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“Fifty Flourishing” in Five Years: Announcing the 2023-2028 Strategic Plan

December 5, 2023
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This article was adapted from Bishop Alex’s address at our Annual Synod.

I want to share with you about the future of our Diocese and the new Strategic Plan. But before I do that I want to tell you that, having visited most of our 42 churches over the last twelve months, I have personally seen: God raising up new leaders among us, God addressing our desire to reach the next generation of the Church, and God drawing others from outside our tribe. All of these are tooling us up for a new season of growth.

Paul tells the Corinthians to “strive to excel in … [building] up the Church.” I as your bishop should wake up every day to build up the churches of our Diocese, that they may flourish as God intends for them—to the glory of His name. Our staff, canons, and deans should be focused on helping every church in our Diocese define what is needed most to help them move towards flourishing and then help them get there. We exist to be a growing Anglican network of flourishing churches 

“Flourishing” may look different in different contexts. We are not striving for uniformity, but unity. However, some things will mark every flourishing church. At their core, they will possess:

  1. Gospel clarity: believing the Gospel and living it out
  2. Mission defined: committed to the call to reach for the next generation of the Church as well as the poor/marginalized
  3. Healthy community: Holiness in relationships, demonstrating faithfulness and humility toward one another, rooted in prayer and seeking to be led by the Holy Spirit

Their life together will be marked by:

  1. Inspiring worship filled with praise, thanksgiving, and hope
  2. An intentional process for equipping men and women to be a Kingdom of Priests in the world
  3. Wise stewardship over the resources entrusted to them (“partnerships of generosity”)

Flourishing will likely also be committed to patterns relating to growth and multiplication:

  1. Raising up new leaders regularly
  2. Engaging actively with the work of Church Planting – regionally as well as globally – as they are able

To make this core purpose measurable, I have set the goal for us to be fifty flourishing churches within 5 years (by the end of 2028).  

Fifty in five years! Can we do it?

We are forty-two churches currently. Some are flourishing, some are close, and some face significant obstacles. We remain committed to all of them. But even if all 42 come to flourish, we would still need 8 more to reach our goal. Why fifty? Why not set a goal of “forty-two flourishing?”

Because many more within the boundaries of our Diocese need the transforming love of Jesus Christ! We offer a liturgical, gospel-centered way of sharing that Good News that will be useful to the Lord. A man recently said to me over dinner, “Bishop, there is a need for an orthodox liturgical expression of Gospel in Tampa!” Praise God, he is now our church planter for greater Tampa!

One final observation from my travels around our Diocese: there is a growing desire for congregations to partner in ministry beyond themselves. For example, when Good Samaritan (Middleburg, FL) found itself without a rector and unable to financially afford a priest full-time, eight other churches banded together to help them bridge the monetary gap. In God’s divine timing, Fr. Brian Garrison, formerly a priest in Central Florida in another denomination, discerned a call into the Anglican Church in North America. Fr. Mike McDonald and others in the Southern Deanery likewise discerned how Fr. Brian’s gifts might align with the needs at Good Samaritan. Now instead of just surviving, they can truly work toward revitalization and flourishing.

It is true that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a year… but let me say, God has accomplished much among us in just a year. Imagine what He can do with us in 5 years! I hope that when you reflect on that, and the new 2023-2028 Strategic Plan, you are encouraged and excited.

The Plan affirms our three ongoing mission strategies, which you are probably well-acquainted with by now: Planting churches, raising up leaders, and strengthening congregations. It elevates reaching the next generation to that same status, although we have long operated as though it already was! To support these four ongoing works, we are adding three new strategic initiatives:

  • A Center for Ministry to provide supplemental formation and education for clergy and laity, addressing specific needs demonstrated within our Diocese
  • Diocesan Networks organized to create a culture of shared wisdom – peer relationships to equip and encourage as well as strengthen the Diocese as a whole
  • The Grow Fund, allowing the Diocese to steward targeted gifts and funding streams for church planting and revitalization as well as leadership development

You can read the overview of the Strategic Plan here. To execute the Strategic Plan will require us to increase the giving to our Diocesan budget. This year, I am encouraged that almost every church is giving 5% of their contributions to our common ministry budget. Thank you for your faithfulness. Based upon what we have already accomplished this year plus the progress envisioned by our Strategic Plan, I am asking Rectors and Vestries to prayerfully consider giving beyond the 5% for their 2025 pledge next Fall. As a reminder, every church had input into this plan, and over 70 lay and ordained leaders worked together throughout the process developing it. While this planning was “strategic,” it was also prayerful, Spirit-led and inspired. I’ve never left a time of planning that didn’t feel draining. This experience (and it was shared by many others) was just the opposite – uplifting and energizing. Praise God.

If we are to indeed be “Fifty Flourishing” by 2028, it will take all of us laboring together in the common cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ, under the lordship of Jesus Christ, empowered by the spirit of Jesus Christ himself.

So, may we care for our leaders and for each other, and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. May what St. Paul says of the Macedonian Churches (the Thessalonians among them) in 2 Corinthians 8 be said of us in the Gulf Atlantic Diocese:

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of [The Gulf Atlantic Diocese], for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.