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Students at commencement

Biblical Fluency

Emmanuel Lutheran Church

Location: Prescott, Ariz.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Size: Average worship attendance is 207

 Download Emmanuel's VCP report or see report contents below:

Ministry context

Emmanuel Lutheran Church is located in northern Arizona, 100 miles north of Phoenix at an elevation of 5,000 feet. The population of Prescott Valley is 37,580 and includes a significant retirement population. Young families find their way to our community, often having left larger metropolitan areas for greater quality of life but at a much reduced salary. Emmanuel is consistently described as a welcoming and friendly congregation. This healthy sense of openness has created a culture of community, a sense of family and a love for the revealed Word of God.

Pre-existing practices

1. Small Groups & Bible Studies

Emmanuel Lutheran Church currently supports 17 small groups and Bible studies each week, with leadership ranging from pastoral to lay-led groups. These groups reflect the diverse interests and needs of our congregation, ranging topically from lectionary studies and books-of-the-Bible studies to topical and book studies on a variety of subjects. These groups began with several pastor-led lectionary studies and have grown to meet the ongoing spiritual hunger of our members. With 175 attendees at present, the participation in weekly small groups reflects our sense of church as “family” while demonstrating our willingness to engage and wrestle with the Scriptures together.

The present slate of study options at Emmanuel provides for many different interests, needs, schedules and group configurations. Mixed-gender adult groups, men’s and women’s groups and family groups are included in our current offerings. No particular curriculum is used across the board, as each leader selects their materials based on group needs/interests, with the director of faith formation and the pastor serving as a resource and support.

2. Dialogue on the Word during Worship

An unscripted discussion of the Word and its effect on the hearers takes place most Sunday mornings at Emmanuel, following the sermon, at our contemporary worship service. During this time the Pastor invites the congregation to respond to the text in an effort to engage all participants in not only the hearing of the Word, but the application of it as well.

3. Intentional Use of Hermeneutics in the Life of the Church

Emmanuel’s Pastor has offered special studies on the interpretation of the Scriptures to the membership and our community. These studies have been well-attended and have created conversation among those in the Emmanuel family.

The most recent of these studies was entitled “How Lutherans Interpret Scripture” and utilized the book The Gospel of Grace by Rev. Mark Allan Powell. In addition, Emmanuel has enjoyed several “all-church reads” of a common book (including The Shack). During these experiences, the church has purchased a number of copies of the book to be read, passing these from member to member during a specified time frame. With The Shack we also experienced the addition of several short-term book discussion groups, where members got together to expand on their reading of the book.

Discoveries from listening process

1. We Are Old but We Use the Internet

2. We Have Gaps in Our Understanding of the Bible, especially the Old Testament

3. We Have Developed a Core Value of Inquiry that is Evident in Our Curiosity about the Bible and its Teachings

Opportunities for growth

1. Develop our Biblical Imagination

We feel challenged to expand, develop and enhance our Biblical imagination as a church family. We seek to not only give permission to our members to explore the Word in context, but to see them empowered by the Holy Spirit to watch God’s Word come to life.

2. Consider Setting the Lectionary Aside

The Pastor has faithfully followed the Lectionary for 39 years, yet he acknowledges the potential benefit of setting aside the Lectionary in order to tell the Story – the whole Story – including the Old Testament.

3. Challenge Individuals to Grow

We see an opportunity to energize our congregation’s individual, spiritual growth by challenging everyone to take on a personal Challenge Step over a specific period of time.

Experiments undertaken

1. 50-Day Integrated Study

We envision this seven week experience as an opportunity to engage the entire congregation in conversation and study. This period of study will be marked by a purposeful letting-go of the Lectionary in order to draw lines of connection between the Old & New Testaments.

We chose this approach in order to address the gaps in our understanding of the Old Testament (taking into account our love for the teachings of Jesus). We also hope to give those who do not currently participate in a small group or Bible study a taste of what these groups have to offer in the way of community and learning (by creating a common conversation on a larger scale). One form of measurement to be used is a weekly check-in (posted at church and online) for all who have participated in one of the specified ways that week. In addition, we would hope that the success of this project will be marked by growth in our existing and/or formation of new small groups & Bible studies.

We plan to begin the 50-day emphasis on the Sunday after Easter, 2012. This gives us the best opportunity to draw in those who are not otherwise active in the church but who will attend on the Easter holiday.

2. Baby Steps/Challenge Steps

In concert with the 50 Day Integrated Study, we will invite our members to take a 50 Day Challenge. This Challenge would consist of a Baby Step toward their own faith development, with suggested Challenge Steps to include:

  • Participating in an existing small group or Bible study during the 50 days
  • Participating in a NEW small group, formed specifically to support the integrated teachings of the 50 days
  • Participating in an online conversation around the 50 days’ teachings by logging into an online message board in order to share their responses, ask questions and listen to the comments of others
  • Opting for at-home study extensions of the Sunday morning teachings during the 50 days (using a take-home study guide available on Sunday mornings and online)
  • Following an online devotional blog, related to the integrated teachings.

Our sense is that this step has the potential to meet all of our congregants where they are, no matter what their current level of understanding and participation may be. The goal of this Challenge Step is to encourage our church family to seek out paths of growth in the Word that fit their lives/families, emphasizing that there really is no one-size-fits-all formula for growing in our faith.

3. Introduce New and Expanded Tools for Exploration and Teaching

During the 50 days of integrated teaching/study, we will introduce the congregation to a variety of teaching methods and learning tools, including: online devotional blogs (written by staff and/or Biblical Fluency Task Force members), online study tools (links to be shared via our church website), online message/conversation board, take-home study guides that connect Sunday morning with week-long learning, dramatic vignettes during worship, and video clips connected to Sunday morning teachings.

We are eager to utilize some new and under-used methods of teaching and exploring the Scriptures, particularly in response to our knowledge that this congregation, though older in age, is internet-active and -savvy. By expanding our teaching methods to cover more of the multiple intelligences/learning styles of our members, we hope to create opportunities for significant growth.