Mark of a Healthy Congregation – Knows Itself and Moves Forward: Defines itself by its sense of values, mission (purpose) and vision with resulting plans for the congregation. The culture is one of expectation of constant movement and change, seeking God’s will for its future. This awareness is grounded in theological definition and understanding.
The work around values, purpose and vision need to be rooted in our understanding of God’s mission, and our call to live into the promises of Baptism. Framing the conversation around how Jesus gathered community, formed disciples, and how those disciples lived into God’s mission as the Body of Christ can begin grounding a theological definition and understanding. Asking questions about how we live as a generous, loving, service-oriented community who follow Jesus today expands the theological imagination for faithful engagement of the Jesus movement into the future.
“The most important single element of any corporate, congregational, or denominational culture is the value system.” – Lyle E. Shaller, parish consultant, author, workshop leader, and speaker whom Christianity Today called “the dean of church consultants”.
The values (or core values) of a congregation say clearly to the world “this is who we are, what we believe, what we are about, and what we do as followers of Jesus.” Every congregation is unique. Even withing the Episcopal Church with a common history, tradition, and the Book of Common Prayer, their are differences from one Episcopal congregation to another.
Congregations have distinct personalities, just like people, because a congregation is a collection of people in a particular place. Congregations are influenced by the demographics of members, location, parish size, where they are in the life cycle of congregations, and how they operate within a family system. The relationships of members and their experiences together affect the way they relate to their clergy, community, and wider Church.
We need to get at what a congregation values most highly. These core values should correlate to the congregations purpose and vision. The challenge in aligning values, purpose and vision, something essential to congregational vitality, is for members to let go of “self”. Personal agendas need to be set aside so that a unified set of values, purpose, and vision can emerge from the gathered community which reflects missional followers of Jesus.
What a congregation’s core values actually are may be quite different from what they think they are (or desire them to be). Core values are determined by what congregations actually do based on the preferences and choices made by the congregation. “Core values are a matter of consistent choices that shape the daily, monthly, and yearly behavior of the people in the congregation—both individually and collectively.” (Source: “More on Core Values” by Robert L. (Reb) Scarborough, Scarborough Consulting)
Take a look at where the energy is in a congregation, how money is allocated in the budget, and what the members of the congregation spend their time doing. A picture of the actual core values becomes rather clear to an outside observer. But is this how the congregation understands themselves? For congregational vitality to exist, a congregation must clearly understand their actual core values and align them with their purpose and vision — all in concert with living into God’s mission for their context. Congregational consultant Robert (Reb) Scarborough explains it this way:
“First, the congregation must move beyond their understanding of how Jesus wants them to be, to discover how they actually are. Second, the
congregation must move beyond how they imagine that they behave, to discover the truth about how they truly behave. And third, the congregation must move beyond how they market themselves to the public, to discover how the public truly perceives them to be.” (“More on Core Values”, Reb Scarborough, Scarborough Consulting)
Any process of discernment or discovery begins with where we are at present in our relationship with God, each other, and the world. Cultivating and supporting congregational vitality begins with assessing where a congregation is at present. Their sense of core values are important in determining where a congregation is and how they may need to change to get where God is calling them next.
Purpose & Vision
I will be doing more work in this area. For now, here are excellent resources from Robert (Reb) Scarborough at Scarborough Consulting.
A survey of the congregation is a helpful tool to gain perspective on where the congregation sees itself in relation to the various aspects of church life which influence congregational vitality. The congregation needs to be committed to a prayerful and honest evaluation of where they are and invested in discerning next steps based on the results. They should embrace honoring where they are and be open to where God is calling them as a missional community of disciples. The internal survey is the basis for how the congregation understands itself. This is a basis to help measure the current vitality of the congregation.
Some excellent examples of congregational surveys are: Twelve Marks of Healthy Church Behavior Assessment Sheet (Episcopal Diocese of Texas), Congregational Vitality Survey (Congregational Vitality Project, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), and Congregational Assessment Tool – CAT (Holy Cow! Consulting).
It can also be helpful to develop a community survey to gain perspective on how the community outside the church doors views the congregation. Valuable insights can be gained about the congregation’s standing in the community. It can both affirm areas of mission and ministry for the congregation and reveal possible discrepancies between how the congregation sees themselves and how the community views them.
Values Driven Leadership: Discovering and Developing Your Core Values for Ministry. Aubrey Malphurs.
Moving Off the Map: A Field Guide to Changing the Congregation. Thomas G. Bandy
“Core Values”, Robert L. (Reb) Scarborough, Scarborough Consulting
“More on Core Values” by Robert L. (Reb) Scarborough, Scarborough Consulting
“Mission Statements” by Robert L. (Reb) Scarborough, Scarborough Consulting
“Vision” by Robert L. (Reb) Scarborough, Scarborough Consulting
Twelve Marks of Healthy Church Behavior Assessment Sheet (Episcopal Diocese of Texas)
Congregational Vitality Survey (Congregational Vitality Project, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
Congregational Assessment Tool – CAT (Holy Cow! Consulting).