What does a congregation mean when they describe themselves as spiritually vital? Leaders from 10 faith traditions that participated in the 2015 Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey were invited to go deeper. Faith traditions included Bahá'í, Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jewish synagogues, Latter-Day Saints, Orthodox Christian, Presbyterian Church USA, Quaker, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church. Leaders answered questions about what it means to be vital and what contributes to or distracts from vitality. They were also asked to describe the differences between vitality and sustainability.
Despite substantial differences in theology, leadership, size and congregational practices, their responses were surprisingly similar. Spiritually vital congregations were described as coming together for a divine common purpose in ways that are transformative to the people within them and to their communities.
While this broad definition held true across traditions, each tradition brought its own perspectives and emphasis to bear. Some focused on developing spirituality while others focused on building strong, caring communities. Others focused on how congregations engage the world in acts of mercy, justice and evangelism. Despite different theology, methods and emphasis, all traditions described going deeper in these areas as a way of increasing vitality. Likewise, they described how shallow engagement in these areas resulted in low vitality.
Several respondents described times when their congregation’s vitality was low and how particular shifts in focus and practices helped them become strong again. This study shows that there are a number of ways leaders can help congregations move into the future by helping their congregations focus on God’s current call to more deeply engage with God, their neighbor, and one another so that they are transformed for the sake of today’s world. It is also impo
rtant to stress tha
t the substance of what it means to be vital varies across faith traditions, thus there will be different approaches for different denominations.
Please stay tuned for the full report soon. In the meantime, check out the following resources on congregational vitality: