Tag Archives: RenewalWorks

Forward Today: Thinking about the post-pandemic church

Dear friends in Christ,

I’ve been thinking a lot about what church might be like when we emerge from this time of pandemic. Of course, we aren’t going wake up one morning and everything’s “back to normal.” First, ending this strange time will happen gradually, by fits and starts, over time. It might be months or longer. Second, I don’t think we want to go back to “normal” because that would imply everything was fine.

Instead of thinking about getting “back to normal”, I hope we’ll talk about post-pandemic life. We have a mandate for change unlike any other in our lifetimes. What do we treasure about our churches and our world that we want to sustain? What are the things we can finally let go of? Where should we be looking for change?

My colleagues at RenewalWorks recently published a wonderful blog post, “Now What? 5 Spiritual Growth Strategies for the New Normal”. There are some solid, practical tips on how your church might take stock of its spiritual well-being, along with some recommendations for how to nurture spiritual growth.

It has been too easy to forget why churches exist. There are a lot of good things churches do, but the fundamental reason Jesus commissioned us is to make disciples. So maybe this is the perfect time to figure out where we excel and where we need to improve.

In the RenewalWorks best practices, pastoring the community is an important part of our life together. This practice invites us to get to know the communities around our churches and to find ways to serve the needs of the community. In some ways, Episcopalians are often quite good at this work. But in other ways, we have room for growth. I very much hope we will use the lens of anti-racism to scrutinize our work in communities and our churches themselves. Do our churches reflect the diversity of people in our area?

It’s not just the post-pandemic world we need to talk about, but the post-Christendom world. Most people in our society simply don’t know Jesus. How will they learn about him if we don’t practice evangelism? Let’s try to do better at sharing the amazing news of God in Jesus Christ with our neighbors.

If you need a fresh dose of inspiration, I invite you to visit 50days.org, which I wrote about last week, too. I’m writing reflections every day of the Easter season to remind us all of the joy and wonder that is made possible by Christ’s resurrection. You can visit the site daily or sign up for emails.

Let us at Forward Movement know if there are ways we can support your church in the post-pandemic world. We have some ideas, but we’d love to hear from you.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director



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Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!


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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.

Make Me an Instrument of Peace:
A Guide to Civil Discourse

Make Me an Instrument is a free, 5-week course designed to help us bridge the divides that keep us from moving forward. Taught by a team of experts in civil discourse, this course includes these five classes:

  • Civil Discourse in Context with Ranjit Matthews
  • Tenets for Civil Discourse with Shannon Kelly
  • Values-Based Conversations with Alan Yarborough
  • The Complexities of Policy with Rebecca Linder Blachy
  • Sacred Space for Debate with Marcus Halley


Make Me an Instrument is ideal for those who want to take dialogue between polarized people or parties seriously.

Tune in!

Listen to today’s Forward Day by Day reflection on the Forward Day by Day podcast. Find morning prayer on the Morning at the Office podcast and end your day with the Evening at Prayer podcast. Available anywhere you listen!


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Forward Today: Working on our spiritual fitness

Dear friends in Christ,

Attending to our spiritual well-being is a bit like attending to our physical health. Regular spiritual practices such as daily prayer and scripture study are like physical exercise. The more we do them, the easier they get and the healthier we become.

Forward Movement launched RenewalWorks several years ago as a way for congregations to learn about their own spiritual health and then create a plan to encourage spiritual growth among the members of a church. It has seen great success at changing the conversation in congregations, as they move from maintenance to mission, from complacency to discipleship.

Over the years, we’ve had quite a few requests for a tool to help individuals create a plan for their own spiritual growth. I’m very glad to say that just yesterday we launched RenewalWorks for Me. This new resources – free of charge – begins with a brief self-assessment of where you are in your spiritual growth. Based on the results of that quiz, you can sign up for a series of weekly emails to offer you specific encouragement on a path that will foster spiritual growth.

Let’s say your assessment suggests that you’d benefit from increasing your habit of daily prayer. The weekly emails will offer specific, achievable steps you can take to develop a more robust prayer life.

