Forward Today: What helps a church grow?

A small plant with a red stem and a few green leaves, against a blurry background of green plants.
Photo by Austin D on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve been visiting churches all over the country. Most of the churches I’ve had a chance to visit have experienced remarkable growth lately, both in numbers and in depth. Yet the overall picture of the Episcopal Church suggests that we are seeing decline in more places than we are seeing growth.

Of course, church growth for its own sake is never the point. Jesus gave the church one primary task: to make disciples. Numbers help us know when we’re effectively making disciples, but those numbers are, in and of themselves, never the point. Still, Sunday attendance and participation in faith formation are critical windows into how well we are carrying out the Great Commission.

Our RenewalWorks data and my own anecdotal experience suggest that churches which prioritize spiritual growth experience numerical growth, too. This means focusing on worship as our primary task as a church. It means encouraging habits of daily prayer, studying the scriptures, and teaching the faith.

I’m always interested in data, because it helps us see what practices bear fruit. Our friends at TryTank are conducting a study of how faith formation impacts church growth. If you are a warden or a clergy leader, would you consider completing their survey for your congregation? This will help them put together a comprehensive picture that will be helpful for our whole church. Fill out their form if you are able to add your church’s experience to the survey.

In a little over two weeks, church leaders will gather in Louisville for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. We will spend almost all our time talking about things other than the Great Commission. Pray for this gathering, and pray that all our leaders (including yours truly, who serves as a deputy) will keep our eye on Jesus Christ and consider how we as a church can share his grace and mercy with the world. When we manage to do that, our church will be stronger because we are doing the thing that Jesus wants us to do.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. If you are going to be at General Convention, please visit Forward Movement in the exhibit hall. We’d love to say hello and talk about how we can support your work of disciple-making.

More from our ministry:

Data-driven insights for spiritual growth: Signs of Life

A simple, accessible journey through scripture: The Path

Share scripture and prayer with others: 10-packs of Forward Day by Day

St. Paul as a model for church mentorship: The Heart of a Leader

Roger Hutchison announced as cover artist for 2025 issues of Forward Day by Day

Author, artist, and youth minister Roger Hutchison has contributed four striking covers for the 2025 issues of Forward Movement’s flagship devotional, Forward Day by Day. Starting in February 2025, subscribers will receive quarterly issues featuring Hutchison’s illustrations.

Four covers in a row of the pamphlet Forward Day by Day. Each cover has a bright watercolor illustration: from left to right, dragonflies, birds, a bare tree trunk, and a mother holding an infant.Roger Hutchison is the author and illustrator of ten books for children and adults, including The Art of Calm: Spiritual Exercises for the Anxious Soul and the bestselling Sparrow’s Prayer. Roger also serves as the Director of Children’s and Youth Ministries at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, TX. Roger’s mission is to use art, color, and poetic language to communicate love and promote healing and hope in today’s hurting world.

Forward Day by Day is a booklet of daily inspirational meditations, first published in 1935 and read by over half a million Christians around the world. Each quarterly booklet features three authors who reflect on daily Bible passages. Each quarter, Forward Movement distributes more than 200,000 printed copies in Spanish and English.

“Growing up as a “PK” (priest’s kid), one of my earliest memories dates back to when I was about 12 years old and exploring the Episcopal Church where my dad served,” says Hutchison. “I distinctly remember being intrigued by the piles of Forward Day by Day. Even at that young age, I found myself drawn to both the cover art and interior words—dreaming of one day maybe being the artist invited to create the cover art for those booklets.”

Forward Day by Day is available in pocket-sized and large print editions, and is also offered in Spanish (Adelante Dìa a Dìa). Visit Forward Movement’s website to subscribe to Forward Day by Day.

About Forward Movement
Forward Movement inspires disciples and empowers evangelists. We offer devotions, Bible studies, formation courses, and other resources to equip and support people in their walk with Jesus Christ. Visit to learn more.

Forward Today: The subversive act of resting

A white hammock with a white blanket draped across it, hanging between two trees in front of a white house.
Photo by Steph Q on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

A few days ago, I preached about Jesus’ encounter with some critics on a sabbath day (Mark 2:23-3:6). These critics failed to see that mercy always wins. Jesus kept the sabbath, but he was willing to work on the appointed day of rest in order to do good.

What struck me as I was preparing for my sermon is how the commandment to honor the sabbath is rarely kept these days. Most of the time, we at least try to honor the rest of the ten commandments. We all agree that murdering is bad. Stealing is bad. Coveting is bad. And so on. But when it comes to the sabbath, it’s common to trample right over the commandment to rest.

Our culture tells us that our meaning and our salvation comes from productivity. We are what we accomplish. We delude ourselves into thinking we have “earned” this or that. We must go, go, go.

