Garner and Thornell, Scattering Seeds, Congregational Vitality


Stephen Chapin Garner and Jerry Thornell, Scattering Seeds: Cultivating Congregational Vitality. Alban Institute, 2012.

Referenced in: Summary

This is a realistic and hopeful model for the revitalization of “average” established congregations. It is especially strong on moving away from a “membership” to a “discipleship” mentality through the deployment of congregational ministry teams that empower people for mission. On both subjects of teams and empowerment, it is less theory and more narrative on how a church struggled with the belief systems and structures that eventually unleashed them into the community. It also shows how churches can validate the day-to-day activities of its people, helping them reframe and consecrate good deeds as Christian witness.

A clip from the church’s website describes this philosophy as a matter of church structure:

The basic life and work of the church is under the direction and supervision of various ministry teams. These teams are small groups of folks who feel called to a particular ministry and who know they need to work together to faithfully accomplish their team’s goals.

Another clip expresses one of their core beliefs, the “Ministry of the Laity.”

Our primary mission is to help people understand that their whole lives are opportunities for ministry. The goal of the Christian life is to be a minister to the world. Additionally, we believe that God cares deeply about the institutions that people work in. To this end, we are committed to helping individual members of our church to discern their gifts and calling for ministry. When an individual truly understands their unique giftedness, and when they are able to discern where the Holy Spirit is calling them to invest those gifts in the world, that is when ministry begins.

An editorial reviewer, Wesley Wildman, says, “At last, here is a book about church vitality that is scrupulously honest, free of pastoral self-deception, sociologically realistic, and packed with reasons to be hopeful about the future of the Christian church.” Although it is based on the experience of a liberal, mainline denominational congregation, the insights are practical for churches of other orientations.

**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

Publisher’s Description

Stephen Chapin Garner and Jerry Thornell share the story of their home congregation, the United Church of Christ in Norwell, MA. This average congregation has approached congregational life in a not-so-average way. Each congregant is seen as a minister, bringing the good news of Christ to the community; the church has moved away from boards and committees, instead utilizing the people to form ministry teams; and they have revitalized the way they approach and practice worship and education. Garner and Thornell don’t claim to have the secret to church growth and vitality, but in sharing the story of their simple church in New England, they give hope and innovative ideas to congregations in regions all over the country.

About the Author

Stephen Chapin Garner is the pastor of the United Church in Christ in Norwell, Massachusetts. He teaches preaching and pastoral studies at Boston University School of Theology. His books include Getting into Character: The Art of First-Person Narrative Preaching, Lost in the Middle? Claiming an Inclusive Faith for Christians Who Are Both Liberal and Evangelical, and Found in the Middle! Theology and Ethics for Christians Who Are Both Liberal and Evangelical.

Jerry Thornell is a graduate of Northeastern University, has been a member of the United Church of Christ in Norwell, Massachusetts for over 30 years, and currently is a staff member serving as Financial Administrator and Gifts and Call Coordinator. He was employed by the Polaroid Corporation for 36 years in various financial management positions.

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