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Congregational Vitality 

Living the Resurrection's most intensive process.

The goal of this process is to help congregations develop mutual relationships with their neighbors. Synods or Diocese can offer the process to a group of congregations in their care.  

Congregations who actively participate and complete the work of the eight workshops included in the 18-month process will:

  • discover and articulate the core values of the congregation

  • identify neighbors (organization, institution, agency, or individuals) who share similar core values.

  • partner with specific neighbors to do “something” good for the neighborhood.  The point of the “something” is to foster relationships – so its not about the thing/event/ministry as much as it is about the relationships working together creates.

In addition, the team of leaders from the congregation will learn how to:

  • move their congregation through change with minimal resistance

  • use a change strategy to help them in future efforts.

 This process  is a deep exploration of the passions and struggles of both a congregation and its neighborhood, listening to discern where God is working to build connections. It includes eight workshops spaced about two months apart. The process moves at the speed of the congregations involved, working with them to build and maintain momentum for change. This extended focus gives congregations time to listen to one another, learn new things and then apply what they are learning with two innovations. It is an exciting process that helps congregations find their place in God's mission and start participating!  

This cohort based process is offered three ways:

  • in-person workshops facilitated by Pastor Marj (now ongoing in Central and Southern California).

  • a train-the-trainer process to teach leaders in your synod/area to lead the process with a group of congregations.

  • Facilitated by Pastor Marj through Zoom, with congregation teams either in a room with a local facilitator, or everyone on zoom.

The price structure for each offering is under "Financial Cost" at the end of this page. 

The comments and photos in the smaller blue and green bubbles that follow are from congregations who completed this 18-month process.  

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Why should your synod consider offering this process?

Maybe Linda’s story will help you see how this vitality process can help the congregations in your care to live into God’s dream for your future.


Linda had always used the park across the street to walk her dog. The “park” is the grounds of a church, but there’s no gate and the neighbors use the lawn as if it were a public place. One day Linda noticed that people were painting the outside of the building. A woman waved and said hello to her. Linda responded, and they struck up a conversation. She decided to go back and get her husband and join the team painting the building. It was her way of thanking the church for providing the neighborhood park. As they painted she discovered that the group was a lot of fun and they invited she and her husband to attend worship. Linda had never been a churchgoer – but had wondered what it would be like. She and her husband began attending and eventually joined. 

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That was 20 years ago. Since then the congregation has declined to just 60 people who are as close as family. Their children have grown up and moved away. The neighborhood has turned over and now has many Latinx residents, most of whom (the congregation believes) don’t speak English. It’s also assumed they are Catholic, since “most Latinos are.”

It breaks Linda’s heart to see her congregation think of itself in the past tense, but they do. The glory days are behind them. They will survive and continue to pray and care for one another, but that’s all most of the congregation dare to hope for the future. 

Linda’s congregation is far from unique. Many of us attend congregations that are not as connected to the neighborhood as they used to be. But what can we do?

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Why? A Biblical Perspective.

It should come as no surprise that everything Living the Resurrection offers is founded on the Biblical promise of new life. Many of our congregations are convinced they are sliding from decline into death, yet God routinely calls us out of one way of living and into another.  God is committed to being in relationships with all people.  When what we are doing doesn't support God’s vision, that way needs to die. 


But death is not the end. Scripture contains so many stories of new life coming out of some sort of death, it’s hard to settle on just a few. Abram was called away from everything in knew in Haran and became the Father of the nations. Jesus’ healing miracles gave new life to many who suffered from chronic illness that had isolated them since birth. Their healing doesn’t restore them to community as much as provide the opportunity for their first experience of it.   


Our congregational vitality process focuses on a few of the big new life stories; the Exodus out of slavery, the return from Exile in Babylon, and God’s resurrection of Jesus.  My point isn’t simply that God calls us into new life, but that we have always had a part to play in the now and not yet of the mission of God.         

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What is the Living the Resurrection Congregational Vitality Process?

This process is a structured learning process designed to build on the existing vitality of a congregation. It is a strategy to help each congregation discover God’s vision for them and their relationship with their neighbors. 

The Rev. Dr. Marj Funk-Pihl began to develop this process in the beginning of 2016.  So far twenty congregation have increased their vitality by developing mutual relationships with their neighbors using this congregational vitality process. 10 more congregations are working the process right now!  

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How? And When?

