• June Howard

Thriving Congregations Program (TCP): An Introduction

As many of you have heard of the Thriving Congregations Program and which Pastor Staci wrote about in last month’s “Woodland Park Press,” some of you may still have questions about the program and how it works within our congregation. We have created a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to help answer those questions and give you background for the program. We will be providing FAQs frequently in our church communications. We welcome questions you may have in addition. Feel free to send your questions to any of us in the Core Group, Pastor Staci, Dustin Wilsor, Todd, Peterson, Joy Shay, and June Howard.

What is the origin of the Thriving Congregations Program?

Through the Thriving Congregations Initiative, Lilly Endowment seeks to help charitable organizations—especially those committed to supporting the vitality of congregations—develop new or existing programs that equip congregations to:

  • Explore and understand the rapidly changing contexts in which they minister

  • Gain clarity about their own values and missions

  • Draw on practices from their theological and ecclesial traditions to adapt their ministries to their changing contexts.

  • The aim of the initiative is to help congregations strengthen their ministries and thrive so they can better help people deepen their relationship with God, enhance their connections with each other and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world.

As of this date, the Endowment has made grants to 92 organizations for the Thriving Congregations Initiative. The list is available on the website:

www.lillyendowment.org/thriving congregations. Last year, the Seattle Presbytery submitted a grant proposal to the Lily Foundation and received a four -year grant which our church’s Session voted to participate in.

What is the purpose of being part of the Thriving Congregations Program?

Research evidences the trends and challenges facing congregations today and tomorrow. With aging facilities and diversifying communities, it is essential to learn how embracing communities can allow faith and theological commitments to find new life through community relationships. The aim of the initiative is to prepare congregations to be transformational learning communities able to confront social and cultural challenges faithfully and creatively

What is the Thriving Congregations Program?

The Seattle Presbytery seeks to engage learning cohorts of five-to-ten congregations each year to participate in examination of their ecclesial and theological commitments, creative cultivation of Christian practices, and learn how they are informed by the social and cultural context of their communities. To accomplish this, the Seattle Presbytery is developing a two-year cohort program that assists congregations in becoming transformational learning communities. Congregations will learn to: 1) discern congregational identity, 2) interpret their ministry context, 3) practice intercultural community-building, and 4) form innovative collaborative ministry models. Learning cohorts will participate in bi-monthly gatherings, learn to interpret community, receive prayer and coaching, form a collaborative network and reading group, practice intercultural leadership, and build community-based ministry. Facilitated by the learning cohort staff, the book How Your Congregation Learns, and guest lecturers, a learning community will engage this two-year journey with a new cohort beginning each year in years one through three. Through this overlapping structure successive cohorts will inform and support each other.

Who is our church participating in the Thriving Congregations Programs?

We have five people in our congregation participating in this program directly. This core group consists of Pastor Staci Imes, Todd Peterson, Dustin Wilsor, June Howard, and Joy Shay. Our support group is Mary Lou McKay, Judy Andrews, Polly Peterson, Devin Howard, April Benson, Gene Oliver, and Matt Schultz. All of these folks are volunteers. The core group attends 1⁄2 day bimonthly meetings with about 9 other congregations in the Presbytery. These are led by Presbytery Staff Tali Hairston, Director of Community Organizing and Maggie Breen, Community Education and Assessment Specialist. The core group also meets on its own and with partner congregations during the in-between times. The support team does not attend these meetings but as we move forward will help the core team to bring the whole congregation and broader community into the process. The Core Team has already met with the Support Team at least once and have had some fruitful conversation. The Thriving Congregations Process is a two year or more process. A new group of congregations will join each year so that congregations that have gone before can share their learning and conclusions with the new congregations coming on.

What are the resources for the process?

Beyond sharing experiences and discussion of ideas, the process involves the book, How Your Congregation Learns by Tim Shapiro. The book describes the learning journey from challenge to achievement that churches should go through to develop ministries. The book emphasizes the relationship between leadership and learning. Members of the congregation are encouraged to read this book as it offers helpful guidance in this process. Copies are available in the church office. Contact Tamami if you would like a copy.

How is this different from other similar processes WPPC has undertaken?

Sticky Notes: In this process, we asked congregants to write on sticky notes what ministries they thought WPPC should be involved in. This method is more directly program related and based upon known ministries, not answering the question of why or how to be involved. TCP is more directly spiritually driven--what are our beliefs and how do we use them, how do we make decisions on what to do? How do we learn about our local community and where we can get involved? What part in all of these decisions does our faith play a role and how do we discern that? Faith Land Discernment training: TCP is similar in some respects. They are both about asking questions and seeking answers. FLD was more centered around our building, how it can be used, what are the desires of the congregation? TCP is in some respects a higher-level discussion about how we make decisions, what WPPCs faith commitments are, and how shall we put them into action? Process for Choosing Co-Pastor. This process, too, was more specifically directed. Time was spent in small groups and in individual conversations. However, there was one topic: what was involved in and what was the process in hiring a co-pastor.

With the Thriving Congregations program, we will be looking at the whole picture of our church, what its goals are, what its mission is and how we can fit in partnership in our community.

What is a Thriving Congregation?

A Thriving Congregation is a learning congregation. Just as an individual thrives by always learning so can a Congregation improve and grow in so many aspects of its life. This happens by learning how to understand and name challenges, then how to explore, gather and share information about each challenge to find optimal solutions.

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