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Topic 2. Culture and Vitality. Viewing Your Church as an Outsider.

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viewing your church as an outsider
Viewing Your Church as an Outsider

Imagine that in the last month people form your community participated in your church's worship services, sat in on church programs, met several core people, and learned a bit of the history of your church. The goal is to describe your church's invisible cultural "megaphone" as it is perceived by an observer.

  • What values are communicated most strongly when someone approaches your church from the outside?
  • What would an outsider, after sitting through several worship services, say your church values most?
  • What are outsiders'two of three leading perceptions of your church, after they have participated for a month in a variety of your church's programs and ministries.
  • How would an outsider describe the spirit (or attitudes) most prevalent at your church?

Read over your impressions, and sum them up. List a handful of values that the church seems to be broadcasting. How do they compare to what you want to be known for?

characteristics of parish vitality
Characteristics of Parish Vitality
  • Passionate Spirituality & Growing Spiritually
  • Meaningful & Inspiring Worship
  • Parishioner Involvement in the Parish
  • Small Groups & Faith Formation
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Caring for Children and Youth
  • Focusing on the Community / Outreach, Service, Advocacy
  • Sharing Faith & Evangelization
  • Welcoming New People
  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-based Ministry / Lay Leadership
  • Collaborative Leadership
  • Looking to the Future
  • A dictionary would define culture as the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguish one group of people from another.
  • Culture is transmitted from one generation to the next through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art.
church culture
Church Culture
  • Culture is to the church what a soul is to the human body.
  • It is an overall life force that the Holy Spirit uses to give energy, personality, and uniqueness to everything a body of believers says and does.
  • Church culture influences everything you do. It colors the way you choose and introduce programs. It shapes how you select and train leaders.
  • Your culture is the lens through which you view your life. If you change the lens, you chance your outlook. Change the culture, and everything else changes, including the future.

(Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out)

church culture1
Church Culture
  • Culture is who we are and the world we have created to live in. It is the predictable patterns of who does what and habitual strategies for telling the world about the things held most dear. A culture includes the congregation's history and stories of its heroes. It includes its symbols, rituals, and worldview. It is shaped by the cultures in which its members live (represented by their demographic characteristics), but it takes on its own unique identity and character when those members come together.
church culture2
Church Culture
  • Understanding a congregation requires understanding that it is a unique gathering of people with a cultural identity all its own.
  • A congregational culture is constructed out of theological and denominational traditions, expectations from the larger culture, patterns of social class and ethnicity, and the like. All those things are carried into the congregation by its members and leaders. Whenever any of those elements changes, the congregational will inevitably change as well. . .
  • Congregational culture is more than the sum of what people bring with them and more than a mirror image of the theological tradition they represent. It is a unique creation, constructed out of their interaction together over time.
culture visionary congregations
Culture: Visionary Congregations

Sacred Strategies: Transforming Synagogues from Functional to Visionary.

Isa Aron, Steven Cohen, Lawrence Hoffman, and Ari Kelman. (Alban Institute, 2010)

  • Sacred Purpose
    • a pervasive and shared vision infuses all aspects of the synagogue.
  • Holistic Ethos
    • the parts are related to each other and the whole
    • ritual, learning, caring, social action, and community appear in several areas of functioning
    • lay and professional leadership function cooperatively
    • boundaries within and around the community are more porous and fluid
culture visionary congregations1
Culture: Visionary Congregations
  • Participatory Culture on All Levels
    • congregants, lay leaders, professionals, and parents engage in the work of the sacred community.
  • MeaningfulEngagement
    • achieved through repeated inspirational experiences that provide genuine meaning to people's lives
culture visionary congregations2
Culture: Visionary Congregations
  • Innovation Disposition
    • marked by a search for diversity and alternatives
    • a tolerance of failure
    • ability to address and overcome resistance to change
    • a willingness to abandon less function ways of doing things
  • Reflective Leadership and Governance
    • Marked by careful examination of alternatives
    • a commitment to overarching purpose
    • attention to relationships
    • mastery of detail
    • planful approach to change

How can I grow?

Engagement is divided by Gallup into four areas, each building upon the other, in a hierarchy of concerns summarized by four questions.

To cultivate engagement, remember to work from the bottom up.

Do I belong?

What do I give?

