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Vital Congregations Revitalization Initiative gets underway

Two-year pilot program of Presbyterian Mission Agency begins in five presbyteries

April 2, 2018

When Kathryn Threadgill introduced the Vital Congregations Revitalization Initiative to Newark and Trinity presbyteries earlier this year, she felt both fear and exhilaration.

Hearing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders say things like “We cannot fail at this initiative” or “This initiative might be a small part of the next Great Awakening we feel like we’re in” will do that to a person, she says.

Pastors from 14 churches in Trinity Presbytery have started their Vital Congregations Revitalization Initiative work. Here they are ‘dwelling in God’s Word together’ in Isaiah discussing ‘the new thing Christ is doing in our midst.’ (Photo provided)

For 10 months, Threadgill worked with Theology, Formation and Evangelism acting director Ray Jones on a Vital Congregations revitalization manual. Finally, she can see her work on the project begin to take life.

“There were days I was terrified that nothing I did would help our congregations,” she said.

But when Threadgill, associate for vital congregations in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, introduced the new initiative at Newark and Trinity presbyteries, she heard and saw something else. She witnessed pastors talking about hopes that this initiative would help churches in their presbytery become more trusting of one another.

“They want to move from mistrust to caring relationships,” says Threadgill, “so that when people hear about the presbytery’s churches, they will think of something other than turmoil and a struggling past.”

Caring relationships are one of the seven marks of vital congregations and are a key part of revitalization, she says. The other marks are:

  • lifelong discipleship;
  • intentional evangelism;
  • an outward incarnational focus (on God coming to be with us in Jesus Christ);
  • servant leadership;
  • Spirit-inspired worship; and
  • ecclesial health.

As congregations in the pilot presbyteries work through the two-year revitalization initiative, they will spend their first year together working on relationships and on honestly assessing where they are as a congregation in relation to the seven marks of vital congregations.

In the second year, congregations will determine a course of direction, choosing one of these three options:

  • re-forming churches — re-envision and change how we are church together through the seven marks of congregational vitality;
  • missional clustering churches — revitalize by clustering congregations into new communities of worship and ministry;
  • death and resurrection churches — revitalize through grace and gratitude in the death and legacy of a congregation, in witness to the resurrection.

General Presbyter Danny Murphy offers the sign of baptism to pastor Chris Denny during start of Vital Congregations revitalization initiative work in Trinity Presbytery. (Photo provided)

Thirteen churches signed up for the revitalization initiative in Newark Presbytery. An additional 12 pastors signed up to join pastors of those 13 churches in cohort work, in hopes of eventually bringing their congregations into the revitalization process. Another 14 churches have signed up for the initiative in Trinity Presbytery.

Threadgill says one of the pastors at a rural church told her this revitalization initiative would help them do their job of “bringing water from the well to their churches, for people to take and drink from.” As they get enough to “drink,” she says, excitement, trust and being part of the work of leading a church from anxiety and fear to a journey of hope will follow.

“I’ve seen pastors across the country who are passionate and engaged with what the Spirit is doing in leading them in vitality and revitalization,” Threadgill says. “Together we have to learn how to trust this incredible work.”

In the coming months, the presbyteries of San Jose, Grand Canyon and de Cristo will launch the revitalization initiative. In the five presbyteries launching the revitalization initiative this year about 40 congregations will be involved.

Threadgill and Jones also worked on a Vital Congregations Toolkit for presbyteries and pastors wanting to begin the conversation and engage in the seven marks of vitality. It is available online or in print. For printed copies, contact Vital Congregations administrative assistant Denise Founder.

The office of Vital Congregations is housed in Theology, Formation and Evangelism ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

 Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Vital Congregations Revitalization Initiative

Let us join in prayer for:

Newark Presbytery Staff

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Smith, transitional director of Presbytery ministries
Ruling elder Warren McNeill, stated clerk

 Trinity Presbytery Staff

Danny C. Murphy, general presbyter
David A. Torrey, stated clerk
Lisa Mallory, administrative assistant to the general presbyter & stated clerk
Alleen Ernst, part-time bookkeeper

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Danny Hutchins, PMA
Todd Ingves, BOP

Let us pray:

Gracious Lord, we pray for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, to extend the kingdom of heaven on earth. We ask that your wisdom and power be graciously given to those who serve. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 97; 145
First Reading Exodus 12:14-27
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel Reading Mark 16:1-8
Evening Psalms 124; 115

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