Vitality vs Viability: A majority of church boards and councils are more concerned about the viability of the church than congregational vitality. Viability has to do with institutional existence and much of this is connected to finances. Maintaining the building, ensuring adequate revenue sources, a balanced budget are all valid concerns. Vitality on the other hand has to do with the spiritual maturity and growth of members: their personal and corporate growth as members of congregation X. Often, this is neglected perhaps because it is assumed for e.g., that members will grow spiritually if they attend church regularly. The other reason that viability takes precedence is because issues of viability are more easily understood, managed and planned for. If the roof needs fixing, a plan for raising funds could be implemented. Often churches amalgamate or merge as a strategic means of conserving finances. Of course, they experience a resurgence in numbers in the short term as congregations meld but don’t realize that often, it is a way of extending the same way of being, continuing to do the same things based on the same assumption, for a few more years. Vitality on the other hand is a much more amorphous proposition. Addressing this often requires an adaptive approach and a long-term commitment, one which many councils do not have knowledge, time nor energy for. The result is an extended version of the previous iteration of church that will continue until the next challenge to viability presents itself.
The DNA strands article found here https://medium.com/@ChrisPVST/the-dna-of-a-healthy-congregation-four-essentials-for-growing-healthy-communities-of-faith-3c245c12617b is a way of helping congregations understand the principles of a vital church and implement some practices and processes that will provide them with a pathway to growth and vitality.
A few notes on change…
“Change often happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” ― Tony Robbins
This is a normal human trait. Consequently, motivating people to change requires careful strategies as they frequently balance two anxieties: Survival anxiety and Learning anxiety. Survival anxiety must be higher than learning anxiety in order for people to want to change. The strategy for change however is to lower their learning anxiety so that they will take the risk of going to a new place (since that would be perceived as less painful) rather than remaining where they are. Congregations that are worried about their future viability should be gently persuaded that there is a less painful alternative – i.e. growth into health and vitality, that may take time but in the end will yield much fruit. This is what these resources are for. Articles that explore and deconstruct the assumptions on which we have built our culture of church is found (read Back to the Future i, ii and iii) here: https://medium.com/@ChrisPVST/back-to-the-future-the-church-of-the-future-will-need-to-look-like-the-church-of-the-past-519ffcc3b955 https://medium.com/@ChrisPVST/back-to-the-future-ii-5b79583890f6 and https://medium.com/@ChrisPVST/back-to-the-future-iii-a9e6b65913b9
If you want to know how to communicate a vision to your council/board/congregation, you may get some ideas here: –
You know your board the best. Communicating a Corporate Vision to Your Team – https://hbr.org/2015/07/communicating-a-corporate-vision-to-your-team
Potential questions from the board and suggested responses.
1. Q – What is involved (in this new initiative)?
A –A commitment to growth which will involve some disruption and change. It will mean having to explore new ways of being and letting go of old and unproductive ways of doing church. It will require looking to the long term and being prepared for things to become worse before they can become better.
2. Q – How much will this cost?
A – Not much financially. There is some cost in terms of time and energy but read the response to Q4. Cost is always relative to benefit.
3. Q – What needs to change?
A – That will depend on how much we want to grow. Growth always implies change and change can be uncomfortable. Some of this means letting go of unproductive and/or traditional practices that have made us comfortable and perhaps unhealthy. Most of all, our attitudes will need to change.
4. Q – What are the benefits?
A – Living healthy is a huge benefit in and of itself. A spiritually healthy congregation (meaning its members) bring excitement, vitality to their communities; families, offices, schools, neighbourhoods and other spheres of influence. Members grow in their love for God and others and this love is contagious. There is a sense of hope in the community, a willingness to exercise risky love and practice radical hospitality. Combined with a purpose for existence that lies outside of their own needs, this community will rediscover what it means to be the church in a world that desperately needs to hear the good news of the gospel.
5. Q – What do we measure?
A – We measure, not count. We measure faithfulness, consistency, generosity etc., and we stop counting attendance, money and other such factors.
6. Q – How long will this take?
A – As long as it requires but definitely, this is not a short-term initiative. To instill a new culture, consider a minimum of three years. As the congregation engages in new practices (The DNA of a healthy congregation: four essentials for growing healthy communities of faith | by Chris | Medium), you will find that church begins to look and feel different.
7. Q – Who will help us and what about resources?
A – The Congregational Vitality Initiative of the Vancouver School of Theology has produced many resources for just this purpose – i.e. to help congregations grow towards health and vitality. You may find these resources here: Congregational Vitality Initiative – Vancouver School of Theology (vst.edu). Coaches are available to support and guide the process.