"When we first started work with this project, I was excited," said Charles Lane, director of the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary. "When I followed up with congregations a few months into the project, I was almost speechless. The creativity that is being turned loose by this project is inspiring."
The project to which Lane is referring is the Vibrant Congregations Project (VCP), a massive three-year undertaking led by key faculty, staff and students at Luther Seminary alongside congregational leaders. Funded by a significant donation from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., it features the ministry of 38 exemplary congregations from many denominations across the country.
Currently in its second year, the VCP is exploring the present renewal of congregational life taking place across the country. In hopes of better understanding how churches, seminaries and leaders can best cultivate congregational vibrancy, the VCP identified six crucial dimensions to the renewal of congregational health:
The VCP then identified congregations that are exemplary in each of these six areas. These identified congregations are now partnering with leaders at Luther Seminary in exploration of their respective dimension. This partnership will continue over the course of the next few years.
Lane leads the stewardship group, which is comprised of seven churches from two denominations across five states. In only the first nine months of learning together, the group has already reported tremendous growth of creativity and freedom regarding stewardship in their communities.
After identifying a general reluctance to talk about money, one congregation began hosting "fearless feasts," opportunities for two people to talk openly about their attitudes toward, hopes for and fears about money. Another congregation invited its members to think about stewardship in terms of time, talent and treasures, which expanded the definition of stewardship beyond money and opened up a larger conversation.
"Ultimately the VCP takes seriously Luther Seminary's conviction that the exciting missional activity of the church is congregationally based," Lane said. "The sorts of interactions the VCP encourages will really help the seminary continue to more effectively train future leaders. We're going to learn so much about what is working and what is not out there that it will inevitably inform our practice of theological education."
For more information about the Vibrant Congregations Project, visit www.luthersem.edu/vcp.
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