“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.

TOOLS

START HERE: Holy Conversations Guide

This is the main guide for the Holy Conversations resources. It provides a sample discernment process, key questions, and a range of options as your congregations considers the paths possible ahead. As you engage the resources in this booklet, and those on this webpage, feel free to reach out to Rev. Matthew Short, Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission, to discuss your process.

Additional Resources

Congregational Vitality Survey

A simple and affordable tool from the Congregational Vitality Project that will help gauge your congregation’s own sense of its vitality and purpose. This can be a helpful tool for the group to collectively name the need for change.

Ideological Shifts

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 is a simple tool that helps you name what you know and what you might need to learn about the wider community just beyond your doors. This is a key tool to begin a deeper community engagement.

Inside…Outside

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:

  1. As you look at this snapshot of our ministries, what do you notice?
  2. As you look at this snapshot, what are you curious about?
  3. What do you think God might be nudging us to consider based on what we’ve shared?

ELCA’s “Leaving a Legacy” Document

A wonderful resource for congregations considering holy closure.

“Shared Ministry Logistics and Finances” Document

This resource lists many of the considerations that congregations considering some form of shared ministry will want to discuss.

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

This assessment is part of a larger pool of resources from the ELCA Churchwide Organization entitled “Resourceful Servants.” The financial assessment itself will help you identify some best practices, and other next steps to take as you work to improve your congregation’s handling of finances. Learn more about all the Resourceful Servant resources for congregations here. Or, watch a 10-minute video explaining the ways the assessment might help your congregation here.