Sustainability and vitality: the congregational life cycle

During Saturday’s morning session, the assembly heard all about mold and maggots. Yes, you read that right. Mold and maggots.

The Rev. Danielle DeNise, NC Synod Director for Evangelical Mission (DEM), reminded the assembly of the story of the children of Israel in Exodus 16, where they received manna from God to sustain them in the wilderness.

Some, instead of consuming their daily bread, held on to it, not trusting in God’s provision. This lack of reliance on God resulted in maggots and mold, wasted manna in the hands of God’s people.

Pastor DeNise explained that “to be a vital congregation, we have got to be people of Jesus with open palms who actually believe that God gives daily bread.” We need to be able to let go of the things that we hold on to, in order to receive God’s gifts for us.

Pastor DeNise spoke about the life cycle that all congregations experience. From birth to growth, sustainability, decline, and sometimes even death, congregations are always in a cycle of abiding and fruitful life. At different points, congregations can experience redefinition, redevelopment, and rebirth as the Holy Spirit continues to make all things new in God’s church.

In the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA, there are 197 congregations. Of those congregations, 60 average 50 people or fewer in worship, with 40 more congregations averaging 100 or fewer.

We were reminded, as we were throughout the synod assembly focused on vital congregations, that vitality is not about numbers or money. Vitality is expressed through the people of God doing God’s good and holy work for the sake of the world.

As much as we don’t want to talk about decline, reflecting on where our congregations are in this cycle can help to respond to the needs of our ministry together.

Pastor DeNise closed by saying “God is calling us to be people of daily bread today. What are we going to do in our communities for the sake of the Gospel? …What’s your moldy manna? What is your church holding on to? From moldy manna to hands open, to hands lifted up. And our God will show up. And our God will feed us.”

Congregational Vitality Survey
Measuring the health of a congregation needs better metrics than worship attendance and budget. The Congregational Vitality Survey explores your congregation’s vitality through the lens of life-giving relationships with God, each other, and the world. The survey gives your congregation a snapshot of their current vitality and helps provide guidance for the next step. For more information about the the survey, contact the Rev. Danielle DeNise.

Story:  Deacon Katie Rivers is the Director of Discipleship and Faith Formation at St. Mark’s, Asheville.
Photo:  Ray Sipe–pastor, chaplain, and techno-geek.