Nearly 70 people take part in a webinar that thrived on active participation
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — At the outset of Tuesday’s webinar on vital congregations, organizers the Rev. Veronica Cannon, the Rev. Tony Oltmann and Marla Edwards had the nearly 70 participants play a game: name an outdated mode of technology beginning with “V,” “C,” “I” or “M” that your faith community might still be using.
Responses included “VCR,” “camcorder,” “modem,” “maps,” “manual typewriter,” “mimeograph” and “mail.”
“We’ve adapted to changing technology fairly well,” said Oltmann, associate for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Vital Congregations Initiative. “It took a pandemic to push us into the 21st century.” Now that Covid has wound down and in-person worship and other church activity have returned, “we have the urge to go back to where we were and do things the way we used to do them, even though the world has changed.”
Outlining the three foci of the Matthew 25 movement — building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty — Oltmann said that as faith communities become more vital, they take on the other two, and vice-versa. Participants named ideas they have for living out the Matthew 25 vision, including supporting voting rights, joining interfaith services and projects, and marching in the local Pride parade.
Cannon named and described the 7 Marks of Congregational Vitality. They are Lifelong Discipleship Formation, Intentional Authentic Evangelism, Outward Incarnational Focus, Empowering Servant Leadership, Spirit-Inspired Worship, Caring Relationships and Ecclesial Health. Learn more here.
One of VCI’s responsibilities is to help congregations with how they define vitality, Oltmann said. Numbers and budgets are less important than what can be accomplished by embracing the 7 Marks. “Each congregation gets the same Marks to create a vital community,” Oltmann said. “You can use all the Marks, but you are the experts, and you get to define how they’re used.”
Which of the Marks, Oltmann asked participants, is the most exciting or intimidating or intriguing?
One said it’s lifelong discipleship formation, “because that’s what everything else comes out of. It’s not just ‘me and Jesus.’ It’s got to be ‘we and everyone else.’”
“We have allowed evangelism to be hijacked, but our call is to be disciples,” said another. “There is a way to reach people, and it’s not just asking people if they know Jesus and they’re saved.”
VCI views both the three foci of the Matthew 25 movement and the Vital Congregations Initiative “like a scaffolding,” Oltmann said. “You can erect it to examine different areas of ministry so you don’t have to tear it all down and start over. We will give you tools to examine that and start something new.”
Oltmann used this Winston Churchill quote to describe the vital congregations work that lies ahead: “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
“We keep moving forward,” Oltmann said, “hoping we’ll get better each and every day.”
Cannon said future webinars are being developed featuring faith communities that have gone through the Vital Congregations Initiative process to explore how it fits with the Matthew 25 movement.
Resources used during Tuesday’s webinar are available here.
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