What do I get?

culture the engaged church
Culture: The Engaged Church
  • I know what is expected of me.
  • My spiritual needs are met.
  • I regularly have the opportunity to do what I do best.
  • I have received recognition of praise from someone in the church.
  • Leaders care about me as a person.
  • Someone in the church encourages my spiritual development.
culture the engaged church1
Culture: The Engaged Church
  • My opinions seem to count.
  • The mission or purpose of my church makes me feel my participation is important.
  • Other members are committed to spiritual growth.
  • I have a best friend in my church.
  • In the last six months someone in my church has talked to me about the progress of my spiritual growth.
  • I have opportunities to learn and grow.
the urban abbey
The Urban Abbey

One of the churches that we are studying calls itself an "urban abbey." They have developed a congregational "rule of life" that is given to all members, including newcomers, and the members adopt at varying levels. It consists of things like reading scripture, daily prayer, working with the poor. This church was in a state of decline in a rapidly urbanizing neighborhood and is now experiencing new life through this vision. Intentional and practicing congregations have an earnestness about them and a sense of discipline that applies to their individual lives as well as to their lives in community. That, in turn, makes them vital places, attractive to others seeking meaning in life.

(Diana Butler Bass)

phinney ridge lutheran church
Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church

Led by the Holy Spirit, the mission of Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church is to provide a place to worship God, to reach out to the community, and to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

phinney ridge lutheran church1
Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church

The first word we want you to hear from us at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church is WELCOME.

Welcome, in the name of Jesus Christ.

We hope that the welcome that we speak to you is a welcome that looks and feels to you like a welcome that comes to you from God. Here on the corner of 75th and Greenwood in North Seattle, it is our hope that whenever you are with us you will feel and know that God has a special place and a special love for you. That loving welcome comes in a variety of ways, many of which are outlined in the various pages of our Website. Whether at worship, through educational programs, through a gift of food from our Food Bank, in fellowship, through a concert or conversation, there is for you an open invitation to you to participate.  Feel welcome to be with us.  Your presence here makes our community richer and fuller.

The Church of the Epiphany is a renewing parish in downtown Washington. We are an interesting mix of people. Our parishioners come from all over the Washington Metro Area. We minister with the downtown poor, especially through The Welcome Table worship and breakfast. We minister with the downtown workers, especially through weekday worship, concerts, and faith formation activities.
There are four aspects or elements of membership at Epiphany: prayer, study, ministry, and stewardship.
  • Prayer is both corporate and personal. It is important for us all to enter fully into the liturgy of our faith community and to participate in parish worship at least once a month. It is also important for us to follow a daily discipline of personal prayer.
Study, the practice of continually learning about the faith, keeps our minds open and feeds our desire to know more about our relationship with God. Whether it be through a parish activity or a study group at work or personal reading at home, learning is a window to believing.
Ministrycan happen anywhere. Ministry is a way that we proclaim and share our faith; it is an activity through which we express and practice our faith. All baptized Christians are ministers. At Epiphany, every member is encouraged to participate in at least one of the parish ministries... New members meet with a church staff member for a ministry discernment after they have considered what they feel called to do. The basic ministry of all Christians is in the world. Parish ministry is primarily a training ground for ministry in the world.
Stewardship is an attitude of faith. We receive much from God, and we have the opportunity to respond to God with a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness. Stewardship is a way of life that recognizes the fact that God is continually reaching out to us and that we have a desire to respond to God in love. We can choose to be good stewards of all that God has given us: life, time, energy, talent, and money. The pledge card is one way to give back to God with a sense of gratitude.
first church cambridge1
First Church, Cambridge
  • Since 1636, our community has embraced the pilgrim and the searcher, reaching for the divine in our world. We are committed to making a difference in this world through ministries of justice and reconciliation in Christ's name. Join us.
  • We are an Open and Affirming and a Just Peace Congregation of the United Church of Christ.
first church cambridge2
First Church, Cambridge
  • From all this learning, a vision emerged, God's vision for us, ancient and fresh. In May 2003, we imagined and committed ourselves to a journey of transformation called "A Way of Hospitality," a fourfold path encompassing our whole common life.
    • Open Door: Welcome
    • Open Door: Spiritual Growth
    • Open Door: Mission
    • Open Door: Covenant and Communion
goleta presbyterian church
Goleta Presbyterian Church

a community of faith seeking to know and serve Jesus Christ through committed hearts, open minds and willing hands

  • GPC is a place where people of many backgrounds and ages encounter a God that is alive, personal, powerful and full of love for all people.
  • Our ongoing focus is on Jesus Christ – his teachings, his life, his forgiveness, his promise of life beyond death, and his desire to see us loving God and other people, regardless of their beliefs or convictions
goleta presbyterian church1
Goleta Presbyterian Church

Welcome to our Goleta Presbyterian Church! If you visit you'llfind people of different ages and perspectives finding a common center in a living Christ.

