John 15:5 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing

I had a great Saturday morning breakfast this past week with the churches that participated in the vitality program known as “ShiftPlus”.  Eight churches were at the breakfast, with six from the Arlington District: Dulin, Vale, Wesley, Andrew Chapel, Dranesville and Calloway. I came away from hearing about the changes they had worked on over the last year with several hopeful and fruitful signs for churches in our area:

  1. Yes, change is possible in our local churches. Patience is necessary, but change can come, first in small, easy ‘wins’, and then, when people see what can happen, larger changes are also possible.
  2. Most of the change was not pastor-led; it was laity led. In the healthiest of churches, the pastor can help us see needed change, and help resource the changes, but the actual work of change comes when teams and leaders from the laity share their gifts and talents to make things happen.
  3. After a year of training from Dr. Phil Maynard, each of these churches is seeking to make changes that make sense for their context – for their neighborhoods, and for the strengths of their particular laity. They weren’t just trying to do what the big church down the street did –they made it their own, and contextual to their situation.
  4. It is okay to experiment with an idea, fail, get the feedback, and try again. Several stories were shared of great ideas – that didn’t work. Marketing, communications, and personal invitations – I was so excited to hear that people just kept trying different avenues of getting the word out on what they were doing, until something worked. So when you hear “That will never work” – that may be true, but it may also be the path to finding out what WILL work to connect people and build relationships and strengthen our churches.
  5. I loved how each church said – “this worked” and THEN – said “here is our next step to make it better”. If we pay attention to what works, we can always move it to another level of excellence, another level of fruitfulness, and another level of sharing.

I thank each of these churches, their ShiftPlus teams and their pastors, for all their hard work over the year. Some of these churches will be selected to move forward with a weekend consultation inside their churches, which will help set some new strategic goals that can help those churches move into even greater vitality and strength.  We anticipate expanding this program to more churches in the next year or so – pay attention for announcements for the next round!

We all long for some good news about our churches, and ShiftPlus and the hard work of the local churches is GREAT news! This focus on the mission- making disciples for the transformation of the world – is what can help us move through uncertain times.   I pray that each of our Arlington churches is blessed with more fruitfulness, courageous change, and abiding love for the work of the kingdom!