Fluid Tradition and Practicing Congregations

The last blog post brought some interesting reflection from readers. (See the comments portion of the earlier post.) Perhaps this topic bears more exposition. I would like to follow up what I wrote last night by expounding a little on the work of Diana Butler-Bass. A Little over a year ago I found her work on the Alban Institute’s web page. I have since read several of her books and have found them insightful and helpful. She has studied extensively vital congregations across the USA. In her work among mainline churches that were vital, and in many cases growing, there was a common denominator. The churches have all embraced the idea “fluid Traditioning.” That is to say, the church has embraced the historical roots that so many protestant churches, particularly mega-churches, have abandoned completely. But more than embrace those core traditions they are allowing change in these traditions in such a way that honours the past while embracing the reality of NOW and visions towards the future. She calls these vital congregations Practicing Congregations as they are not static but they are “at work,” they are active in mission, they are being disciples. These practicing congregations transform tration instead of regurgitate it with one sad 20 minute medium on Sunday morning. Here is an excerpt from her book  The Practicing Congregation: Imagining an Old New Church Alban Institute 2004 page 53


A Living Tradition

“Christian communities can no longer assume that congregants know their story; it must be imaginatively told, retold and enacted, so that tradition becomes a living thing. Practicing Congregations are dynamic learning communities in which this process occurs. These churches model a particular way of life; communities of practice that forge, express and bear certain traditions. Thus these congregations both carry and craft tradition in intentional ways – “fluid traditioning” – while the surrounding culture has disconnected itself from the moorings of a mostly Protestant past and a detraditioned world. All congregations bear traditions.  But Practicing congregations both bear traditions and transform them at the same time – they are reflexive communities. Whereas establishment style mainline churches viewed tradition as fixed, practicing congregations see tradition as dynamic, fluid and lived reality."


This fits perfectly, I think with The Digital Genie’s assertion that “… impermanence [change] is the basic condition of life.  Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” If we are to make communities of fellowship that people want to be a part of, communities that people will seek out, we have to embrace the reality of the fluid nature of God’s love that is poured out in our Christian story.


In another of her books Ms. Butler-Bass outlines how that is put into practice. That is to say, she gives us 10 practices that are bringing new life to mainline protestant congregations.


Ten Practices That Are Bringing New Life To Mainline Protestant Congregations

From Christianity for the Rest of us by Diana Butler Bass


1. Hospitality 2.Discernment 3.Healing 4.Contemplation 5.Testimony 6. Diversity 7.Justice 8.Worship 9.Reflection 10. Beauty


I would recommend these two books to all who are in church leadership, lay people or ordained as it is a healthy reminder of what we ought to be doing as communities who follow Jesus of Nazareth.  All ten of the principals are in fact based on the life, times and witness of Jesus. In the Practicing Congregations that she writes about, there is a healthy, whole, diverse and inclusive community that is secure enough to embrace change and embrace diversity — because of that willingness to change, the findings of studies such as the one cited in my previous blog are less of a concern – young and young-at-heart alike want to belong to these places – these communities continue to be safe havens for those who want to honour tradition while at the same time become open doors to those who want to walk boldly into the future having learned from the past.


To Purchase these books online just click on the book you want!

Christianity for the Rest of Us


Practicing Congregations  

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