We have just come to a new realization in our Thriving Congregations Project. Because of it, we moved our 27 Thriving Congregations churches from cohort coaching to individual coaching for our last year of work together. We did this because we’re embracing a new aspect of what it means to THRIVE as people of God and as churches…
Uniqueness is one facet of God’s creation that mirrors our own embedded beauty. There are 8.74 million species in the world—almost half a million (400,000) are plants. Why are there more than 1,000 kinds of trees? Or almost a million (925,000) kinds of bugs? And why do flowers grow on the sides of mountains where no living being will ever see them? Even one mosquito species would be five too many—but there are more than 3,000 species of them. Creation, we must admit, is impossibly stuffed-full of so many varieties of things that if their differences were pennies we’d all be billionaires.
And this diversity of uniqueness is true about church congregations as well—each of our thriving churches will ONLY THRIVE as they develop their uniqueness as a community of faith.
So this is a wondering post, designed to let you in on a new idea that we’re starting to test out.
Think about how much of today’s church culture works against focusing on the uniqueness of our faith communities. Many, many churches see themselves FIRST as a denominational brand—driven by the theological and cultural commitments that accompany the kind of Christian faith they practice. Many churches are also working hard to keep up with the BIG church down the street, and scramble to do and “offer” all the right things so that they will be attractive. Unfortunately, much of our discipling and formation ministries fall into this mindset.
If, as we’ve already learned, thriving follows an increased capacity to be present to God and to one another (Vibrant Faith’s focus for thriving congregations) shouldn’t that discernment help us to listen for our unique gifts and callings as a community of faith? That exploration is unique to each church. It means each congregation reflects the experiences of a specific group of people that God has gathered together.
There are certainly administrative and functional patterns to life together as followers of Jesus that we can learn from one another. And while we can and should share theological emphases and styles of worship with one another, we’re called to each express a different facet of “the treasure in the field.”
A small book by Kavin Rowe and Greg Jones of Duke Divinity School has been our guidebook for this project—Thriving Communities: The Pattern of Church Life Then and Now. One of the patterns of church life that Rowe and Jones assert from the Book of Acts is a focus on the thriving that springs from connection with other churches. These early church communities regularly prayed for one another. Paul’s epistles were designed to help them learn what it meant to practice “the way” from one another. But connection didn’t mean modeling themselves after someone else. The needs of the church in Corinth were very different from the practices shared with the Christians in Ephesus. Our cohort work with our churches has helped them engage deeply and prayerfully with three or four other churches over the last two years. And yet, we began to wonder….
Our Vibrant Faith Thriving Congregations coaches wanted to give these churches a boost of attention toward their own individual practices and contexts. We want to wonder with them as they become aware of God’s presence and movement among them, helping them see new callings and new ways of following Jesus together in their communities.
- We wonder if the uniqueness of each community of faith that we are working with will seed additional thriving for them.
- We wonder if thriving doesn’t also reflect the nature of our creator God.
- We wonder if claiming their uniqueness won’t also help these congregations to continue to thrive.
Dr. Nancy Going serves as the Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. Nancy lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Art, an Anglican priest, and they have launched two new families from their children.