forward-leaning communities of believers that welcome all people (Gal.3:28)
  • Places where Disciples of Jesus Christ are made through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 28:18-20)
  • Communities that serve like Christ through justice and mercy ministries. (Micah 6:8, Luke 4:17-21)

But the Vital Congregations initiative also describes what discipleship looks like (which is what got me started on this train of thought). According to Vital Congregations, disciples:

  • worship regularly
  • make disciples of Jesus Christ
  • grow in their faith
  • engage in mission
  • give to mission

That’s kind of vague, so I prefer Michael Foss‘ “six marks of discipleship,” which says disciples:

  • pray daily
  • worship weekly
  • read the Bible
  • serve at and beyond their local congregation
  • be in relationship to encourage spiritual growth in others
  • give of their time, talents, and resources

Vital Churches

Being Presbyterian myself, I don’t always keep up with Methodist initiatives as well as I ought. I was interested to learn about the UMC Vital Churches initiative, which appears to align well with the work our Council has been doing lately.

Vital congregations are:

  • Spirit-filled, forward-leaning communities of believers that welcome all people (Galatians 3: 28)
  • Places where Disciples of Jesus Christ are made through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28: 18-20)
  • Communities that serve like Christ through justice and mercy ministries. (Micah 6:8, Luke 4:17-21)

A Vital Congregation has:

  • Inviting & Inspiring Worship
  • Engaged Disciples in mission & outreach
  • Gifted, Empowered & Equipped Lay Leadership
  • Effective, Equipped & Inspired Clergy Leadership
  • Small Group Ministries
  • Strong Children’s & Youth Ministry

(See this list of 16 drivers of vitality.)

The congregations include disciples (Matthew 22:36-40) who:

  • worship regularly
  • help make new disciples
  • are engaged in growing in their faith
  • are engaged in mission
  • share by giving in mission