For the last three years, my job has been to go to church. As the project director of a research study on vital congregations, I have spent hundreds of hours in worship, attending programs and events, and talking to pastors and laypeople from healthy and lively churches. Although the conventional wisdom limits such traits to conservative congregations, my search for vitality focused on mainline Protestants, whose old churches dot the American landscape.
Many people chuckled when I told them of my quest. “Vital mainline churches?” they asked. “That sounds like a pretty short journey!” But I am an Episcopalian who has found a meaningful way of life through ancient tradition, social justice, spiritual practices, and beautiful worship. So I set off to find some like-minded pilgrims. I hoped to learn from real people in the pews what it is that makes their churches work and to give voice to their understanding of the gospel.
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The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church by Diana Butler Bass
Diana Butler Bass’s groundbreaking project to explore encouraging signs of vitality among mainline Protestant churches is now gaining the momentum of a movement. The author’s cover story in this month’s Sojourners magazine offers a compelling overview of what characterizes these healthy, vital, and inspiring congregations. The Practicing Congregation is a central text on the road to envisioning a new way of being a church.
From Nomads to Pilgrims: Stories from Practicing Congregations edited by Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking
From Nomads to Pilgrims is a collection of stories from pastors and congregations that have been on a pilgrimage to vitality, retrieving and reworking Christian practice, tradition, and narrative. In these pages, readers are invited to sit around a campfire and listen in as these ministers share their pilgrimage tales. Against the steady flow of stories highlighting “mainline decline,” these stories tell us that a new and often overlooked renaissance is occurring in mainline Protestant churches.