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Vital Congregations Revitalization Initiative gets underway

New two-year pilot program from Presbyterian Mission Agency begins in five presbyteries

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

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)

LOUISVILLE — As Kathryn Threadgill introduced the Vital Congregations Revitalization initiative to Newark and Trinity presbyteries this month, 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.

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

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

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. Pastors being honest, 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 happens to be one of the seven marks of vital congregations, which are a key part of the revitalization. The other marks are:

  • lifelong discipleship
  • intentional evangelism
  • outward incarnational focused (on God coming to be with us in Jesus Christ)
  • empower servant leadership
  • spirit inspired worship
  • ecclesial health

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)

As congregations in the pilot presbyteries work through the two-year revitalization initiative, they will spend their first year together working on authentic relationships — and on honestly assessing and discerning 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 between one of these three actions:

  • 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 by grace and gratitude in the death and legacy of a congregation, in witness to the resurrection

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 pilot 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 for printed copies, please 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.

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