Four catalysts for spiritual growth identified in detailed study released by Forward Movement

Posted Jan 26, 2018

[Episcopal News Service] How can the Episcopal Church feed Episcopalians’ hunger for spiritual growth in the 21st century? Forward Movement surveyed 12,000 people from more than 200 Episcopal congregations for answers, producing a report released this week that provides a snapshot of the spiritual life of the church.

The extensive research was conducted through Forward Movement’s RenewalWorks ministry, and the report’s findings include analysis of the varying degrees of spiritual vitality and cultures of discipleship found in Episcopal congregations.

“We have learned that there is great spiritual hunger among Episcopalians,” the Rev. Jay Sidebotham, director of RenewalWorks, said in a press release. “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 found that 55 percent of Episcopalians can be considered in the “growing” stage of their faith, on a spectrum from “exploring” to “Christ-centered.” Those in the “growing” stage have committed to their faith but may not yet feel that their life bears significant marks of their faith.

The report also emphasizes what churches can do to support Episcopalians’ spiritual journey from one stage to the next. Four key catalysts are

  • engagement with scripture,
  • the transforming power of the eucharist,
  • a deeper prayer life
  • and the heart of the congregation’s leader.

“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 Rev. Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement, said in the press release.

You can read the full press release here.

An infographic showing some of the key findings can be found here, and the full 17-page report can be accessed here.

Forward Movement is a publications and media ministry of the Episcopal Church known for its flagship devotional “Forward Day by Day.”


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Comments (10)

  1. Fr. Carlton Kelley says:

    With all due respect, we did not need a study to tell us this. These have always been the church’s tools for growth into holiness. Perhaps all the study does is to show us how far we have wandered away from the truth.

  2. The Rev. Fred Fenton says:

    Father Kelley is right. There is nothing new in this Forward Movement study. These things have been the emphasis in Episcopal churches while membership continues to shrink. For a courageous, new approach, more faithful to the authentic teachings of Jesus (of which no mention its made in the Nicene Creed) the Church needs to change the emphasis from orthodoxy to orthopraxy, from Christianity based on beliefs to Christianity that involves sacrificial, loving service to those in need.

    1. Fr. Carlton Kelley says:

      I could not agree more with Fr. Fenton’s call for “sacrificial, loving service.” Yet, I would maintain that we can and should have and promote both orthodoxy and orthopraxis. As I am fond of saying, orthodoxy is a lush garden with many delights. Perhaps our careful cultivation is our orthopraxis.

  3. Fr. John-Julian, OJN says:

    I think the study has provided, as Fr. Carlton says, some familiar results. However, based on my own experience as a long-time parish development consultant, I think the list is backward. I am convinced that it is the quality of the spirituality of the rector/vicar that always lies at the core. In fact, with a truly devout and informed person at the helm, the rest of the list becomes self-evident. And I think there is a significant danger in beginning with scripture, because scripture is so dangerous in the hands of an unformed spirituality and absent a deep commitment to the spirituality of the Church herself (in Eucharist and in prayer).

    1. Fr. Carlton Kelley says:

      I agree with Fr. John-Julian. Many, if not most of our laity (and perhaps more clergy than we dare admit) are ignorant of “the spirituality of the Church herself (in Eucharist and in prayer.) It is one thing to attend Sunday liturgy faithfully, it is quite another to have an intimate knowledge of the living components of these things.

  4. Susana Sweeters says:

    I am not a minister but would like to respond to these priests. Maybe you did not need to hear about this study but as an Episcopalian who has attended churches all over the world, I have never found priests who were engaged in their spiritual growth or mine. I have had to go outside of the Church to live this life and to continue to grow in all ways in Jesus Christ. Mostly I have been nourished and have learned from Christian monks and nuns. Thank you.