Taking a day to rest—to rest from our work, but also to rest in the glory of God’s presence— is positively countercultural. When we step out of the hamster wheel of productivity, we are saying that there are things more important than accomplishments. We are reminding ourselves that our meaning and our salvation does not come from shiny things, but from the Lord who made us.

For many people summer is a slower-paced time. If you are a person who rests regularly, I hope you’ll do it more. Let your light shine before others, and share with them what good comes to you from resting. And if you are a person who needs encouragement to rest, let me offer it here: rest.

Resting is good for us. Resting from our work reminds us that our meaning comes not from accomplishments. Resting is also healthy for our bodies; it is the way God made us to be. We are not made to stay busy every moment.

Rest might look different from person to person. Maybe it means sleeping in. Perhaps you’ll leave your phone out of reach and stay away from its seductive notifications. You might take a way to go for a walk to enjoy this beautiful world God has made. Prayer could be an important part of rest, not to accomplish a to-do but to delight in God.

So, from the bottom of my heart, I hope you have a day soon when you can honestly say to someone, I did nothing today except rest. And it was a gift.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Come pray, learn, and rest together: Register for our prayer retreat

Rest as part of a rule of life:  The Way of Love Practical Guide

Delight in prayer made easy and beautiful: Hour by Hour

Finding health in your spiritual life: Vital Signs of Faith

Forward Today: Inspired and empowered

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve just finished attending a meeting of Forward Movement’s board of directors. It’s a great team of people, leaders who are committed both to their own discipleship and to reinvigorating the life of the church.

Everyone always reports they are refreshed and renewed as we wrap up our meetings. It’s been that way consistently for the whole time I’ve been serving at Forward Movement. Why? Because we anchor our meetings in prayer, scripture study, relational connections, and a sharp focus on our organizational mission. In other words, we keep the main thing the main thing.

We try really hard to practice what we preach at Forward Movement, both with our staff and our board. We’re not perfect, but when we manage to get it right, it keeps us… moving forward.

At this moment in the life of the church, we are seeing a smaller but potentially stronger church. Our hope is to go even deeper as disciples so that we can all be empowered to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. We are working hard to determine what the church most needs so that we can offer the resources and support that will help our church live out the Great Commission. If you have suggestions for the work of Forward Movement, please let me know!

We met at St. Philip’s in the Hills in Tucson, AZ. They are thriving—vibrant with new members, thriving ministries, deepening formation, and expanding service to those in need. They keep the main thing the main thing. That is, they are all in on Jesus.

This board meeting we just finished was an especially rich one, because we stayed focused. It really made a difference. I see what happens when I get distracted, and you might have noticed the same thing in your life.

I hope you’ll receive my happy report not as bragging, but as letting Christ’s light shine before others. We are not so amazing, but God is totally amazing. If we can all remember that, our whole church will be stronger and our Gospel witness will be more credible.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Keep the main thing the main thing with research-based tips: Signs of Life

A daily chance to get back to basics: Subscribe to Forward Day by Day

A spiritual renewal program for lay leaders: Revive

Forward Today: Can we understand the Trinity? Does it matter?

Andrei Rublev, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dear friends in Christ: While Scott is traveling this week, please enjoy this throwback post he wrote for Trinity Sunday in 2021.

I love Trinity Sunday, but I often despair at going to church on this glorious feast day. You might ask, what’s not to love? We get to sing some fantastic hymns! We get one last dose of white vestments before the long, green season coming along. We get to offer our praise of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And therein lies the rub. Too many preachers decide this is the day to explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity in eight minutes or less. It usually doesn’t go well, especially if the preacher decides to use metaphors for the Holy Trinity. This hilarious video explains the problem nicely.

Today is a day to bask in the glory of God. To use this day to delve into theological teaching would be a bit like going to your wedding and then offering a scientific explanation of what might be happening in our brains when we experience love. You see? It’s not a bad activity, but it’s the wrong activity for a moment that should be a celebration.

Can we understand the Holy Trinity? At a basic level, yes. The creeds do a pretty good job of summarizing things. Basic theological teaching, or a study of scripture, can unpack how God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s also not the most complicated. I mean, plenty of people enjoy watching a good cricket match without understanding all the rules! Or, to use a scriptural example, we don’t have to understand where the wind comes from to know that we need to pay attention to the weather forecast (John 3).

On Trinity Sunday, I hope we can simply enjoy the glory and majesty of God. Rather than get out our flowcharts, we do well to belt out the hymns.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Explore Episcopal beliefs and practices: Walk in Love

Making it easy to study scripture each day: The Bible Challenge series

Start your day with praise to God: A Morning at the Office podcast

Come pray with us on retreat this July in Cincinnati. Register today!

Forward Today: It starts with showing up

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday, we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter Day, completing our celebration of Eastertide. The events of this most astounding day are told for us in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

Here’s the beginning of the account: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:1-2).