Our congregational vitality process uses an adaptive change strategy called  Appreciative Inquiry . This process moves through four stages, called the “Four I’s” because each stage begins with the letter “I”. As you read through the description of the workshops below, take a moment to notice how these stages form the framework for the process.


To help you see what happens in this process, let’s explore the process as if Linda and her congregation participated in this process.  This is the workshop schedule for the congregations currently involved in the process. It serves as an example the timing and content of the workshops. 

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What happens after this process?

The eight workshops were over before they knew it. At first Linda and the team were disappointed. They had worked hard for 18 months, but their congregation wasn’t any bigger. But they decided to keep the innovations going and to continue learning from them. Gradually the congregation began to align with God’s mission and interact with their neighbors more and more.

That was five years ago. Now Linda is full of joy because the congregation she loves is alive and well. Through the process they learned to use the best stories of their past. Instead of grieving over what they had lost, they focused on what their stories told them about who they were. That’s when they remembered Linda’s story of how she came to be part of the congregation. Another couple reminded them that they had joined after their family suffered a tragedy and the congregation had organized the neighborhood to help them. Remembering these stories helped Linda’s congregation reclaim who they really were and bring their heart for their neighbors into the future with them. 

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Now kids are running around again, and parents watch and enjoy each other as two languages fill the air. The congregation supports the local schools and agencies with their time, skills and financial resources. They don’t offer many programs on their own, instead almost everything they do is based in neighborhood events. Their fellowship hall hosts town hall meetings where issues are discussed, and solutions are worked out. Bible studies, sermons and worship all support the congregation in living out God’s mission in the neighborhood. They continue to pray and care deeply for one another. Their circle has expanded, and they have become an integral part of the neighborhood. 

As their relationships with their neighbors deepened, members began to recognize how exclusive their worship practices had become. Because they wanted their new friends to be welcome, they invited them into the leadership and ministry teams of the congregation. Worship has become more physical and lively. As new people join in, they add to the dynamics of worship and life together. 


The church building needs painting again, and neighbors and members work together to have fun and get the job done.

What about your synod or congregation?

Is this something you'd like for the congregation(s) in your care?

If so, click the "work with us" button to get started!

What else do you need to know?

This process will generate energy, but it will also require energy. Congregations who decide to participate may need to suspend some of their current activities for the next 18 months. Fear not, this is a good and healthy thing to do. Each congregation creates their own Learning Team. Together, the Learning Teams from each congregation will form a Learning Community. These folks will work together for 18 months. Workshops will be scheduled almost every other month.


Each congregation will take a turn hosting a workshop and providing snacks and lunch. Each Learning Team should consist of 4-6 people who commit to attending all of the workshops. Alternatively, you can have 2-3 to commit to all of the workshops and then add 2-3 as you go along, asking people who would be appropriate for the different workshops. Either way will work, as long as 2-3 folks are consistent attenders. 

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Financial Cost of Living the Resurrection

California Lutheran Homes is partnering with Living the Resurrection to provide the 18 month process to congregations of the ELCA or LCMS in Central and Southern California for only $350 (payable over 18 months).  Click the "Work with us"  button and indicate your congregation name and contact information and we'll get in touch!  

Costs for those outside of Central and Southern California:*

  • in-person workshops facilitated by Pastor Marj. 

    • $25,000 per year for 2 year process plus travel and hotel expenses.​

  • a train-the-trainer process to teach leaders in your synod/area to lead the process with a group of congregations.

    • two 4 day sessions 6 months apart.​

    • $12,000  plus travel and hotel expenses for Pastor Marj

  • Facilitated by Pastor Marj through Zoom, with congregation teams either in a room with a local facilitator, or everyone on zoom.

    • 8 online workshops over 18 months plus coaching for local leaders on recruiting and advertising the process.​

    • $15,000 per year (2 years).

If you are ELCA talk to your DEM about getting a Synod Vitality grant from Churchwide to help pay for this process.

Click the "Work with us" button below to get started!

Closing Comment

Thank you for reading Linda’s story. It is my prayer that God uses her story to inspire you to consider tthis process as a way to strengthen the vitality of the congregation(s) in your care. 


Let's talk about the possibilities! click  Work with Us! .


May the God of hope will you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). 


Yours in the mission of God with your congregation(s)!

The Rev. Dr. Marj Funk-Pihl

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