A plan for strengthening vitality in predominately African descent congregations in the ELCA Southeastern Synod and partner synods


Umoyo is a word meaning vitality, life, health, and well-being in the Chichewa language, native to Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. We hope to spark and enhance the umoyo in our congregations of
African decent!

Umoyo is a Spirit-led initiative rooted in assessment, engagement, education, community-building, accountability, evaluation, experimentation, action, and reflection - all designed to help our congregations
live into the full potential of how God is calling us to serve in our communities.

The Southeastern Synod has received a Holy Innovation Grant from the ELCA churchwide organization that will support this effort in our synod. We have the opportunity to experiment with this initiative that can, hopefully, be a model for the vitality of African descent congregations across the whole church!

While there are many congregations throughout the synod serving people of African descent, for the launch of Umoyo, those congregations with a make-up of active participants of at least 50 percent people of African descent will be invited to participate.

Features of Umoyo include:

  • Vitality Assessment
  • Umoyo Summit
  • Certified Coach
  • Congregation Vitality Plan
  • Peer Support
  • Shared Resources

Phase 1: Vitality Assessment

Through in-person visits and the results of a Congregational Vitality Survey, each congregation’s current state of vitality will be assessed. 

Strengths and challenges impacting congregations will be identified, resulting in an individual assessment for each congregation and would identify systemic issues impacting the collective group of African descent congregations in the Southeastern Synod and partner synods.

Phase 2:  Umoyo Summit

Informed by the Vitality Assessment, Umoyo Summit participants would hear and engage the results of the assessment, which will highlight the strengths and challenges impacting the vitality of congregations of African descent in the Southeastern Synod and partner synods.

The summit agenda would include time for both plenary consideration of the systemic issues impacting all congregations and breakout group time for congregations to reflect and respond to their individual congregation assessment.

Phase 3:  Congregation Vitality Plan

Congregations will be asked to develop a Congregation Vitality Plan using results from their Vitality Assessment, building upon their strengths and working to improve their weaknesses.

This Congregation Vitality Plan would include a Minister Development Plan, where the minister would select one area for professional development consistent with the Congregation Vitality Plan and discuss how they plan to focus their growth in this area for the next year.

The Congregation Vitality Plan will need the input, buy-in, and support of the whole congregation.

Phase 4:  Ongoing Support & Accountability

An essential component of this vitality plan is the community support and accountability. This support
comes in multiple ways:

  • Coach Support - Each congregation will be paired with a trained coach experienced in congregations of African descent.
  • Peer Congregation Support - Congregations will be asked to partner with one other congregation and check-in on the progress of their Congregation Vitality Plans at least bimonthly
  • Shared Resources - One of purposes of having all congregations engage together is to learn of each other’s needs and share resources where possible.
  • Synod Staff Support - Mission development congregations would continue to have regular  engagement with one of the synod’s Directors for Evangelical Mission.
  • In-Person Follow-Up - At existing Synod events where the opportunity for breakout time may exist,
    check-in opportunities for all participating congregations would be coordinated.
  • Steering Team Support - The Steering Team would be responsible for quarterly check-ins with  congregations and coaches to ensure forward movement is occurring.

Steering Team
  • Ms. Melissa Fuller Sims, DEM/Interim Coordinator
  • Rev. Tiffany Chaney
  • Rev. Clairessa Dais
  • Rev. Mardy Ringer
  • Ms. Roxann Thompson
  • Rev. Crispin Ilombe Wilondja