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A generation ago, congregational observers noted that congregations experiencing growth were those which gave clear-cut, right and wrong, direction about life.

I want to note a subtle correction to this observation.

Vital congregations are those which give more attention to the lives of adherents than the needs of the institution. Congregations which are flourishing are those which provide education, a sense of community, and moments of meaning that help congregants navigate the challenges of life with resilience.

A balance
Certainly, your congregation needs to pay attention to its organizational life. You need people attending to budgets, the condition of the facility, the copier, the agenda for the board meeting and so forth. Yet, if attention to the operations of the congregation subtracts from supporting the lives of members and the lives of people in the community, then folks will sense that the congregation is not doing what it is called to do. The congregation becomes a purposeless community in which only those with a strong sense of obligation will stay engaged.

Paying attention to life
Flourishing congregations are those which pay attention to life. People are praying. They are asking important questions. They are thinking about what it means to be a community. The congregation serves as a resource to its members around any number of crucial matters: parenting, finances, justice, vocation, character building, and of course, one’s connection to God.

My colleague Kara Faris and I were introduced to 12 creative congregations and had the privilege of writing about them for the book Divergent Church. A divergent church focuses on an aspect of life beyond the emphasis on the church itself.

It’s about life. It’s not about the congregation as an end unto itself.

What matters most to you in life?
Let your congregation attend to such matters.

To learn more about the book, Divergent Church, here are two links:

https://thecrg.org/resources/divergent-church-the-bright-promise-of-alternative-faith-communities

https://www.faithandleadership.com/kara-faris-divergent-churches-are-exploring-innovative-ways-congregational-life

You can also read this blog about practices that connect faith and life.


Tim Shapiro by Tim Shapiro

Tim is president of the Indianapolis CenterĀ for Congregations – of which the CRG is a program. He began serving the Center in 2003 after 18 years in pastoral ministry. He holds degrees from Purdue University and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Tim’s interest in how congregations learn to do new things is represented in his book How Your Congregation Learns.

tshapiro@centerforcongregations.org