Why were the disciples gathered in the first place? They were keeping the feast of Pentecost, exactly fifty days after Passover. Jews today still keep this feast fifty days after Passover, and it’s called Shavuot. The point is that the disciples of Jesus were doing what people of faith do: keeping a cycle of fasts and feasts.

There’s no particular reason to think that the disciples knew that the Holy Spirit would descend on the church on this particular day. Jesus had promised the arrival of the Spirit, but he wasn’t specific about the timeline. So when that amazing Day of Pentecost dawned, the disciples—perhaps still reeling from the sorrow and awe of Holy Week seven weeks before—had to make a choice. They chose to show up, to keep the feast.

In other words, they didn’t leave their homes because they were expecting fireworks, but rather for the “routine” work of keeping their faith. But God blessed them on this occasion with dazzling fireworks of sorts, tongues of fire in this case.

Amidst all the miraculous and strange events of that Day of Pentecost, one lesson I take away is that sometimes our work begins with the simple and steadfast task of showing up. When Sunday morning rolls around, it’s not helpful for me to say to myself, “Do I think I will enjoy church and sense God’s presence?” Rather, I do well to say, “This morning I will show up. Perhaps God will bless me with his presence there.”

If those first disciples had decided not to show up, they might have missed the fireworks, missing out on the manifestation of God’s presence. Thanks be to God, they showed up.

We Christians have a cycle of feasts and fasts. We have appointed work in the world. We have the need for times of prayer and study. Whether it’s traveling to a place or making time on our calendars, the first job is showing up.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Tomorrow: Hear Scott’s hopes for the church’s future in this VTS webinar

Show up for prayer wherever you are with our mobile app and podcasts

Action steps for spiritual growth in the church: Signs of Life

Forward Today: Jesus loves you, this I know

The central dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. (Scott Gunn)

Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow the church celebrates one of our most important feasts, Ascension Day. We commemorate Jesus’ ascension into heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand. The story is told in Luke 24:50-53 and Acts 1:6-11.

This feast day is not just about Jesus doing another supernatural thing that defies our understanding of reality, the way he also walked out of a tomb after having been killed. While it is about that, there is a deeper meaning that we do well to ponder.

Our celebration of Ascension Day completes our celebration of the fullness of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ in recalling and giving thanks for his suffering, death, resurrection, and yes, ascension. His glorification and presence at his Father’s right hand shows us the triumph of God’s grace and mercy over the powers of evil, sin, and death.

In the Ascension, we also see that Jesus has entrusted and commissioned his followers to carry on his reconciling ministry. And not wanting to leave us alone, Jesus promised the presence of the Holy Spirit. That’s a lot of amazing news to pack into one celebration!

It’s all because Jesus loves us. Not past tense. Jesus is not merely a moral teacher who showed us how to live. He is those things, but he is also the means of grace and the hope of glory.

Right now, when you need him, you can call on Jesus. He is ready to offer us his grace, mercy, and healing when we need it. He is ready to intercede for us with his Father. He knows our struggles and our joys. He is alive, ruling from heaven.

So don’t be distracted by the mechanics of Ascension Day. Focus instead on how this event is part of God’s saving love for us and for all people.

I hope you are able to find your way to a church this evening for Ascension Eve or tomorrow for Ascension Day. We have a lot for which to offer our thanks and praise.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Follow the story of redemption from start to finish: The Path

Prayer and inspiration that fit in your pocket: Forward Day by Day

Devotions that focus on each Person of the Trinity: A Generous Beckoning

Next week: Hear Scott’s hopes for the church’s future in this VTS webinar

Forward Today: Fearless faith

Rooted and Growing Evangelism workshop at the Fearless Faith Revival. (Photo: The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California on Facebook)

Dear friends in Christ,

Last weekend, I visited the Diocese of Northern California to speak about evangelism at their revival, Fearless Faith. The name of the revival got me thinking.

Fearless faith could suggest that we practice our faith without fear. It’s tempting to find ourselves limiting how we practice our faith, as individuals or congregations, out of fear. We might worry about money, or what people will think of us, or whether some new ministry will succeed or fail.

What if we practiced our faith boldly? There’s no reason not to invite people to our churches. There’s often more money available than we think. Even if some new ministry doesn’t take off, we will learn something—so there’s rarely a total failure. Fearless faith is closer to the adventure that the Gospels suggest when we choose to follow Jesus.

But there’s another way to read that title, Fearless Faith. As we just heard last Sunday in the epistle, perfect love casts out fear. Our culture is bombarded by messages peddling fear. “Be afraid of those people.” “Be afraid of that place.” “Be afraid that you might not have enough money.” “Be afraid that your appearance is not sufficiently beautiful.” It’s nonsense, and it’s antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In faith, we will realize we don’t need to be afraid of anyone or any place. We will realize there is enough. We will realize that we don’t need to “look more beautiful” because we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and nothing could be more beautiful than that!

