Forward Today: Vitality in your church

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve been thinking about church vitality lately, especially in this time of pandemic. Some churches seem to be getting stronger, while others are struggling mightily. It might seem like we need to reinvent everything about church for this time. But I’m not so sure. Maybe the core principles stay the same, but the way we carry them out changes.

Forward Movement’s RenewalWorks program has done extensive research on spiritual vitality in congregations. There are five best practice principles to increasing spiritual health and vitality in a congregation. Maybe this time of pandemic is an opportunity for each church to ask whether it is doing these things and whether it might be necessary to change how we’re doing them.

  1. Get People Moving. Complacency is a huge challenge in the Episcopal Church. Too many of us do not expect transformation, and we run our churches so as not to rock too many boats. Disturbing complacency and starting each person in a journey of growth is exactly what we need to do.
  2. Embed the Bible in everything. Scripture engagement changes lives. Making sure that every meeting starts with Bible study—and framing all activity at the church through the lens of scripture—will lead people to read and to study the scriptures.
  3. Create Ownership. As one pastor used to say, “I can’t read the Bible for you or say your prayers. You have to do that.” We cannot outsource our discipleship work to someone else. Each one of us needs to take on habits of prayer, study, worship, and service.
  4. Pastor the Community. What does the community outside our church need? This might be a different question than, what do we want to do? Is there a need for tutoring? Shelter? Food? Meeting space? If we can learn to know and to love our neighbors, the world will be transformed one life at a time.
  5. Heart of the Leader. If the person who preaches is faking it, everyone can tell. Lay leaders can work to ensure that their clergy leader is refreshed and renewed. And clergy can make sure that their lay leaders are called to vital work, not carrying the millstone of institutional maintenance.


You can learn a lot more about the Best Practice Principles on the RenewalWorks website. How is your church doing? Have you seen success? Do you face challenges?

The reason for us to do this work is not to earn God’s love or our salvation. That has been accomplished on the cross. No, the reason to become effective disciples is so that we might grow into the full stature of Jesus Christ and share his love with a world in need.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director



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Illustration by Jay Sidebotham.

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