July 31, 2013

Guest post by Jeff Stiggins

There is lots of talk these days in United Methodist circles about increasing the number of vital congregations. Okay, what’s a “vital congregation?” If one ran through the room right now, how would you recognize it? In this blog series, I’d like to offer a definition of a “vital congregation.” The definition has at least four essential elements, beginning with: a vital congregation is a unique Christian community.


Just as there are no two fingerprints exactly alike, each congregation is one-of-a-kind. Each congregation is a unique constellation of individuals with a particular history and connection to one another. Every congregation has their own distinctive DNA. And just as the gifts, talents and passions of individual disciples are different, so too are the collective gifts, talents and passions of individual congregations.

This means two things:

Your congregation doesn’t have to feel inferior or second rate because they are not like some other congregation! 

Feel like your congregation is not big enough or rich enough or creative    enough or . . . well, fill in the blank: __________ enough? A lot of congregational leaders seem to feel they are in the shade of some other congregation – real or imagined. Does your congregation have an       inferiority complex? I think God would have you let go of it! Put it     down. Walk away.

God loves variety. Why else would there be so many types of flowers or     butterflies? Why would God have created so many colors or sounds or tastes? Every fingerprint, every snowflake, every person’s DNA, every    congregation — a one-of-a-kind creation. Why would any church leader ever want to give up their congregation’s uniqueness to be like another?

Which means: while you don’t have to be like any other congregation to be vital, Christ does expect your congregation to be making their one-of-a-kind contributions to the Kingdom.

Think of the talents and gifts and passions of the people in your      congregation. Think of their cumulative knowledge and wisdom and    networks of relationships.

Imagine all of these as the unique ways in which Jesus has prepared your congregation to join him in life-changing ministry to people in your community. As stewards of all these resources, God wants to know how you are going to spend them.

      • Will you dig a hole and bury them fearfully?
      • Will you squander them on yourselves selfishly?
      • Will you invest them sacrificially as a blessing to others?

The Spirit never nudges your congregation to be like any other congregation in the entire world. The Spirit does nudge your congregation (1) to discern how God has prepared you uniquely for ministry, and (2) to do with it what makes God smile.  Right now!

Vital congregations thankfully receive the unique gifts God has bestowed and pour out these gifts in being a blessing to others and to their community. And as they are making their one-of-a- kind servant contributions to the Kingdom . . . God is smiling.