Church Vitality = Dynamic

As I’ve been reflecting on the Call to Action report, especially in light of John Meunier’s very good questions about the disconnect between the methodology from the recommendations, and Neil Alexander’s suggestions that nothing in the report is to be seen as a “one size fits all” means of engendering vitality in the church, I continue to be drawn to the phrase I mentioned in an earlier post which should have in fact been the center of the entire report . . . the description of church vitality as “…the dynamic, forward leaning, state of engagement that connects people to God, each other, and the world in profound ways.” That statement has begun to guide my own sense of task in leading the 100 year old, traditional congregation that has experienced decline that I have been appointed to serve. It seems to be that deconstructing this description can in fact offer great insight into the true drivers of vitality that go far beyond what the research data can offer.

Church vitality, the writers tell us, is first (and maybe foremost) dynamic. “Dynamic” is a word we toss around quite a bit, but without often thinking through it’s meaning. At the very root, going back to the earliest Greek usage, the word dynamic has been used to talk about power and energy. It represents a force that moves things and people forward, energizing them for ministry and empowering them to walk in the way of Jesus. The early inventors of our electrical distribution system named their generators “dynamos” understanding that these were the sources of power for the entire system. And in a church, dynamism is the power which infuses every program, every worship service, every interaction with meaning, and purpose. In vital/dynamic churches, the normal practices of ministry are not seen a obligations or duties, but rather opportunities to be energized by one another’s experiences of God and passion for seeing God’s work carried out in the world.

Dynamic has another connotation as well. To talk about a system as dynamic is to know that it is flexible and open to change. Dynamic organizations or things are not static, but always on the move, adapting to the circumstances around them rather than holding on too tight to the “normal” state of being.

As I have said before, my experience of vital churches is that they are filled with an indefinable energy that is infectious to all involved. These congregations are filled with a power that drives participants to move beyond their own self interest toward fulfilling a common mission and purpose. This energy would be worth millions if it could be bottled and sold at the local Cokesbury store, but the fact is that it is unique to each specific community, based in their common story, their common understanding of Christ, and an absolute belief that God is indeed at work in their midst in that place.

As I’ve been writing this, I have gotten my fingers crossed and written that the church should be dymanic. Unfortunately, this may not be as crazy as we might think, because I think some pastors (myself included) think that we can create dynamic energy in a congregation through being loud, outgoing, and generally manic. Certainly the congregation is formed by the energy of the pastor, and our lack of vital churches may indeed be connected to leaders who are far from energized by the work of ministry. But artificially attempting to create energy simply by being manic rarely works. It only leads to exhaustion, and a sense that we aren’t being completely honest with ourselves. True dynamic energy arises naturally as God works in our midst and as we begin to catch a vision for something more.

What do you think? How would you define the energy of the vital congregations you have experienced in your life? Are there steps that can be taken to engender energy and passion in a congregation that has spent more time being listless and apathetic than dynamic? What insights do you have on the connection between dynamism and vitality?

6 thoughts on “Church Vitality = Dynamic

  1. Your point about power sources makes me think of grounding in the Holy Spirit. What can we do to get better connected to that power source?

    Being non-anxious is one necessary step. I think lots of people get defeated or scared about the future, which cuts them off from the Spirit. For a small church worried about dying, the first crucial step might be just to say – again and again – “Look, this is in God’s hands. We are going to be the best little church we can be, and if God wants us to keep growing, we will. If God does not, then let’s just do all we can to be God’s people until that day comes.”

    That alone is not enough, but it might be a necessary preliminary. Of course, it is hard to maintain that message in an environment of panic, which may be the most difficult aspect of the Call to Action report for me.

  2. The energy of truly vital congregations is the presence and power of God at work in the world and incarnate in Jesus Christ. This power is commonly known by the term “grace.” Vital congregations organize themselves to intentionally cooperate with the dynamic of grace that is prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying. They expect members to grow and mature holiness of heart and life (faith, hope, and love) and send them into the world to work with Christ and his mission of preparing this world for the coming reign of God.

    When visitors step onto the property or enter the building of such vital congregations they experience a bit of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. They will recognize the one in whose name the building and people serve.

    1. Steve, well put and absolutely true. However why is it that a tradition that talks a lot about grace filled with congregations that seem unable to internalize that power in both personal and corporate life? And how do congregations move from understanding grace as a concept to experiencing grace as a transformative power?

      1. The answer to your question is both simple and difficult. It means a radical shift in the culture of the congregation from a church-centered model that focuses on institutional life (or survival) toward a Christ-centered model that focuses on participating in the missio Dei in the world. One beginning step is to take seriously the commendation at the end of the Baptismal Covenant to “do all in your power increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.” This means intentional teaching and practice of the means of grace (works of piety and works of mercy), a system of small groups for mutual accountability and support for discipleship. Adopt the General Rules or the General Rule of Discipleship as the congregational rule of life. When the church council makes decisions about program and ministry ask the question, “Is what we are about to do worthy of the death of God’s Son?”

        This will be hard work. But we need to remember we don’t do it alone. Christ will give the people and the grace needed when we are aligned with his mission for the world.

  3. John Bevere, evangelist and author, is preaching a message that I believe all God’s people need to hear/are longing to hear. A message that will bring vitality back to our lives and His Church. Last year John wrote Extraordinary – The Life You’re Meant to Live, and he’s teaching that grace is powerful – that it’s God’s power to do all that He’s called us to do and be. He has the scriptures to back up the message. John’s traveling and presenting the message, and I’m including links to the message he spoke at Calvary Church in Irving, Tx in October/November (I was there). Please trust me and watch the links. I’m a United Methodist who desires to see God’s people walking in His power and making a difference. I believe that God wants to see this, too. I believe John’s on to something here. Blessings!! (Part 1, Sunday) (Part 2, Wednesday)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.