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Changes in store for third wave of Vital Congregations Initiative

Program continues to adapt to help churches face pandemic realities

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Carlton Johnson is associate for Vital Congregations. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Applications from interested presbyteries are now being accepted for the third wave of the Vital Congregations Initiative. And for the first time since the initiative began with a pilot program in 2017, individual churches may also apply — if they have the blessing of their presbytery.

The Rev. Carlton Johnson, associate of Vital Congregations in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, is excited about this change. Since joining the Theology, Formation & Evangelism staff in 2019, he said that a large number of individual churches have inquired about participating in the initiative, which is based on the Seven Marks of a Vital Congregation (see section 2).

“Most of our applicants will still be from presbyteries who are ready to walk through the initiative with their congregations,” Johnson said. “But there are cases where churches were ready to go through the three-year process, and their presbytery had agreed to it. But until now our structure just didn’t provide for it to happen.”

So far 29 presbyteries, including three pilot presbyteries, have completed or are going through the VC initiative, which uses internal spiritual practices and relational connections to take participants deeper into following Jesus Christ, making disciples and being vital communities of faith. And while these presbyteries and their churches have been impacted as they navigate challenges from COVID-19, Johnson says changes to how Vital Congregations approaches the third wave are being made.

“What we originally imagined for the initiative was for the time before the multiple pandemics [COVID-19, racism and poverty],” he said. “Our reality has changed, so we’re looking at this with new eyes to further help churches navigate these new realities.”

With these shifts taking place, Johnson said Vital Congregations will intentionally work with presbyteries on outcomes that are task-based, rather than time-based. Because of that shift, presbyteries that participated in the first and second waves are being given the choice to go through their first year in the initiative again at no cost to help them adjust to the pandemic realities. For example, those moving from a year of preparation to year one, or those going from year one to year two, can either stay where they are in the process or move on.

Up to 15 presbyteries and 15 individual congregations will be accepted in this next wave of the VC initiative. The individual congregations will make up what Johnson is calling a “digital presbytery.” The initial VC facilitator training will be held sometime this summer online, just like last year’s event.

Applications for the third wave are being accepted through March 5. If your presbytery or church is interested in applying for the third wave of the Vital Congregations initiative, click here to download a basic information packet.

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