Caring for the Core

February 26th, 2012
Work your core: physically and spiritually

Before moving to my present pastorate, I belonged to a fitness club called Sports Village. One section of the gym features five fitness machines called “The Core.” As the name implies, these five machines strengthen the core of your body. The philosophy behind this fitness system is that if you will take care of the core, the rest of your body will be healthy. That proved true in my life for a decade, and in the lives of many other people.

What’s true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual realm. What’s true for the physical body is also true of the body of Christ. If we will take care of the core, then we will be healthy, both as individual Christians, and as a congregation.

For two thousand years, the church of Jesus Christ has practiced at least five core spiritual disciplines that result in spiritual fitness. These five core practices include:

  • WORSHIP God daily and weekly
  • CONNECT to a group for Christian growth and support
  • SERVE in the church and/or community
  • INVITE and welcome others
  • GIVE generously to God’s work

When I came to my present appointment, the church faced numerous challenges. We immediately contracted with a church consulting/coaching firm called Spiritual Leadership Incorporated (SLI). A group of twelve of our members, both staff and lay, are currently working with SLI to identify our core values, write a mission and vision statement, and develop a ministry action plan. However, this is a slow process. It will take over a year to complete our work. In the meantime, our congregation needed immediate direction and intentionality. We decided to focus on the five core spiritual practices listed above.

Exploring Our Core: Five Practices

Last fall, our entire congregation, including children, youth and adults, studied Bishop Robert Schnase’s profound book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. (Schnase's five practices align very well with the five verbs above, but are called by different names: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity.) Every Sunday school class participated in this study, along with numerous other small groups. During the five week study, we also engaged in a five week worship and sermon series around the five practices. This church wide initiative rooted the entire congregation in the foundational practices of healthy church life. Resources for implementing this small group study and worship/sermon series can be found at the end of this article.

After our five week study, we solicited feedback from numerous groups in the church about how we could strengthen the five practices in our congregation. This effort culminated in a one day strategic planning retreat of key church leaders in early November. By the end of the day, we set four specific goals for each of the five practices. For example, under “Worship God daily and weekly” we set the following goals:

  • Plan a comprehensive church-wide Lenten focus (worship, sermons, devotionals, and small group options).
  • Develop a congregation-wide plan for reading through the New Testament in 2012, including prayer guidelines for daily worship.
  • Create a worship design team to make worship more experiential and meaningful.
  • Include more children and youth in worship leadership.

Before ending the day, all twenty goals were given an “owner.” The “owner” was responsible for gathering a team together to develop concrete strategies and time lines for making the goals happen. Every month we meet to assess our progress in accomplishing the goals, thus holding each other accountable for making them a reality.

Emphasizing Our Core: "Step Up! 2012"

These five practices and their corresponding goals have become our primary focus for 2012. We call the emphasis “Step Up! 2012.” We made a major launch of the emphasis on the second Sunday of the year, including reaffirmation of baptism vows. At every possible venue, we remind the congregation about the five practices emphasis. For example, we have “Step Up” moments in most of our worship services. We organize our newsletter and announcements around the theme under the banner of “Step Up to Worship,” “Step Up to Service,” etc. We encourage every group in the church to discover concrete ways to live out the five practices. Our Communications Department even created a “Step Up! 2012” logo that features the five “Step Up” verbs: Worship, Connect, Serve, Invite and Give.

Although we are still living into these “Step Up” goals, this process has already helped transform our church. Morale has dramatically improved. Our staff is energized. Our lay members are upbeat about the present and future of our church. And, attendance and giving have significantly increased. Although we continue our work with SLI to develop long range plans for our congregation, these five practices will always be a major emphasis for us. They will eventually become the core DNA of our congregation. In fact, many of our small groups and ministry teams are already organizing their life around the five practices. In short, caring for the core is making a profound impact on our congregation at every level.

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