Why Should We Care about the Vital Church Project?

Why Should We Care about the Vital Church Project?


787 DreamlinerThe new Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet was unveiled recently, the product of years of research, design, testing, and production. Many people were invited to help design a "dream" airplane. Out of that collaboration and vision came the plans for the 787 and today the Dreamliner is a reality.

The leaders of your annual conference have been diligently pursuing a dream, or a vision of what this annual conference would be if we were intentional about being excellent leaders for you. In spite of financial shortages, declining membership and attendance and questions of the viability of mainline churches, your leaders refused to "throw in the towel," and made a concerted effort to bring about positive, adaptive change. We had a will to work to find a future where churches were alive with the spirit of Jesus Christ.

To that end we have been engaged in reading, praying, designing, and testing. We read books and checked out websites, even watched videos on YouTube to try to glean from the "experts" as much information as we could about what it takes to grow healthy vital congregations: ministries that are changing lives and transforming the world. We prayed often, believing God would guide our thinking and give us inspiration and wisdom and a boldness to bring change to our Annual Conference.

We discovered that another annual conference had been engaged in serious work on the same task of growing vital congregations. We studied their model, and we began to design a similar experience based on their model. Three sites in our annual conference were selected to test our findings. We completed these three experiences and reflected on them, went back to the drawing board and designed something exciting and unique to us in Oregon-Idaho: THE VITAL CHURCH PROJECT.

VCP logoThere are no quick, easy paths to the vision we have set before us. But what excites me about the Vital Church Project (VCP) is that every congregation that has a desire to grow more fruitful in its ministry can find some support and guidance through the VCP.

The three initiatives of the Project are designed to touch the lives of a wide spectrum of congregations. The HEALTHY VITAL CHURCH INITIATIVE assumes that existing congregations can become more vital and can be engaged in fruitful practices. Participating laity and clergy read and discuss concepts that contribute to vitality, set goals, receive coaching from trained coaches, and hold each other accountable as they work to achieve their goals. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, the Healthy Vital Church Initiative builds a process for growth and vitality that is uniquely designed for each participating congregation.

The second initiative of the VCP is the NEW START INITIATIVE. This initiative is designed for lay and clergy leaders who understand the necessity of starting new kinds of ministry. New and novel approached to making disciples of Jesus Christ are present in existing congregations and can contribute to the vitality of that ministry. That vitality leads to a commitment to multiply and start a new faith community of persons that have not previously been a part of the congregation’s ministry. New forms of reaching people for Christ emerge when we are inspired to reach out to new persons and groups to form communities of faith and discipleship in the name of Jesus Christ.

And the third initiative of the VCP is the LIFELONG LEARNING INITIATIVE. Although we have for years affirmed the importance of learning new ideas and skills in ministry, the LLI asks that both lay and clergy who are serious about the task of bringing vitality to our congregations and ministry settings focus their learning efforts on topics directly addressing this effort of growing healthy vital congregations.

787 DreamlinerI believe that the Vital Church Project is our "dreamliner" that will help us accomplish our vision of health and vitality in our existing congregations; of new faith communities, and of laity and clergy committed to growing and stretching their knowledge and experience of what it means to be a church that is vital. Your leaders in the Ministry Leadership Team are invested in this Project with me, and we have begun to see some positive effects that the initiatives of the VCP have had on those who participate. I invite and encourage those of you who want to bring health and vitality to your congregation - and that means both laity and clergy - to discover more about the VCP and the ways participation can bring your congregation alive with hope and commitment to our task of growing healthy vital congregations that change lives and transform communities!

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Bob Hoshibata

Robert Hoshibata is Bishop of the Phoenix Area of The United Methodist Church and presides over the Desert Southwest Annual Conference. Hoshibata presided over the Oregon-Idaho Conference from 2004-2012 and his blog postings are here for reference.

Boldly Making Disciples of Jesus Christ - Vitalizing the Church - Transforming the World