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Sep7ThuSeven signs of a flourishing congregation. September 7, 2017 by Major Doug Binner
Thriving? Vibrant? Energized? How would you describe your corps as you ramp up for rally day and the new year ahead? Researchers at Ambrose University in Calgary recently set out to understand the Canadian church landscape, identifying seven features of a flourishing congregation—recognizing that flourishing does not necessarily mean large. As we launch another year of corps life, here are the characteristics of a healthy, thriving church, and some challenging questions to help you move in this direction.
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1. Active spiritual life. Opportunities for prayer, Scripture reading, small groups and volunteering should be available for everyone. Is it possible to have a discipleship opportunity available each day of the week and in each postal code of your community? No one should be excluded from spiritual growth because of timing or location.
2. Belonging. A vibrant sense of community and participation is vital to the health of any church. How are you intentionally creating a safe, welcoming and accepting atmosphere— even for those who may look, sound or act different than we are used to? We should be so relentlessly relational that no one is ever overlooked, either in their absence or in their presence.
3. Inspiring mission. Is the leadership team at your corps communicating the excitement of being part of God’s mission each week, or has your worship fallen into a rut? Be creative. Take risks.
If your corps disappeared tomorrow, would anyone in your neighbourhood notice?4. Quantitative growth. We like to count and measure in the Army, but are we seeing quantitative growth? Over the past decade, statistics indicate a decline in both attendance and soldiership, and that trend needs to be reversed. A friend once said, “Never go to church in an empty car.” Who could you invite to church, or offer to pick up? Even if half of us filled our cars this Sunday, our attendance could be doubled.
5. Leadership. Leaders should empower others to use their skills to lead and serve. Increasing the percentage of people who are engaged in ministry and decision-making is an important step in developing a healthy congregation. How are decisions made at your corps? Are there details that the officers and mission board are handling that could be delegated to others, allowing them to feel empowered and engaged?
6. Outreach and service. As we serve the needs of our corps and community, we must always heed the words of Commissioner Susan McMillan, territorial commander: “We have not finished our mission if we have not shared the gospel.” Evangelism events and training need to be part of every corps. We need to create an atmosphere of invitation, where it is natural for our members to share their “stories” and invite a friend or relative. What is the atmosphere of your corps?
7. Community presence. We are called to be a transforming influence in the communities of our world. Jesus invites us to be salt and light. Someone has asked, “If your corps disappeared tomorrow, would anyone in your neighbourhood notice?” I hope they would, because if they didn’t then we have failed our mission. What plans do you have for the coming year that will show your neighbours not only that you are present, but that you are making a positive impact in your community?
As you and your leaders plan the upcoming year, make sure that you are filling your corps calendar with events, programs and activities that will make your congregation flourish.
Major Doug Binner is the corps ministries secretary in the Canada and Bermuda Territory.