Presbyterian Panel issues first report on measures of congregational vitality

Most members are challenged by the church to be more Christ-like

by Melody K. Smith | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE – Only 33 percent of members and 22 percent of ministers strongly agree that their church is spiritually vital and alive, according to a recently released research report by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But what does it mean for a congregation to be vital and alive?

Research Services of the PC(USA) tested a set of scales they have developed to measure how vital a congregation is according to seven indicators: discipleship, evangelism, outward focus, servant leadership, worship, relationships and health.

The Presbyterian Panel report provides a snapshot of how Presbyterians across the country feel about the vitality of their congregation in their latest panel survey.

Based on these measures of vitality, members give their congregation an overall score of 76 percent. “This would be a C+ if it were a report card,” said Susan Barnett, coordinator for Research Services. “Members tended to rate their congregation most highly in discipleship and outward focus and lowest in evangelism.”

Most members (97 percent) say that their church challenges them to at least a small extent to be more Christ-like. And most (87 percent) frequently engage in some form of spiritual practice. “Of course, what people define as a spiritual practice can vary,” reminds Angie Andriot, sociologist and research associate for Research Services. “For example, one panelist said, ‘I must really be Presbyterian — I consider being on committees a spiritual practice.’”

The results do show there is room for improvement in how Presbyterians grow as disciples. Only 35 percent of members state that they frequently read the Bible privately outside of worship. Only 64 percent say they frequently pray or meditate outside of a church. Not surprisingly, only 19 percent of ministers say their church does a good job prioritizing faith formation and discipleship.

“Presbyterians are moving beyond the walls of the church, and they are broadly defining mission work,” Andriot shared. “As much as 62 percent of members say they have attended mission activities through their church within the past year, and 49 percent say they frequently engage in [mission] work to improve their community.”

What Presbyterians are not doing beyond the walls of the church is evangelizing. Only 20 percent say that their church has encouraged and equipped them to a great extent to engage in evangelism. And only 20 percent say they frequently seek opportunities to share their faith in everyday life.

One way the new scales measuring the seven marks of congregational vitality are being used is as part of a revitalization initiative, developed by the office of Vital Congregations in Presbyterian Mission.

“This initiative is a way for us at the national level to walk with congregations deeper into following Jesus Christ,” says ministry associate Kathryn Threadgill. “Through intentional spiritual practices and relational connections, this two-year process will help us discern and live into transformative actions that increase our vitality together as God’s people.”

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The Presbyterian Panel is made of up of representative samples of ministers of the Word and Sacrament and members of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations who respond to quarterly surveys on topics that are important to the denomination. For a copy of the latest report on congregational vitality, click here.


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