Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

May 15th, 2018
"Radical Hospitality. Passionate Worship. Intentional Faith Development. Risk-Taking Mission and Service. Extravagant Generosity. People are searching for a church shaped and sustained by these qualities. The presence and strength of these five practices demonstrate congregational health, vitality, and fruitfulness. By repeating and improving these practices, churches fulfill their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
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The paragraph above opened the original Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, published in 2007. No one imagined that in the years that followed, more than 600,000 copies of the book and its supplemental materials would strengthen thousands of congregations in multiple languages around the world. The practicality and simplicity of the ideas and the energizing quality of the adjectives that modify the practices have stimulated sermon series, leadership retreats, and discipleship discussions on six continents. The practices have brought clarity of purpose for Christian leaders and inspired boldness to initiate ministries that change lives. The Five Practices remain as fresh and as motivating today as when they first appeared in print.

And yet, when the original Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations was released, no one had iPhones, Facebook was limited to use by a few universities, Netflix mailed DVDs to our homes, and Blockbuster had over six thousand stores. Social media, in all its various expressions we know today, did not exist. The refugee crisis, the threat of terrorism in the US and Europe, the election of President Obama and then of President Trump, new conversations about race, gender, and guns in America, the changing attitudes toward immigrants—clearly, in our evolving world, so much has happened since the book was written.

The intervening years have also seen changes in our sense of community and how people regard institutions, including the church. Society has become more polarized. Cultural clashes have deepened. People select sources of news and information that reinforce their own points of view, insulating themselves from those who think differently. Many people are suspicious, resistant, or hostile toward the church while most are simply indifferent, viewing the church as irrelevant and unrelated to their lives. The “nones” (those people who check the none box on surveys of religious affiliation) have become larger than any particular faith expression. Because the composition of many churches does not match the ethnic, economic, or age demographics of the neighborhood where they are located, it’s more important than ever for leaders of the church to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Or more aptly, “Who is my neighbor now?”

As the culture has shifted since the original Five Practices, so has our understanding of church. Fruitful congregations are changing how they discern and organize their ministries. Leaders are experimenting with alternative models, with missional initiatives that reach the unchurched and the nominally churched by going to where the people are rather than expecting people to find a sanctuary and join in traditional church activities. Faith communities are experimenting with discipleship approaches that prepare people to take the ministry of Christ into their neighborhoods and work spaces rather than merely inviting people to come to their churches. Multicultural and next generation models are emerging that look completely different from what most church leaders have relied upon in the past. Fruitful ministries today are shifting from models based primarily on attractional assumptions (getting those outside the church to come to us) to models based more on missional assumptions (practicing discipleship that takes us into the places, communities, and networks people already inhabit).

"Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Revised and Updated" (Abingdon Press, 2018). Order here:

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Revised and Updated takes a fresh approach to the mission and practice of the church, shifting the focus from attractional assumptions to missional assumptions and providing a wealth of new examples from faith communities that are taking bold approaches to ministry. The revised and updated Five Practices has been prepared with the help of leaders on the cutting edge of ministry, benefiting from the experiments that have helped their faith communities reach new people with greater fruitfulness.

People know that the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but they are seeking to understand how to fit this larger mission into their communities of faith in a practical way. These practices—Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity—are so critical to a congregation’s purpose that failure to perform them in exemplary ways results in diminishing the church’s mission. The evocative words used to express these qualities are irresistible because they move us from abstract intentions to practical and personal directions for ministry. Once our mission becomes practical and personal, it becomes memorable and achievable.

This book is designed to challenge leaders in holding a mirror to their own ministries to ask the questions, “How are we doing in practicing these qualities of ministry in our worship, music ministries, serving teams, study and support groups, mentoring programs, and leadership teams? How are we doing in our personal discipleship in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and the spaces where we engage friends and those we do not know?” The task of learning, deepening, repeating, and extending these practices should drive conversations about the work of the church, guide ministry teams, and shape planning and leadership training.

This book gives permission, focus, and encouragement for creative change and growth in ministry within the walls of the church and into the surrounding community by breaking down the universal mission of the church into achievable tasks and practical strategies. The Five Practices give leaders a common language that provides direction to everyone who belongs to the community about how to deepen their discipleship and extend the witness of the church. Faith communities become clear about their mission and confident about their future.

Every church exists in a wider community. People who live and work and go to school near our faith communities hunger for honest, healthy places to be and to belong. They yearn for others to respectfully demonstrate genuine interest and care. They long to welcome us into their lives and communities, and want us to graciously invite them into ours. They desire to experience God through authentic relationships, to find a place where it’s safe to explore faith on their own terms and in their own languages, and to be part of a community where they can make a difference through service and generosity.

This book can be used to stimulate honest and positive conversations about your community of faith.

  • Plan a series of sermons, conversations, or dinner discussions, each based on one of these practices.
  • Invite ministry leaders to enter into significant dialogue about how God uses faith communities to form everyday disciples of Jesus Christ through these practices.
  • Allow these Five Practices to shape your own reflections about your area of ministry, and your personal discipleship.

Let these practices shape you and your faith community. Pray about them, mull them over, learn from them, amend them, deepen them, and elaborate on them so that we may all do our work more faithfully and fruitfully: the task of sharing the good news we have seen and known in Jesus Christ.

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