For several years now I have referred to church vitality as an attitude, which dictionary.com defines as an orientation, especially of the mind. Lately though, it has occurred to me that vitality, especially as we apply this word to local church mission and ministry, is energy (defined as ‘available power’). While attitudes, both positive and negative, affect the work of the local church, I am leaning toward thinking about vitality as energy, which is also both positive and negative.
As I work around the Catawba Valley District’s churches I am struck by the spectrum of available power within our local churches. I still think that the best form of energy that any local church can use is that which is generated from a sense of God’s purpose for the congregation now – today not 30 years ago; coupled with clergy and lay leadership who work together to move that purpose forward. Discerning that purpose is prayerful work, and takes a sense of experimentation and playfulness to find the right answers. Several congregations with whom I’ve worked to define clarity around new purpose are doing the hard work of aligning their activities and behaviors to that purpose and they are experiencing a renewal of positive energy flow. The reality is that neighbors, visitors, guests, and newcomers are attracted to positive energy!
The worst form of energy in a local congregation comes from the members who hold the congregation hostage to their own personal power, preferences, or personality. I use the word “member” as opposed to “disciple” because in this instance they are NOT the same thing. These members can be lay or clergy persons. Sometimes there is a small group of these people that simply make life miserable for the rest of the congregation when they don’t get their own way. Sometimes these are very loud voices within a congregation and the rest of the church is fearful or too timid to stand in opposition. Either way, when a church is held captive by the members’ power, preferences, or personality the energy for mission and mission is minimal. This energy is realized in dwindling attendance and dollars and zero growth.
Between the best and worst is a spectrum of energy levels:
- There are churches who carry a low grade of depression, usually because they compare themselves to other congregations rather than looking for the strengths they have for God’s work in their community.
- There are congregations who carry an apathetic energy – “it was good enough for my mother, its good enough for me” – which I hear frequently.
- There are churches who want to do God’s work, and when they muster up the energy to try something new they are sabotaged by their own members who squash new ideas with a myriad of excuses.
- There are churches who find their energy in their own relationships. Sometimes, this becomes cliquish and inward focused.
Unfortunately, most of the neighborhood’s people know about the energy level in the neighborhood church and they are not interested.
So what is Christ’s body to do? I think it is time for congregations to have open and honest conversations to realize from where their energy comes? Does it come from fully devoted followers of Jesus who want to be Jesus’ hands and feet in their community as they practice the Great Commission? What should we do if we discover that is not the case? Your district’s Church Vitality Strategist could help answer that question with you.
We live in a highly anxious world. Our neighbors want the positive energy that we could have if we aligned our work to being the Church by loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves!