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Jan 25, 2018

Groundbreaking Research on Episcopal Spiritual Vitality

Episcopalians want to grow spiritually. Research from more than 200 congregations and 12,000 Episcopalians conducted by Forward Movement is summarized in a recently published paper rooted in extensive work on spiritual growth and vitality.

The RenewalWorks ministry, which is focused on spiritual vitality and fostering a culture of discipleship, has revealed much about the spiritual life of the Episcopal Church.

“We have learned that there is great spiritual hunger among Episcopalians,” says the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, director of RenewalWorks. “And we are discovering catalysts that can address that hunger. Basic spiritual practices such as daily prayer, scripture study, worship attendance, and serving the poor will lead to transformation.”

The research paper is available for free download at www.renewalworks.org/researchsummary. There is also a graphic with some of the key findings on that download page.

The research summary outlines what we are learning about the spiritual life of the Episcopal Church, including the stages of spiritual growth and practices that lead to transformation.

Among key findings:

  • Exploring Christians include 18% of Episcopalians. This stage includes seekers and new Christians. But in the Episcopal Church, some people who have attended church for decades are also at this stage.
  • Growing Christians is a stage where people have committed to their spiritual growth. 55% of Episcopalians fit in this stage.
  • Deepening Christians are those who articulate a personal relationship with God and whose life bears significant marks of their faith. This is 23% of Episcopalians.
  • Christ-Centered represents just 4% of Episcopalians. For this small group, a personal relationship with God in Christ is the most important relationship in their lives.

“Our research also shows specific catalysts that are likely to move people from one stage to the next,” says the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. “So if we want our congregations to be places where spiritual growth is happening, we need to teach and to nurture spiritual practices such as prayer, worship, study, and service.”

The research also shows the importance of the leader’s heart. “The spiritual health of the leader in the congregation is key,” Sidebotham says. “Too often clergy lose touch with their first love, with the reasons that they were drawn to ordained ministry. These challenges can have a negative effect on a church’s vitality.”

The data for the report come from the congregations who have taken part in the RenewalWorks process. This process

  • Invites congregants to take an extensive online survey of their beliefs, attitudes, and practices
  • Leads a team through four workshops to understand the findings and to implement a plan in response
  • Empowers leaders to create a culture of discipleship in their congregations

“What’s brilliant about RenewalWorks is that it is diagnostic, not prescriptive,” Gunn says. “There’s no gimmick here. The process tells leaders where people are, and then lay and clergy leaders can work together to offer opportunities for growth and depth.”

RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement, which is a ministry of the Episcopal Church. Known widely for its flagship devotional, Forward Day by Day, Forward Movement inspires disciples and empowers evangelists through digital resources, websites, printed materials, and conferences. Learn more about RenewalWorks at www.renewalworks.org or Forward Movement at www.forwardmovement.org.

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