“For everything there is a season.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NRSV)
Vital congregations are described as communities of Jesus
where there are life-changing relationships with God, each other and the world.
Discerning the season of your congregation’s life is a crucial step both in regard to vitality and to sustainability. It is important to look at a wide range of options and to prayerfully discern what direction God is calling the congregation.
Because “synod” means walking together, no congregation goes on this discernment journey alone. The synod staff will be walking with and guiding you as you discern and live into the option that is most faithful for your congregation. When possible, an outside facilitator or consultant will be chosen to walk closely with the congregation through the process. There is no right or wrong answer but rather the goal is to be faithful to the situation facing your congregation and the unique setting of your ministry.
Each option listed has significant benefits and challenges. As you discern, know that financial sustainability is not the same as vitality. We are praying that your congregation considers its future with vitality as your primary goal. Together, we have a much deeper mission beyond merely “keeping the doors open.” Through all parts of this process, consider the description of congregational vitality below. As with all discernment, this process should be steeped in prayer and Scripture keeping us focused on God’s mission.
The options are categorized in three ways:
- Choosing Transformation: making significant change to current context from within to connect with God’s mission and to grow in congregational vitality.
- Options include intentional vitality process and redevelopment.
- Choosing Partnership: engaging in shared ministry with another congregation(s) for the sake of the gospel in order to grow in congregational vitality.
- Options include yoking, merger, consolidation, and anchor church models.
- Choosing Resurrection: embracing the end with belief in the promise that God is doing a new thing.
- Options include closing and re-opening, word & service mission post; and holy closure.
Any of these options require wrestling with questions of finances, property, leadership, mission, worship location and times, and legacy. Reflection can result in changes like changing worship times, pursuing part-time pastoral leadership, or the creation of shared ministries. Again, the synod staff will be accompanying as you discern and choose the option to move forward.
Congregational Vitality Survey
A simple and free tool from our partners at the ELCA Churchwide Organization that will help gauge your congregation’s own sense of its vitality and purpose. This tool allows you to collect survey responses from leaders and members separately, so that some rich questions can be asked around any differences that emerge between the responses of the two groups. This can be a helpful tool for the group to collectively name the need for change.
- Contact Pr. Matthew Short, Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission at firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating your interest in using the survey.
- Pr. Matt will send you two links; one for leaders, and one for members. Send these to the appropriate groups with information about the date by which you want the survey to be “closed.”
- Once you have declared the survey “closed,” contact Pr. Matt again. He should be able to have the results to you within 1-2 business days.
A document that names a number of mission-focused shifts that congregations are perennially called to consider, along with ideas of small ways to live into those shifts throughout the discernment process.
Community Mapping Exercise
This exercise helps members visually tell the story of the ministries of your congregation that serve those inside the congregation, and those outside the congregation. After members present their results to each other, it is helpful to follow up with these three simple, open-ended questions:
- As you look at this snapshot of our ministries, what do you notice?
- As you look at this snapshot, what are you curious about?
- What do you think God might be nudging us to consider based on what we’ve shared?
ELCA’s “Leaving a Legacy” Document
“Shared Ministry Logistics and Finances” Document
Faithful Innovation Process
Faithful Innovation is a simple but profound process to help your congregational leaders listen to the neighborhood, and learn how to innovate in ways that engage new people. This process, and the tools taught through it, can be a powerful way to re-invigorate your congregation’s sense of mission. Peruse the materials on that page, and then contact Rev. Matthew Short for more information about how to get started.
Financial Assessment from Resourceful Servants
Transitioning Historic Sacred Places
The guide linked below, provided by the group Partners for Sacred Spaces, describes various ways that historic spaces can also be an asset to the wider community. The guide may provide a spark for creative thinking around the use of your congregation’s space.