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Creating vital churches with 4 Congregational Pathways

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For more information on the Congregational Vitality Pathways:

By Melissa Lauber

With the new year, the Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware conferences unveiled four initiatives designed to help churches “take the next step” on a personalized Congregational Vitality Pathway. 

The four pathways, explained the Rev. Bill Brown, look beyond traditional measures of church health and vitality, like church attendance and giving, and focus on providing curated curriculum, conversation and experiences that assist congregations in discerning and living out God’s vision for their church.

Brown, the BWC’s director of innovative evangelism, said the pathways draw inspiration from work done by the Texas Methodist Foundation, which found that, denominationally:

  • 10-20 percent of congregations are thriving and showing vitality;
  • 55-65 percent find themselves in a middle section, not thriving but they could, or not thriving and moving toward dying; and
  • 30 to 40 percent are dying and need specific conversations and guidance to move forward in one way or another.

While the numbers vary slightly, “we see similar trends mirrored in our region,” Brown said. Conference leadership has designed a series of resources and put together practical learning and action pathways for churches in each of these stages of vitality.

The Congregational Vitality Pathways were introduced at a Training Tuesday webinar Jan. 4. The webinar included an overview of the pathways and instructions about how to apply for each one. This information is also available on the Congregational Development webpage.

  • To assist churches that are thriving, the Launch Initiative pathway has been created. It wwill equip churches to develop Fresh Expressions that enable them to engage with their community in new ways and move church members from the seats to the streets, Brown said. Each church will be assigned to a cohort facilitated by a field guide, and they will use the Godsend App, developed by Fresh Expressions UK, and the book “The 21st Century Christian,” and meet quarterly in a retreat setting.
  • To resources churches that are on the cusp of thriving, the Catalyst Initiative will be the pathway that provides a year-long process of discovery, exploration and renewal. Participants will participate in online and in-person training in cohorts led by synergists. The Catalyst Initiative, funded by a million-dollar grant from the Lilly Foundation, was piloted this year by 11 churches.
  • Those churches seeking to thrive but are involved with challenges that seem to prevent them from doing so, will take the Readiness Initiative Pathway. Working in a cohort with a guide, they’ll develop 90-day plans based on their strengths as they prepare to “do the next God thing.” Congregations can stay in the Readiness Initiative for two years.
  • The Legacy Church Conversation Initiative is the fourth pathway. It is for churches that may be feeling more like a museum than a vital congregation. This 6-month cohort provides congregations with a conversation guide as they work together through the Legacy Churches Workbook to decide how they will faithfully address the future.

 Each church will select a team of five people, including the pastor, to participate in the pathways. An extensive application process, which includes the congregation participating in a Readiness360 Survey, is required.

 The Readiness360 survey, which can take three weeks for a church to set up and complete, measures:

  • Spiritual intensity and how hot a church’s relationship with God burns;
  • Dynamic relationships and how people in the church interact;
  • Mission alignment and how the church’s actions, calendar and budget reflect its vision; and
  • Cultural openness and how churches partner with people with different life stories.

 While the application process is a detailed one, it is also an illuminating tool that churches can benefit from, said Christie Latona, the chief program officer for the BWC and Pen-Del conferences.

 The task of the pathways, Latona said, is to help people grow in the four pillars of deepening discipleship, living and loving like Jesus, seeing all the people and multiplying impact. “This is not about the size of a church,” she said. “It’s about where the Gospel comes to life in vital ways in ourselves and our communities.”

 The Rev. Rob Townsend, director of Connectional Ministries for the Peninsula-Delaware Conference, agreed. “We want 100 percent of our churches to be at 100 percent vitality,” he said. “Each church can decide which pathway they want to be on.”

 The application process for the Congregational Pathways is open. The deadline for churches to request a Readiness 30 link is Feb. 7. Completed applications are due before March 1. On April 15, the decisions of which churches are chosen for which pathways will be announced.

 For more information, contact the Rev. Lauren Harris, the Congregational Development coordinator ,at