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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Thriving Congregations Part 2: Characteristics of a Thriving Congregation

NOTE: Columbia seminary’s Center for Lifelong Learning has launched its Lilly-funded Thriving Congregations program, “reKindle: A Congregational Development Initiative.” Selected congregations will be awarded grants of up to $15,000 to execute a thriving congregation initiative in their ministry context. Applications are due by April 30, 2021. For details click HERE.


The “Rekindle: Congregational Development in a Post-COVID-19 Era” grant project will resource congregations by enabling local pastors and church leaders to engage in a theologically-informed pragmatic strategy to rekindle their congregational vitality in a post-COVID-19 era.


This initiative will help congregations, many of which are stressed due to the impact of the current pandemic and its future uncertain impact, to build capacity for congregational development as they head into the uncharted realities of a post-COVID-19 era.


What makes for a thriving congregation can be defined, but arguably difficult to cultivate in practice, and attempts at “engineering” one through formula or boilerplate are suspect.

In one congregation, an interim pastor, impressed by the congregation’s vitality stated, “I wish we could bottle this!”


Certainly, thriving is not a factor of context, size, style, or faith tradition. One pastor stated, “Thriving congregations embrace a sense of curiosity and adventure. They can see in scripture an unstoppable, boundary-breaking, ever-expansive movement of God which continues today. They are open to adaptive changes and not just technical ones. They believe that God is involved in the world today as much as before. They love well.”


Another, familiar with many transitions over the course of years in ministry, enumerated that thriving congregations:


1) have the capacity to reflect on the values that they embrace and to use the reflection to inform their choices; 2) have the capacity to respond creatively to both tragedy and unexpected opportunities; 3) have the necessary emotional capital to envision and accomplish change; 4) have the necessary resilience to overcome adversity and obstacles; 5) have an adequate self-awareness in order to evaluate possible opportunities for missions or service.”


We conducted three interview sessions with groups of clergy resulting in overlapping lists of “qualities” of thriving congregations. While they varied in opinion as to which were more significant or influential (no one congregation had them all to a full extent), the list can be captured in a cluster of four domains as depicted in Diagram 1:


Diagram1: A Thriving Congregation


These insights, along with influential studies on thriving congregations, inform the design of the reKindle initiative at the Center for Lifelong Learning. Are you interested in cultivating a thriving congregation? Apply to the reKindle program and join a cohort of peers striving to do likewise.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administartors, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).


Dr. G. & Friends