I encourage you to give RenewalWorks for Me a try, especially if you’re feeling stuck in your spiritual life. It might be just the thing to get you moving. And it’s free, so there’s no reason not to take it for a spin.

We’ve heard great things from our testers, and I think you’ll find this helpful, too. Let me know how it works for you!

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Image: Jay Sidebotham

Today’s Flash Sale: Bible Women

Women of the Bible have been trapped in dry and dusty literary caskets for centuries. While a few women, such as Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Mary Magdalene, are familiar, many of the women who speak in the Bible have long been ignored. Yet their words are part of God’s Word, the Bible, for a reason. Through these women, God spoke, intervened, changed, illustrated, and proclaimed the story of redemption.

In this groundbreaking book named best Bible study of 2015 by Illumination Book Awards, Episcopal priest Lindsay Hardin Freeman identifies every woman who speaks in the Bible, providing their words, context, and historical background. We learn which women speak the most (hint: it’s not Mary!) and which books of the Bible have the fewest words from women.

Step into God’s sacred circle of mothers, grandmothers, warriors, prophets, prostitutes, and murderers. You won’t come out the same.

Regular: $22
Today: $16.50

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

Groundbreaking Research on Episcopal Spiritual Vitality

Episcopalians want to grow spiritually. Research from over 200 congregations and 12,000 Episcopalians conducted by Forward Movement is summarized in a recently published paper rooted in extensive work on spiritual growth and vitality.

The RenewalWorks ministry, which is focused on spiritual vitality and fostering a culture of discipleship, has revealed much about the spiritual life of the Episcopal Church.

“We have learned that there is great spiritual hunger among Episcopalians,” says the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, director of RenewalWorks. “And we are discovering catalysts that can address that hunger. Basic spiritual practices such as daily prayer, scripture study, worship attendance, and serving the poor will lead to transformation.”

The research paper is available for free download at www.renewalworks.org/researchsummary. There is also a graphic with some of the key findings on that download page.

The research summary outlines what we are learning about the spiritual life of the Episcopal Church, including the stages of spiritual growth and practices that lead to transformation.

Among key findings:

  • Exploring Christians include 18% of Episcopalians. This stage includes seekers and new Christians. But in the Episcopal Church, some people who have attended church for decades are also at this stage.
  • Growing Christians is a stage where people have committed to their spiritual growth. 55% of Episcopalians fit in this stage.
  • Deepening Christians are those who articulate a personal relationship with God and whose life bears significant marks of their faith. This is 23% of Episcopalians.
  • Christ-Centered represents just 4% of Episcopalians. For this small group, a personal relationship with God in Christ is the most important relationship in their lives.


“Our research also shows specific catalysts that are likely to move people from one stage to the next,” says the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. “So if we want our congregations to be places where spiritual growth is happening, we need to teach and to nurture spiritual practices such as prayer, worship, study, and service.”

The research also shows the importance of the leader’s heart. “The spiritual health of the leader in the congregation is key,” Sidebotham says. “Too often clergy lose touch with their first love, with the reasons that they were drawn to ordained ministry. These challenges can have a negative effect on a church’s vitality.”

The data for the report come from the congregations who have taken part in the RenewalWorks process. This process

  • Invites congregants to take an extensive online survey of their beliefs, attitudes, and practices
  • Leads a team through four workshops to understand the findings and to implement a plan in response
  • Empowers leaders to create a culture of discipleship in their congregations


“What’s brilliant about RenewalWorks is that it is diagnostic, not prescriptive,” Gunn says. “There’s no gimmick here. The process tells leaders where people are, and then lay and clergy leaders can work together to offer opportunities for growth and depth.”

RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement, which is a ministry of the Episcopal Church. Known widely for its flagship devotional, Forward Day by Day, Forward Movement inspires disciples and empowers evangelists through digital resources, websites, printed materials, and conferences. Learn more about RenewalWorks at www.renewalworks.org or Forward Movement at www.forwardmovement.org.