VIP Overview

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the Vitality Improvement Program for Small Congregations (VIP)?

The VIP program is a 3-year project, the purpose of which is to improve the vitality (ability to thrive) and sustainability (capacity to survive) of small congregations by providing reduced-cost consultation and training to small congregations that would not otherwise be able to afford them. The VIP program is funded by Trinity Wall Street Philanthropies, as well as contributions (financial and in-kind) from FaithX and several of its partner organizations, and from participating dioceses and congregations.

Who should apply for the VIP project?

Cohorts of leaders small congregations (ASA 30-70) and their dioceses commit to a 3-year program that will allow the congregations to assess their vitality and sustainability and develop effective improvement strategies to with the assistance of their dioceses. Congregations should be relatively healthy, free of major conflicts, with leaders and members willing and able to apply learnings for the benefit of the congregation, its neighborhoods, and other congregations in its diocese. 

Why 30-70 average attendance?

Congregations smaller than 30 ASA tend to have a difficult time increasing vitality and sustainability. Meanwhile, an ASA above 70 are beyond the limit of what can be considered small?

Why do congregations and their dioceses have to make a participation contribution?

It has been our experience that providing resources and services free of charge results in significantly lower commitment to, engagement in, and learning from vitality improvement programs. It is also strongly encouraged by Trinity Wall Street Philanthropies. Participation contributions are part of “Pay-it-Forward” financial plan/sustainability plan (see “Features” menu below).

What are the roles and responsibilities of congregations and diocese participating in the VIP project?
  • Participating dioceses form Diocesan Vitality Improvement Teams to shepherd the diocese and their congregations through the three year program and beyond (with the help of FaithX). Each diocesan team then recruits a cohort of 7-10 congregations each to to guide their congregations through the 3-year program of vitality and sustainability improvement activities. Meanwhile, dioceses willassess their own vitality and sustainability and develop effective improvement strategies using a soon-to-be-available, online, research-based Judicatory Vitality Assessment that FaithX is currently developing in Year 1 of the project.
  • Participating congregations form a Parish Vitality Improvement Team to lead them through the 3-year program and beyond, increasing their own vitality and sustainability by leveraging their vitality strengths to engage the neighborhoods they serve. They explore their vitality and sustainability strengths and weakness using their diocese’s Congregational Vitality Assessment Judicatory Platform and identify neighborhood missional opportunities and challenges using their diocese’s MapDash for Faith Communities demographic/analysis platform. Guidance will be provided by FaithX and direct assistance by Diocesan Vitality Improvement Teams.
What does the Vitality Improvement Program?*

The total VIP budget of is approximately $1.2 million over the 3-year project.

What proportion of the cost does each congregational and diocesan participation contribution represent?*
  • Congregations: $750/yr. = 0.25%yr. 
  • Dioceses: $10,000/yr. = 2.5%
What proportion of the cost does Faith's contribution represent?*
  • FaithX: $90,000 over 3 years = 7.5%
What if a $750 per year contribution is beyond the means of our congregation?

There are a number of ways we can help congregations whose budgets are stretched too thin:

  • Quarterly, monthly, and weekly payment plans are available (e.g., $15/week).
  • Partial scholarships are available for congregations that can demonstrate financial need.
  • Parishioners may make a designated contribution to the FaithX VIP Scholarship fund on behalf of their parish.
*Funding and resources for the Vitality Improvement Program

*Funding and resources for the Vitality Improvement Program will come from a variety of sources and partners over the 3-year period of the project, including: Trinity Wall Street Philanthropies ($800,000 grant), The FaithX Project ($90,000 in scholarships toward subscription costs), Datastory ($30,000 in MapDash reduced rates and extra features), Episcopal Church Foundation ($15,000 in foregone commissions plus in-kind contributions and support), participation contributions from dioceses ($10,000/yr/ea = $50,000) and congregations ($750/yr/ea = $37,500), and others. Participation contributions are part of “Pay-it-Forward” financial plan/sustainability plan (see “Features” menu below).

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Cohort-Based Model
Using a cohort-based model to bring data-grounded tools and processes to those who need it most, allowing them to focus on improving vitality and sustainability. We will focus on the unique needs of small congregations by attending to the unique needs of the cohort.
Data-Grounded Assessment and Strategy Development

Providing tools and consultation that enable congregations and their dioceses to ground their missional discernment in objective data, including assessing their own vitality and sustainability strengths and weaknesses, identifying missional opportunities and challenges in the neighborhoods they service, and discovering and addressing their own blind spots and biases. Each diocese will receive a subscription to MapDash for Faith Communities, the Missional Opportunity Index, the Congregational Vitality Assessment Judicatory Platform, and will participate in the Judicatory Vitality Assessment (development to be funded by this grant).

Vision-Grounded Experimentation
Assisting congregations in clarifying their vision and mission and in using rapid experimenting to develop new ways of being and doing Church in support of the clarified vision and mission.
Communities of Guided Learning and Practice
which successes can be celebrated, challenges can be processed, and progress supported and sustained. We be convening them at several levels: communities formed among participating congregation project teams, among participating judicatory project teams, and among joint congregation-judicatory teams.
Resourcing and Resource Development

We will bring to congregations and their dioceses critical tools to assist them in strategic missional assessment and planning, including: (a) MapDash for Faith Communities, an interactive, online demographic analytic platform, developed with our affiliate, Datastory; (b) the Congregational Vitality Assessment, developed in partnership with the Episcopal Church Foundation; and the soon-to-be-developed Judicatory Vitality Assessment.

Pay-It-Forward Financial Sustainability Model

Grant funding will be used to elevate the first cohorts from simple surviving to becoming vital and sustainable congregations, which would generate sufficient resources to pay into a fund to support future cohorts. As each congregation improved its vitality and sustainability, grant-funded support would be gradually reduced and eventually eliminated at the end of this 3-year round of the VIP project. The contributions we are asking of participating dioceses ($10,000/year) and congregations ($750/year), both payable monthly, while small compared to the $1.2M cost of the project, are a significant part of this pay-it-forward model.

Diffusion of Innovation
will be achieved through the above communities of practice, webinar and podcasts, conferences and workshops, and other venues.
Systemic Sustainability
We believe congregational sustainability is contextual. To achieve long-term vitality and sustainability, congregations must effectively engage their neighborhood and diocesan contexts. Therefore, we will be assisting congregations to determine whether it is possible for them to be self-sustaining. For example, if it is essential that their diocese has a presence in a declining community, a congregation might become a supported mission of the diocese. Likewise, if a congregation determines that the reason there are missional opportunities in the neighborhoods they serve that they are not effectively engaging, we might assist the congregation in developing effective strategies. In either of the above cases, we might assist the congregation in becoming a resource hub for the community, helping them find ways to leverage their property and building(s) to bring needed resources into their community. Such a resource hub could creating a sustainable symbiosis, in which low rental fees would make it financial possible for nonprofit community service organizations and government agencies to locate locate services on the congregations property in the local community that the congregation serves, while those same fees would help the congregation sustain its own presence in the community.

*The VIP project is made possible by a grant from Trinity Wall Street Philanthopies.