    1. Fr. Carlton Kelley says:

      I would like to respond to Susana Sweeters to say that your inability to find clergy engaged in their own spiritual growth and concerned with yours is lamentable indeed. I am sorry for that and understand that our monasteries do provide wonderful resources for all of us. However, let me say that our liturgies, as I understand Archbishop Cranmer to have intended, are designed for everyone’s spiritual growth through a wide ranging reading of Holy Scripture, an understandable, if not learned, sermon, and the faithful reception of Holy Communion. It is then up to all of us, clergy and laity alike, to make use of those resources in our daily lives. We are to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest,” not just on Sundays, but each day of the week. The 1979 BCP has a section of daily devotions that should not be daunting for even a busy individual or family to pray which could then lead to a use of the complete Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

  5. Doug Desper says:

    If anyone is interested the likely possible hope for the Episcopal Church’s revival isn’t found in getting Episcopalians together for self-appreciation rallies and revivals all over the country. Dressing up in liturgical finery, polishing up the communion spoons, and preaching to the dioceses’ converted has limited appeal and impact on the wider Church. It helps, but the fire doesn’t really catch on the rest of the logs.

    Our hope lies in the spiritual growth of the laity and that will be best found in looking at what growing, healthy non-Episcopal churches do. Are we humble enough to admit that we need that education? Those large growing independent and “Bible” churches borrow models from Anglican history itself, particularly during the days of the derided “methodist” movement in 18th century England. Lazy clergy and disinterested laity in those times cast aspersions on clergy and laity who wanted more than Prayer Book droning and ornamental trappings. They formed “bands” who met in homes for spiritual growth and those bands attracted people — the same people would “plug into” the local parish churches (at least the churches who would have them). The “methodist” movement grew to an astonishingly massive degree and many Anglican churches were not prepared or willing to assimilate them…so the Methodists became their own church.

    Yes, fine national preachers exist. Episcopal Revivals light a log. However, the laity make up a much larger fireplace than these sporadic sparks. Home groups with a mission to study, pray, and attract more into their folds works. Those bands also track the sick and tend to the needs of their group. Then those groups all assemble in a common church after having been the church separately and effectively during the week. It’s what Archbishop Cramner likely had in mind when he wanted all of England to “become Benedictine”. Creating intentional home/community groups works. History proves it. The New Testament shows that model. When we tend to laity growth like that then we needn’t worry about church attendance, budgets, where new clergy will come from, future pensions, and what to do with dying churches.

    We are long overdue to light more than a single log. The larger fireplace is waiting. Humility to learn from others with health and numbers has not been tried. Their lessons are found in our own past — if anyone can remember.

  6. Priscilla Johnstone says:

    I agree with Susana Sweeters’ post. I too have found spiritual engagement & growth primarily outside the walls of the church. However my current home Parish is the exception; a few years ago, I joined our EfM group, led by exceptional women of faith. Our group was lively, engaged and thrived on our spiritual discussions. This year, we are studying Jesus & Judaism at the time of his teaching. We are studying the many meanings in pondering scripture as interpreted by Rabbis studying the Torah over the centuries. This has brought a much richer understanding of our own early church as Christianity developed. Our Priest is very engaged in promoting increased understanding of Jesus’ teachings, our Baptismal Covenant and our life as Christians in today’s world. We are a small church and support many Mercy & Justice programs as part of our Parish work. This is the most vibrant & alive church I have ever attended and if our Priest is any indication, I look forward to the impact of her generation on our Episcopal Church.

  7. Priscilla Johnstone says:

    I agree with Susana Sweeters’ post. I too have found spiritual engagement & growth primarily outside the walls of the church. However my current home Parish is the exception; a few years ago, I joined our EfM group, led by exceptional women of faith. Our group thrived on our spiritual discussions. This year, we are studying Jesus & Judaism at the time of his teaching. We are studying the many meanings derived from pondering scripture,as interpreted by Rabbis studying the Torah over the centuries. This has brought a much richer understanding of our own early church as Christianity developed. Our Priest is very engaged in promoting increased understanding of Jesus’ teachings, our Baptismal Covenant and our life as Christians in today’s world. We are a small church and support many Mercy & Justice programs as part of our Parish work. This is the most vibrant & alive church I have ever attended and if our Priest is any indication, I look forward to the impact of her generation on our Episcopal Church.

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