The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Creative outreach: How's it going where you are?

Here's the test: 'They'd all be willing to stand in the same ice shack together'

On a snowy day this winter I met with a roomful of congregational leaders in the Upper Peninsula, a slice of northern Michigan sandwiched between Lakes Michigan and Superior. I asked them to list those things that characterize a healthy, vital congregation.

"They'd all be willing to stand in the same ice shack together," one blurted out.

The list grew from there.

"Town politics and family systems don't dominate. There is an intergenerational spirit. People take the initiative." Now they were getting warmed up.

"There's no grapevine," somebody said. "There's healthy communication."

The group kept adding to the list. "People are willing to try new things. They can disagree maturely. They know the power of prayer and use it. They give generously. They know how to love. There is a permission-giving culture. People know their gifts and are encouraged to use them."

Then they made this leap: "There is a vision in the congregation beyond survival." And that vision includes those who are not yet a part of it.

"A healthy congregation," the group agreed, "has a mission that includes reaching out to others. It is able and willing to welcome those who are different." In other words, a healthy congregation doesn't put itself first.

One final word came from the group that day: "A healthy, vital congregation doesn't smell old."

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