January 24, 2022

Church Vitality for the New Year

Church growth and vitality will continue to be an issue for congregations in the new year as it is today. Whether congregations are urban or rural, racially diverse or not, large or small we all need to find hope for the future church.

Many are especially concerned with recent reports that the U.S. church membership had fallen below majority for the first time. In 2020, 47% of U.S. adults belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque, down more than 20 points from the turn of the century.

Additionally, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church – Parochial Report Data 2019 reports that the Median Average Sunday Worship Attendance is now 51 congregants.

We need to focus on the vitality of ministry, not the numbers only. We need to redefine growth in the midst of the empirical decline. Oftentimes we are so obsessed with churches closing that we are not open to the ways that a church can transform and still be vital.

There are possibilities for church transformation, examples are:

  • Church enhances its traditional ministry and introduces elements to allow for a more vibrant and active ministry e.g., liturgy, stewardship
  • Church affiliates with other congregations
  • Congregations share the same building or share clergy
  • Church community is virtual online only
  • Church ministry continues in smaller spaces such as houses or community centers
  • Church’s main focus is an outreach ministry center
  • Churches may become part of mixed-use buildings (retail, housing, center for ministry)

No matter the form the church takes there are foundational elements that need to be mastered, including:

  • Strong spiritual foundation
  • Presence of permanent clergy leadership
  • Informed vestry, lay leadership and congregation
  • Strong fiscal management
  • Active outreach to the community
  • Engagement with youth and young adults
  • Education about diocesan and congregational processes

Most importantly, we need to be open to ecumenical ideas for church vitality and collectively invest in the human and capital resources needed for these endeavors. Also, a one size approach will not be useful, the cultural, geographic, and liturgical dimensions of the church are strengths to be harnessed. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV