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Flourishing Update - March 24, 2021

Signs of Life - Discipleship: Follow Me

Dr. Arch Wong is Professor of Practical Theology and Associate Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute, Ambrose University

This is the last snapshot of our just released book, Signs of Life: Catholic, Mainline, and Conservative Protestant Congregations in Canada and I would like to look at discipleship and see what over 100 pastoral and denominational leaders from Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Conservative Protestant traditions as well as over 9100 congregant participants have to say about discipleship from our national survey. One thing is clear: the various denominational traditions understand and define discipleship in vastly different ways. The other thing that is clear: that spiritual practices are important to Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and Conservative Protestants because they potentially lead to a number of results: spiritual growth, personal transformation, and congregational vitality.

Although spiritual practices such as preaching, singing, the Eucharist, volunteering, prayer, and small groups help with spiritual growth, and the importance of congregants knowing that their church or parish has an explicit discipleship process that shows congregational vitality, these factors are not the only reasons that help congregants grow spiritually. What this might suggest is that discipleship programs and processes are a means to an end. It is not necessarily having the type of ministries such as small groups or huddle groups or a total community catechesis program that help congregants’ spiritually grow.

Instead, what we see from the national survey is that congregations need to pay much closer attention to the context and environment for discipleship. That is to say, three of the important factors that predict and explain congregants spiritually growth is a feeling of safety, a sense of belonging, and knowing that people care for one another. These three factors are especially relevant when congregants are in the time of their lives when they are looking to build community and to find connections with others and in times of spiritual seeking when congregants are exploring new ways to connect to God or there is ambiguity or crisis of faith where it can be anxiety-provoking.

How might safety, belonging, and care look in these COVID-19 times for discipleship? These are a number of things that I have heard and read from pastoral leaders and other literature:

  • Steve Porter states: “Allow yourself, as best you can, to feel the loss of community, the sadness of not meeting in person, the ache of loneliness. And with those vulnerable feelings, communicate your longing and pain to those you miss. Whether by letter, phone, text, or video, let those close to you know that their connection is a significant part of your life.”

  • Spend time with other congregants by socially distancing outside if permitted by the local health authorities.

  • Perhaps not the ideal way, continue a rhythm of meeting together on Zoom for bible study, prayer, and fellowship.

  • Livestreaming worship.

These aren’t necessarily creative but what are some ways that discipleship is being done in your congregational context? Tweet us or tag us in a Facebook post with one thing you are doing for discipleship that has been particularly helpful to your church during the pandemic. We will randomly draw one name and mail the winner a complimentary copy of our book!


Win a copy of our new book!!

Tweet us or tag us in a Facebook post with one resource about discipleship, that has been particularly helpful to your church during the pandemic. We will randomly draw one name and mail the winner a complimentary copy of our book!


What We Are Reading

SCM Studyguide on Church Leadership

Jon Coutts

When faced with the plethora of books on the subject of leadership available today, one might legitimately ask what distinctive contribution another book on church leadership has to make. One could also ask this about seminars or lectures on the subject of leadership. Having had the opportunity to be a student in the leadership module taught by Jon Coutts at Trinity College Bristol, I can answer both of these questions at least from my perspective. This SCM Studyguide reflects much of the content that impacted me so greatly when studying leadership with Jon and inspired me to further study of this vital subject.

This book does not contain a series of steps to take on the path to church growth. It does not provide a template to overlay onto any and every church in order to achieve a particular desired result. It is also not the author’s particular style of leadership distilled into a handy guide for adoption by others, although it does contain personal reflections which ground the content in experience. Instead, the author writes that ‘the goal is to encourage further discernment and wisdom, not to ask readers to copy and paste inattentively.’ Each chapter asks important and thought-provoking questions, then explores these through an approach based in scriptural exegesis and sound theology. Along with addressing big-picture issues such as how leadership is defined and what Christian leaders do, there is also thoughtful examination of the nitty gritty realities of church politics, size, and meetings.

In both his lectures and writing, Jon has an ability to weave historical insights together with practical application for contemporary contexts in a way that is prophetically challenging to the status quo often accepted by many. In this studyguide he has given the Church a rich resource which I believe every leader would benefit from owning, prayerfully reading, and discussing with others.

Amy White is the Lay Training Officer for the Diocese of Blackburn and is a doctoral student at Trinity College Bristol/Aberdeen University. She is researching Johannine leadership theology through the use of the shepherd metaphor in John's Gospel.

Dr. Jon Coutts is presently Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Ambrose University


Resources for Church Leaders

Resources for Safer Church Re-Opening

Want to increase confidence in your congregation and community; to increase your knowledge; and to share what you've learned over the past year?

Join Dr. Bridget Stirling (epidemiologist and former missionary), a team of public health specialists, and church leaders from around the world in the ARCC.

The Application to Reduce Communicable Diseases in Churches (ARCC) is a program that increases safety through Risk self-assessments and guidance, church-specific training and an interactive forum. Visit us at

The Flourishing Canadian Church

Thursdays, from March 25, April 1, from 1:30pm - 4:30pm EST

What does it look like for congregations here in Canada to flourish? How do you identify transformation, define what it means for a community of faith and look for continued indicators of health and effectiveness?

Using Canadian-based social science research from over 250 Canadian Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant congregations (including over 9100 congregants), the Flourishing Congregations research team will be with us over 4 weeks to present their findings. We'll engage topics like innovation, diversity, neighbourhood engagement, discipleship, leadership, evangelism and more. Join us as we consider the results, think through important questions and theological insights, and offer practical considerations and promising possibilities for leaders and congregations who wish to flourish.

Increasing the Experience of the Holy Spirit in Your Parish

April 21 from 7-8pm (Sydney time)

The Holy Spirit wants to animate our lives and impact the ministries of Catholic leaders. How do we respond to this call? How can we help people in our parishes experience the Holy Spirit in a profound way? Relying on the power of the Holy Spirit is one of the three keys of Divine Renovation since we know that parish renewal cannot happen without his power. Join us for a webinar with Deacon Peter Pellicaan Executive Director, Evangelization Brisbane, and Kevin Bailey AM as they discuss how to increase the experience of the Holy Spirit in your parish.

Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations

Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.


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