Study points to what makes a vital church

Posted: April 15, 2013 by efenster in Ideas, Resources

The General agencies of The United Methodist Church recently conducted a study, entitled “Toward Vitality Research Project,” to determine what contributes to developing vital churches.  The study points to three key elements:  a pastor not afraid to lead, laity who will partner as a team with the pastor, and a God-led purpose or vision.

The study also indicated two specific types of attitude adjustments as change agents:

(1) moving from inward thinking and programming (it’s about our needs) to more outward thinking and programming (it’s about how God uses us in our community); and similarly, (2) the shift from making good “church members” (our pastor serves us) to making disciples of Jesus Christ (we work together in mission and ministry to serve others).

The study goes on to summarize six key findings:

Vision and Purpose offer a consistent focus for change experiences within congregations. Discerning a vision together through prayer and Bible study seems to be particularly powerful.

Clergy Leadership is an impetus for change, in that the desire for change often comes through the clergy leader, often at the beginning of a new appointment.

Lay Leadership is the hands and feet of change. Only when laity feel inspired, empowered, and connected to a sense of call will change really occur.

Overcoming Obstacles is the hard work of change. Employing a strategy to overcome obstacles is an important part of the work of clergy and lay leaders. Obstacles provide an opportunity for leaders to be proactive rather than reactive.

Spiritual Disciplines are the motivators for change. The discovery of God’s purposes through prayer and Bible study and other means of grace move congregations toward change.

Resources provide an opportunity to find help for change. There is no one right answer that will fit every congregation. Resources are as varied as congregations are varied, but some resources were reported consistently.

The Indiana Conference offers a local-church process, called the Fruitful Congregation Journey (FCJ), to help churches more effectively carry out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  This process reflects the discoveries from the above study and, thus, helps churches become more vital.

Enrollment is now going on for this fall’s FCJ Step 1.  Interested Indiana United Methodist churches can contact their Church Development staff person or District Superintendent for more information about participating in the next group of churches beginning the process.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development


  1. Debbie says:

    I’m copying this to keep until I get my first church appointment.

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