How Your Congregation Can Satisfy Spiritual Hunger

14 Jun

Longing for a meaningful relationship with God, many Christians are not sure how to take steps to more faithfully follow Jesus. Unless congregations get intentional about satisfying that deep desire, the hunger will remain. If this need remains unmet, one might be tempted in time to decide there is nothing more to a spiritual life. Complacency often follows. In fact, one in four Episcopal Churches have no sense that a spiritual transformation is possible according to work by Renewal Works, a ministry of the Episcopal Church agency Forward Movement.

Diagnosing where you are
The four stages of spiritual growth rank across a continuum:

  •  those who are exploring the faith, 
  •  those who are growing in faith, 
  •  those who are going deeper in faith, and 
  •  those who hold faith at the center of their lives.

Nearly three quarters of Episcopalians (73%) identify in the first two stages when parishioners are “especially reliant on the church and its leadership to guide them into deeper spiritual life.” Yet, a longing for more remains with more than half of Episcopal congregations identified as hungry for more. What is needed is to give people the tools to make their faith real through daily practices of faith. In this, we all need a guide or mentor to get started.

Leading the change
“Leaders of vital congregations share these characteristics,” says the Rev. Jay Sidebotham who leads RenewalWorks, “they are humble, transparent and vulnerable as they lead others in the spiritual journey.”

You can read Jay’s reflections on Discipleship in the Episcopal Church Today and discover more at the RenewalWorks website. The main takeaway is that church leaders, including clergy and lay persons, will see more lives changed by the power of the Gospel when we both regularly teach and consistently model spiritual disciplines. Attending church is essential, but making faith real through daily, intentional practices is how real and lasting life change occurs. If the surveys are accurate, most Episcopalians have gone years since they talked to anyone about their beliefs and the practices of their faith, much less considered what practices might deepen that belief.

Beginning the shift
As you look to the fall, how might your congregation make a shift? Would you like to try Sharing Faith Dinners, a ready-made plan from the Diocese of Texas for talking about your faith in a way that works well for Episcopalians? Or perhaps you want to start a group meeting each week to pray Morning or Evening Prayer together as a way to support one another in praying these Daily Offices every day individually. Or might you start a new weekly Bible Study and dive together into the Gospels (if you wonder how to lead a group, try the Serendipity Study Bible with a Bible study in a side column for all 66 books of the Bible).

While the approach each congregation will take depends on the local context, every church can find ways to move from complacency to challenge when it comes to putting our faith into practice. Let me know how you are responding to this spiritual hunger so that I can share what’s working in your congregation with others.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

Note: RenewalWorks is building on the work of the Willow Creek Association and its REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey to compare Episcopalians to other denominations. Those who want to dig deeper may want to read The Role of Church, Pastor and Individual in Spiritual Growth and the REVEAL survey’s technical report as well as the book RISE by Cally Parkinson (NavPress, 2015).

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