Today in the Mission Yearbook

What does a vital congregation look like?


Presbyterian Mission Agency Board considers key characteristics of living out Matthew 25

May 4, 2020

The Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill talks to the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board about the Seven Marks of Vital Congregations while the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III listens. (Photo by Rich Copley)

The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III turned to history and the cinema to open a conversation about congregational vitality at the February meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

Jones was 9 years old, he said, when he first encountered the story of Harriet Tubman, who saved more than 70 people from slavery. But the scene he invoked was from the Oscar-nominated biopic “Harriet,” which came out last fall. Tubman is ready to flee her home and master for the first time, and she goes to her church, where her pastor counsels her.

“He speaks these words to her: ‘You remember, fear is the enemy,’” said Jones, director of the Theology, Formation & Evangelism (TFE) ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “My goodness, y’all. In the church, fear is the enemy. Fear about change is the enemy. Fear about confronting people is the enemy. Fear about doing God’s justice work is the enemy.

“And then he said, ‘Trust God.’

“That’s what congregational vitality is about. It’s dealing with our fear of a powerful Spirit and trusting God to be the people of God.”

Jones was leading into a discussion by the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill about the Seven Marks of Congregational Vitality, which is one of the three components of the Matthew 25 invitation, along with dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. The three components go hand-in-hand, both ministers said.

Threadgill, who is the Vital Congregations coordinator for TFE, talked about her work in a two-year pilot program with presbyteries around the country to grow vital congregations.

“We’re striving to be Matthew 25 churches and see how the Spirit of God is leading them into change and new vital life together,” Threadgill said. “We know that Christ is doing a new thing. So, our job is as the people of God is to receive that new thing together and be there to be a part of it.”

She went on to enumerate the seven marks, defining what a vital congregation is and isn’t.

    1. Lifelong discipleship formation complacent “Christian” piety, simply teaching good morals or offering the latest programs
    2. Intentional, authentic evangelism “Jesus freaks;” “Christian” hypocrisy; a committee
    3. Outward incarnational focus inward institutional survival; closed communities of assimilation/exclusion
    4. Empower servant leadership the pastor’s job; monopolized leadership; hiring the young, energetic pastor
    5. Spirit-inspired worship self-gratifying worship, stale ritual divorced of meaning, or consumer entertainment worship
    6. Caring relationships any other social club; facades, hypocrisy, and judgment of “church” and “religion”
    7. Ecclesial health vs. unhealthy dysfunction; toxic environments; obsolete and irrelevant buildings

    “We believe that if we show these marks — like Thomas needed to see the marks of Jesus and feel them in order to believe that was the risen Christ — we believe that if people can see and feel these marks within their congregations then they will come to know and believe their Lord and Savior is in Jesus Christ,” Threadgill said. “That’s what we’re after in congregational vitality.

    “Notice I didn’t say anything about our buildings, our budgets or butts in the seats. Congregational vitality is about spiritual faithfulness. It’s about following where Christ is leading the church in a 21st century, North American context, where Christ has planted these particular churches, given them life and vital life together, so that they can in fact be Matthew 25 churches, sharing and living out of vision together.”

    Rich Copley, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency

    Today’s Focus:  Vital Congregations

    Let us join in prayer for: 

    PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

    Omar Chan, Office of the General Assembly
    Perry Chang, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

    Let us pray:

    Gracious Lord, open our eyes and hearts to see your mission in the world and give us discernment and courage to participate in ways that bring glory to your name. Amen.