Dear Congregation, We’re Practicing Together

Shifting from passive participation to active engagement

two people reading the bible together

Dear congregation, 

New practices inevitably raise anxiety for some of us. As we introduce practices of faithful innovation in our life together, I want you to know there is a plan, and a community around trying these “new” things.  

Faithful Innovation is not primarily about new ideas, but about returning to ancient practices that help us to: 

  • connect with God
  • cultivate community 
  • tell the story
  • practice justice
  • and shift ministry practices. 

We have all noticed that younger generations don’t seem to be interested in church as it has been for decades. We are well past the time for a shift “From Performative to Formative Ministry”. There has been a cultural shift to desiring our own experiences, instead of observing leaders performing for us, and that definitely impacts church participation. Consider the rise of yoga, open mic/storyslam events, and online communities as spaces where people now seek experiences of resonance and community. But what if this cultural shift is calling us back to who followers of Jesus are meant to be, in the first place? We are designed to experience the “living water” of encountering God for ourselves (see John 4:5-42), not to just farm it out to the “professionals”. Below I describe at least one practice in each category from Faith+Lead’s innovation framework. There are many, many more!  

Connect with God

We have practiced together Dwelling in the Word, which is sometimes known as Lectio Divina, a pattern of listening to a passage of Scripture at least twice, with silence in between, then wondering together:

  • What stands out to you: a word, phrase, or idea?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What might God be saying to us through this?

We then share with a partner our responses to any of those questions, listening deeply so that we might notice themes and name for the entire group what we heard our partner say. This practice can be used well for discernment of future direction, and also for changing up our habits of interpreting Scripture. Instead, we let Scripture interpret “us”! Silence—which many of us are uncomfortable with—is a crucial part of “connecting with God”. 

Cultivate Community

We started practicing milestones in worship: sharing the notable highs and lows of our week. This practice opens a space to listen to any person’s voice in worship, from visitor to long-time member, from youngest to oldest. After anyone shares something from their life, all we who have listened, say in unison: “”Milestone!” We cannot care for one another if we do not know what’s going on in each other’s lives, after all. 

Tell the Story

We have experienced several story-telling and faith-sharing practices, from Faith+Lead. If you are reading this online, you can find links to the faith interview questions and the “Why Jesus?” practice in this sentence. From the interview article: “Be clear: this interview practice is not about gathering information, although the task-oriented among us will feel relief at having specific directions. It is not a survey to be done individually. The actions of interviewing and listening—the process—are their own reward. The storytelling is what builds relationships, between us and with God, and that is evangelism.” 

Think about who could interview each other:

  • Youth interviewing elders or vice versa
  • Council members interviewing church or community members 
  • Outreach committee/team interviewing neighbors

Practice Justice

We begin to “practice justice” when we truly listen to the experiences of people who are marginalized by the dominant culture, and recognize our own power and complicity in oppression. Working on ourselves is the beginning, then interrupting bigotry in our own circles, wherever we live our lives. It’s a big step for well-behaved church people to practice becoming interrupters, but that is what it takes to practice justice in our world. Some congregations have connected with the community by offering active bystander training. From the article How Active Bystander Training Changes Our Witness

“Active Bystanders are people who see or hear interpersonal interactions based in oppression and choose to act to make it clear that the interactions are not okay. They do this by assisting the target or by interacting with the harm-doer, and they may act during the conflict, after the conflict, or even by adjusting circumstances beforehand to prevent negative behavior. Active bystanders do not escalate the situation or label the harm-doer as racist (sexist, classist, etc.). Active bystanders simply make it clear that interpersonal oppression is not okay.”

Shift Ministry Models

As we prioritize the above practices and others in congregational life, we might have to let go of other demands on our time and energy. There might need to be some “strategic abandonment” of things we’ve always done, if they are no longer helping people to experience Christ for themselves. We will need a spirit of experimentation, and to prioritize Sabbath. Listen, Act, Share is a faithful process for experimentation where we learn together. We may ask how leaders and congregation members claim sabbath, a time for mindful, joyful rest

Remember, you are not alone. There are many people motivated and ready to help us get back to our “roots” as followers of Jesus. Many of us are on this journey together.  

In Christ, 

Your Ministry Leader

  • Lee Ann Pomrenke

    Lee Ann M. Pomrenke is an ELCA pastor and digital content editor for The Faith+Leader. Rev. Pomrenke is the author of Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God (Church Publishing, Inc, 2020). She also blogs at

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