Hear from Dr. Darrell Gwaltney:
We discovered that thriving congregations demonstrate a faithful engagement with the world born out of a commitment to expanded understanding of Christian Practices and sacraments.
As we met with our congregations and listened to them tell their stories of the ways they moved through social and economic and congregational and leadership changes in their congregations and moved towards thriving, we often spoke with them about core practices — things like communion and baptism and marriage and other core sacraments that are part of the identity of the church.
We talked about practices related to evangelism teaching discipleship worship and even preaching. We began to discern from them how it was they practiced their faith. What we found out was there were four things in common among them that demonstrated their commitment growing and understanding of their Christian practices and use of sacraments.
One of the things that we learned was there was no delusion of what they believed. Rather, there was an attempt to discern how their distinct, core beliefs are a part of their identity and their practice.
Secondly, we learned that they became welcoming and affirming in their spirit; that they focused on building bridges in ways that would create a spirit of welcome, instead of creating barriers or walls that would keep folks out.
Third, they moved almost exclusively to an understanding of the gospel as something that was radically hospitable. That is a radical hospitality that never excluded people.
Last of all that we saw in common with these churches, was strong emphasis on biblical preaching and connecting that proclamation of the word with strong, practical application in the church and the community.
These things altogether were a manifestation of these churches [that] continue to focus on who they understood themselves to be as a Christian congregation practicing the core beliefs, the core tenants, and sacraments of their faith. [Faithful Engagement] a critical trait among thriving congregations.