  • The music you hear will be a blend of traditional hymns, praise music, jazz, harp and acoustic guitar, and maybe even a young piano student sharing a piece they learned for their recital.
  • The message you hear will relate timeless spiritual truths to the issues you face everyday in our high-tech, globalizing world.
  • The people you meet will welcome you with genuine, easy-going warmth.
  • We offer excellent programs for kids, teens and adults of all ages.
  • We support many different causes in the Goleta and Santa Barbara communities as well as building homes in Mexico and helping create cooperative bakeries and solar projects in Ghana.
goleta presbyterian church2
Goleta Presbyterian Church

Within GPC, people find a meaningful spiritual home in the contemporary world…

  • We develop spiritual practices that keep us growing in faith, including reading the Bible with understanding, developing a life of prayer, taking time for rest and reverence, and serving other people;
  • Families find support within a community in which the joys and challenges of life are shared
goleta presbyterian church3
Goleta Presbyterian Church

From GPC, people go out to do God's work, e.g.,

  • We are active as citizens in Goleta and Santa Barbara, bringing a moral perspective to issues such as education, housing, and health care
  • We take a leading role in working with other faith communities and religious traditions on projects of common concern
  • We are involved in the creation of a healthy, multicultural community

Becoming Gods Church! - A gathered family, becoming the Body of Christ – The Cornerstone – to serve the community & world.

  • We believe God has called us to worship with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Through our worship together we are called to reach out for the Gospel through genuine faith and to call all people to the hope we share in Christ. We find that our worship defines us as a community. 
  • In worship we encounter God's grace and are sent forth in mission to the poor, the oppressed, the lost, the unwanted, the sick, and the imprisoned.
  • We find that this vision sets forth a model of ministry incorporating all people regardless of age, gender, economic status, race, or nationality. This inclusive ministry, empowered by the Holy Spirit, equips and enables the church to do ministry.
Church of the Holy Communion, an Episcopal Church in the center of Memphis, seeks to be a sacred presence, grounded in the servant ministry of Jesus, offering spiritual growth opportunities for all.

Whoever you are and wherever you might be in your spiritual pilgrimage, we welcome you to explore the spiritual life with us and journey with us as fellow pilgrims. Church of the Holy Communion is a growing community of people from a variety of backgrounds – some are life-long Episcopalians, others are very new to the Episcopal Church, and some are from different denominations and faith traditions. What they all have in common is a desire to live a deeper life, and they have all had at least an intimation of God's presence in some aspect of our life together.

Some people are particularly drawn to our ancient worship, which we hope is fresh, embracing and inclusive.
  • Others sense the love of God in our very intentional care for one another – pastoral care here is not just the professional responsibility of the clergy but is something we all take seriously as a community.
  • Many of us sense that God is most powerfully present when we engage with those who are poor and marginalized, and the result is a community-wide determination to make a difference in the world.
Others who call this church "home" are people who are drawn to our serious educational offerings – we believe that taking the spiritual life seriously does not mean disengaging the mind.
  • And still others are encountering the Divine in our various gatherings that promote the contemplative life in a world that more and more resembles a roller coaster.
Church of the Holy Communion is an incubator of faith for small children, a safe and encouraging environment for youth in their journey to adulthood, and an increasingly diverse fellowship of adults who are being fed, supported and commissioned by the love of God made known to us in Jesus. There is a place for you here.
church of the apostles seattle
Church of the Apostles, Seattle

Church of the Apostles' "Freedom Riders"

church of the apostles seattle1
Church of the Apostles, Seattle
  • Church of the Apostles is a future church with an ancient faith... In the story of Jesus, we have glimpsed God's future and know that "thiscouldchangeeverything." So our purpose is to helpgodchangeeverything, by participating in God's future within today's culture and our local zip code, living and serving in intentional, sacramental community around Jesus Christ.
church of the apostles seattle2
Church of the Apostles, Seattle
  • The future is not something we manufacture, and community is not something we can coerce you into, but both are works of the Spirit to which God calls you. So as God calls you, we welcome you to join us in helpinggodchangeeverythingand exploring God's future among friends.
church of the apostles seattle3
Church of the Apostles, Seattle
  • Church of the Apostles is a new church, not only in “years in existence,” but in mindset. We seek to be a real and authentic community, at home in today's culture and in our Fremont neighborhood as ‘artisans of a new humanity.’
church of the apostles seattle4
Church of the Apostles, Seattle
  • Church of the Apostles is an incarnational, monastic, Christian community, affiliated with God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit. we share a spiritual kinship with all those who affirm the most ancient Christian confession “Jesus is lord.” Within the larger Christian village, we are part of the Anglican and Lutheran tribes.