So if we fill our hearts in faith with the love of Jesus Christ, we will immunize ourselves against the bombardment of fear.

I am always working on practicing and believing a fearless faith. I hope you are, too. Be not afraid!

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Fearless evangelism in your congregation: Signs of Life

Practical guidance for ministry: Vestry Resource Guide

Revive your faith with daily prayer: Forward Day by Day

Read through the Gospels one passage at a time: The Bible Challenge series

Forward Today: And immediately…

From the Basilica San Marco in Venice, Italy.

Dear friends in Christ,

Tomorrow the church celebrates the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist. As with the other evangelists, we give thanks for their witness in the gospels and we hope to draw inspiration so that we too might proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of St. Mark is the shortest of the four gospels. The story moves quickly, almost breathlessly. A seminary classmate of mine memorized the entire Gospel, and he used to travel and recite the entire Gospel of St. Mark from memory. It took just over an hour, and though everyone knew what was going to happen, the audience would be on the edge of their seats. “And immediately…” keeps the reader going at a brisk pace.

The urgency of St. Mark’s witness is palpable. We modern Christians might learn something from this and make haste to share the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is in this Gospel that Jesus commands his followers to preach the Gospel to the whole creation.

Some years ago, I traveled to Venice. There you can visit St. Mark’s basilica, where tradition says that the body of St. Mark is kept. I find it very inspiring to visit the sites of veneration of biblical figures; somehow this connects for me the ancient and the modern, the heavenly and the earthly. To venerate the relics of St. Mark is to profess faith that the evangelists were living, breathing people with a living story to proclaim.

How will you celebrate tomorrow’s feast day? You can read the whole of St. Mark’s Gospel in one sitting. Perhaps you’ll do that! Or maybe you will consider how his witness might inspire you to be an evangelist in your community.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Challenge yourself to read this Gospel: A Journey with Mark Bible Challenge

Meditate on the Easter season each Sunday at

Follow the story of scripture from beginning to end: The Path

Free curriculum to learn about scripture: Exploring the Bible

Forward Today: Shepherded by scripture

Dear friends in Christ: While Scott is traveling this week, we bring you an excerpt from his book of meditations for Eastertide, Easter Triumph, Easter Joy. In this meditation, Scott reflects on the scripture texts for this coming Sunday, the Fourth Week of Easter.

Image from the catacomb of Domitilla shows one of the oldest known images of Jesus Christ as the good shepherd / Wikimedia Commons

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
—Psalm 23 (Authorized or King James Version)

I have strong memories from several funerals I led during my time as a parish priest. Most of my memories are of families gathered in the church to say goodbye to their loved ones and to hear a word of Easter hope.

One of these memories is from a service held at the funeral home. The family was barely connected to the church, but for whatever reason, they asked me to lead the service. They made it pretty clear they weren’t looking for anything “too churchy.”

I didn’t print out leaflets. When it was time for the service, I mostly read the burial office from our prayer book. Those ancient words offer, I think, just the right measure of sorrow and hope. Anyway, when it came time for the scriptures, I read a lesson and then said something like, “I’m going to read Psalm 23 aloud now. If you know the words, you are most welcome to join me.” Much to my surprise, when I started, nearly everyone in the room said this beloved psalm from memory.

I have had similar experiences at the bedsides of those near the end of life. Sometimes a person who is beyond the point of conversation will be silent in our prayers until I begin the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23. Then their lips move, praying along. Generation upon generation have been steeped in these words of liturgy and scripture that go all the way to the core.

But why Psalm 23? I think it is profoundly reassuring. God is our shepherd. When we need companionship, or protection, or guidance, God is there with us. When we face danger, God is there with us. Even at the end of our days, God is there with us.

I worry that in today’s church, we don’t do enough to encourage people to memorize scripture and prayer so deeply that it gets to our core. When people are in grave crisis or facing their own imminent mortality, how will they be equipped to meet these moments?

In our prayer and study, we prize novelty but at the cost of perseverance and immersion. I hope we can do a better job of balancing the two tensions. In my own life, I hope there are prayers and scriptures that go all the way to my core. I hope that’s true for you, too.

The Lord is truly our shepherd. But perhaps the Lord seeks to accompany us at times in the words of scripture. Let us all commit to loving scripture so much it shapes our hearts and our lives.

More from our ministry:

Pray the psalms and reflect on scripture each day: Forward Day by Day app

Embed scripture in everything to nurture spiritual growth: RenewalWorks

Read through the Bible through a new lens: The Way of Love Bible Challenge

Carry prayer with you wherever you go: Hour by Hour