Our denomination is launching a Vital Congregation initiative that is asking its churches to set specific goals in five key areas. Before setting the goals, perhaps it would be helpful to consider just what a Vital Congregation is. How would you define it? The following is an article that Rev. Jeff Stiggens, Director of Congregational Excellence for the Florida Conference, recently posted on his blog site. He kindly gave me permission to share it with you. Feel free to respond with your insights.
— Ed Fenstermacher
A missionally vital congregation is a fruitful congregation. Jesus in John 15 makes it clear that fruitfulness is expected. Unfruitful branches are cut off. Fruitful branches are pruned so that they will bear more fruit. Obviously, fruitfulness is important to Jesus. So, what does it mean to be a fruitful congregation?
We have been working through a definition for “missionally vital congregation.” In this post, we add the last of the four essential elements to the definition.
Lovett Weems and Tom Berlin recently published a book entitled: Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results. They discuss three types of fruit that God desires from his people throughout the Biblical narrative.
(1) An expansion of God’s Kingdom. God said to Abraham and Sarah that they would become the parents of a nation as plentiful as the stars in the sky. Similarly, Jesus said that we should, “Go and make disciples in every people group.” In Acts, as proof of the work of the Holy Spirit, Luke records how many people were added to the early church at Pentecost and that the Lord was adding to their number daily. God desires that the number of people who are God’s people should keep expanding until, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth . . . and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2:11) A missionally vital congregation is reaching “more, younger and more diverse” people in our context.
(2) Growth in godly character. God’s people are not in name only; we are called increasingly to reflect God’s nature and ways. The fruit of a life lived in walking obediently with the Lord is, among other things, that we bear in our lives the fruit of godliness (Psalm 1). Disciples are expected to become more like Jesus over the years: more forgiving, less willful, more compassionate, less grasping, more servant hearted. We should evidence the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal. 5:21-23) A missionally vital congregation is one in which people are maturing spiritually.
(3) Growth in mercy and justice. The litmus test for faithfulness in the Old Testament is often how God’s people treated the fatherless, foreigners and widows in their community. Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. The distinguishing characteristic of the sheep was that they cared for Jesus by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming in the stranger. A missionally vital congregation is one that extends through their ministries God’s mercy and justice to those in need in their community and in the world.
All three of these aspects of fruitfulness are implied when Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” This fruitfulness is a reflection of the fulfillment of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is a foretaste of the vision of the completion of God’s re-creative mission in history to bring about a “new heaven and new earth.” (Rev. 21). Vital, fruitful congregations make their contribution to God’s grand mission in history by joining with Jesus in ministry that bears fruit.
As you think about your congregation, how do the stories of personal and community transformation as a result of your ministry reflect fruitfulness? How does your congregation’s Missional Vital Signs reflect your contribution to Jesus’ continuing Kingdom work?