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For The CRG Created For The CRG
Key Practices of Thriving Congregations

How would you describe a thriving congregation? Perhaps a thriving congregation has young people attending worship. Another thriving congregation might manage conflict well.


At the Center for Congregations in Indiana, we interact with all kinds of flourishing congregations. Here’s what we’re learning from faith communities that thrive.


 


Healthy Strategies



  • Focus on congregational assets rather than problems. Reframe observations as a positive question “What is going well?”

  • Learn to do new things. This encourages intentional growth as a community. See the book How Your Congregation Learns.

  • Help your people to live life well. Connect teachings, worship, and faith convictions to the challenges and opportunities of everyday life.


As part of our work, we captured the stories of 12 innovative, thriving congregations around the United States. Below are some of their common practices.


 


Intentional Practices of Innovative Congregations



For more information, see the book Divergent Church.


On the surface, thriving may look like growing worship attendance or conflict management. By considering the strategies and practices listed above, your congregation can take new steps to thrive.


 


For further discussion

Brainstorm strategies or practices that happen within thriving congregations.


 


For The CRG Created For The CRG
The Practical Implementation of Appreciative Inquiry

In recent years, many congregations have asked about the use of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry is the process of identifying, considering and leveraging strengths. It is inclusive, engaging the entire congregation, in asking important questions such as, “what gives life to our congregation when it functions at its best?”

Implementing AI

Many pastors and congregational leaders have asked us about the practical implementation of this process. How is it used, where do you start and what is my role?

Here are some important things to consider:

The Center for Congregations, through the CRG, recommends many resources on Appreciative Inquiry and positive change to help you get started. As always, we stand ready to answer your questions.

For The CRG Created For The CRG
The Special Meaning of the Word “Practice”

Congregational life includes beliefs. Some congregations ask folks to believe certain things in order to be members. Your congregation may welcome questions about certain beliefs. Your congregation may host learning experiences that help you go deeper into theology. Yes, congregational life includes beliefs.

Congregations often invite us to deeper thinking, not just about beliefs but about life. The congregation in which I grew up had an open forum Sunday School class. This class helped people talk about so many important things in life: parenting, politics, marriage, vocation, education, health, medical ethics, science and much more.

Congregational life evokes emotions

If you are active in your congregation, you are going to feel joy. You are going to feel sadness. You may find yourself angry. Or you may be in worship overwhelmed with a feeling of gratefulness.

Many vibrant congregations pay attention to behavior. Not just good behavior at a team or committee meeting, but also the practices of prayer or generosity. Congregations can (and should) be a place which teaches us how to act on our faith commitments.

Practice

There is a framework that takes into account beliefs, thinking about life, emotions and behavior. This framework is called practice. A practice is an expansive, almost universal action with a long history that includes standards of excellence and is commonly followed in community.

Washing one’s hands isn’t a practice. It is almost universal, but it just isn’t expansive enough. It is an activity, not a practice. Love is universal. But I’d argue it is more of an emotion than a practice. Hospitality is a practice. Generosity is a practice. Decision-making is a practice.

What makes a practice a religious practice?

It is the degree to which one brings to bear one’s religious understandings to shape the practice.

Two people who have much to offer regarding the framework of practice are Dorothy Bass and Craig Dykstra. As we moved into a new century, they really helped those of us who care about congregations recover a sense of Christian practice.

If you are interested in learning more about how your congregation can benefit from this framework of practice, explore the resources listed below. Remember, one of the best things about a practice framework is the integration of beliefs about God, thinking about life, emotions and behavior. It is all there. It is more than a belief or a feeling. It is more than a thought or a behavior. It might just be a way of life.

Growing in the Life of Faith

Practicing Our Faith

Living into Community

Practicing Witness

Imagining the Kingdom

web resource
Spirituality and Practice
This web resource, Spirituality and Practice, was created to celebrate and support the axis of all world religions and spiritual paths - the intersection of spirituality and practice.
book Updated
Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices
This concise book offers a history and definition of missional theology, focusing on practice and context.
web resource
Journal of Missional Practice
This web resource offers a collection of articles that explore a featured missional topic or theme from six perspectives (Practices, Culture, Place, Theology, Review and Story) and includes contributors from a vast network of veteran practitioners, teachers, researchers, and innovators with experienced missiologists who provide a seasoned perspective on the evolving missional landscape.
article
The Eight Practices of a Missional Church
This article offers eight practices of a missional church while inviting readers to consider their own ministry and obstacles to growth.
book
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
Written by the United Methodist Bishop of Missouri, this book outlines five congregational practices of an effective congregation, detailing the importance of each and providing evaluation tools to measure your own congregation's vitality.
article
Best Practices for Technology Usage
Written by legal and financial experts and Christianity Today, this article offers a solid primer on best policies and procedures for U.S. congregations, ranging from issues like privacy to security.
book
The Way of Discernment, Participant's Guide (Companions in Christ)
This study guide engages small groups in a 10-week consideration of discernment, helping congregational groups determine where the spirit of Christ might lead them.
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