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Trade Paperback
144 pages
Jan 2004
Westminster John Knox Press

Beyond the Ordinary: Ten Strengths of U.S. Congregations

by Cynthia Woolever & Deborah Bruce

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Ordinary to Extraordinary?

A farm, a tornado, a girl, her dog, and three friends following a yellow brick road:  Frank Baum builds on common, familiar images to tell his fairy-tale adventure, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Baum’s morality tale about the qualities needed to make it in the world says the trip requires brains, heart, and courage.

        Baum’s characters—the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion—were fanciful but intentional ways of framing his message.  These three characters symbolize the universal human qualities of mind, heart, and courage.   Congregations possess these same three qualities

  • Every congregation has a mind.  What do we see inside our congregation and from our doors?  Through our intelligence and thinking, what do we understand that view to mean?
  • Every congregation has a heart.  What do we feel about what we see?  What gives us joy?  For what do we grieve?  From these feelings, what do we hope to imagine and create?
  • Every congregation has courage.  What will we do with what we see, feel, and imagine?  What will we courageously seek, knowing there is no assurance of success?  

In these pages we invite you to (1) discover the qualities that are evident in strong congregations—those that courageously use their minds and heart, (2) feel the dimensions and intensity of these qualities in strong congregations, and (3) have courageous conversations about what God calls congregations to do.

A Language of Strengths

A recent edition of the Ethnologue lists “7,202 languages spoken worldwide, 440 of them, within a generation or two of extinction.”   The languages with which people describe “healthy congregations” and the definitions they use may not number in the thousands, but they certainly exceed several dozen.  The various definitions derive at least in part from the definers and their different points of view.  Based on theological agendas that are seldom inclusive, these lists of congregational health characteristics attract devoted followers.  Our research moves leaders and people of faith beyond that definitional Tower of Babel toward a more comprehensive and useful language based on congregational strengths.

What is different about our approach?  In much scientific research, studies examining weakness dominate the agenda, outdistancing efforts to comprehend the strengths of individuals or organizations.  Martin Seligman, a former president of the American Psychological Association, critiqued his own discipline:  “Psychology is half-baked, literally.  We have baked the part about mental illness.  We have baked the part about repair and damage.  But the other side is unbaked.  The side of strengths, the side of what we are good at, the side… of what makes life worth living.

From "Beyond the Ordinary: 10 Strengths of U.S. Congregations," by Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, copyright 2004 by Westminster John Knox Press, and used here with permission of U.S.Congregations and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).