The Westmont Center for Thriving Communities

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What is the Church's vocation on California's Central Coast?

For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor 3:9)

The Westmont Center for Thriving Communities gathers area churches to explore how we can see and do the work God calls us to right here on California’s Central Coast. In a free yearlong program, teams from a broad range of Central Coast churches consider together where we are, who we are, and how God might be prompting all of us to act in ways that promote authentic flourishing in the midst of change, both in our churches and in our neighborhoods.

Our Changing Context

The California Central Coast has long supported a vibrant ecosystem of churches, representing a diverse cross-section of the Christian family. Today, a complex set of changes­­­—demographic, cultural, social, political, economic, and theological­­­—present disruptive opportunities and challenges. Slowing population growth and a rising cost of living threaten sustainability. The erosion of community in all of American life puts pressure on congregations to be and do more. Stark economic inequality, racial injustice, changing ideas about sexuality and gender, the degradation of the created world, and political polarization challenge the church to prophetic action. And the Covid-19 pandemic both constrains ministry and inspires it.

Being Christ’s body, right here and now

These challenges are also opportunities­­­—to extend Christ’s love in the midst of suffering, to enact Christ’s justice in the midst of oppression, to embody Christ’s truth in the midst of cynicism and division. These challenges invite us to ministry that’s more vital, more relevant to our time and place. And opportunities to do that are right here at home­­­—in Thousand Oaks, in Santa Barbara, in Santa Maria, in San Luis Obispo.

But what does that look like, and how do we get there?

In Thriving Communities, we’ll consider concretely how Christ might be calling us to be his body in all of our communities­­­—in our church family, our neighborhoods, our cities, and beyond. We’ll do this exploration in a vibrant and diverse learning community: leadership teams drawn from area congregations, faculty and staff from Westmont College, and ministry and nonprofit leaders who are invested in helping our communities thrive.

How can churches benefit from Thriving Communities?

During their cohort year, participating congregations will have opportunities to:

  • Investigate our changing ministry contexts. With the help of neighbors and colleagues in ministry, we’ll examine the needs, large and small, that shape our Central Coast communities and inform our work.
  • Identify, celebrate, and develop the things that define our ministries. We’ll deeply consider and build on the authentic traditions, values, and practices that make us who we are, as individual congregations and as Christ’s servants on the Central Coast.
  • Resolve conflict. Traditions, values, and practices are often contested, as are proposals for moving forward as complex institutions. Thriving Communities will feature a robust set of tools for hosting healthy dialogue across difference.
  • Make decisions. Deep understanding of place, time, and self is likely to spur institutional change. But how do we evaluate or compare possible courses of action? Thriving Communities will offer resources for thinking systematically about how churches can make quality decisions that account for all priorities and pressures.
  • Connect with other churches who seek thriving in their congregations and neighborhoods. One of the largest benefits of the program will be hearing from other churches in our diverse learning community as they share how they are encountering challenges, identifying opportunities, and responding to God’s call.
  • Use mini-grants to pursue new learning and action. Participating churches may apply for small congregational grants to support TC program activities and pilot associated initiatives.

Program Requirements and Calendar

Thriving Communities accepts a small number of churches each year to participate in a learning community; all Christian congregations in our region (roughly Thousand Oaks to San Luis Obispo) are welcome to apply. We ask that each congregation:

  • Select a team of six church members (including at least one pastor and one member of your church governing body) who can commit to most or all program activities;
  • Participate in three short plenary retreats on Westmont’s campus during the academic year;
  • Host  congregational conversations, activities, or events that apply, in your local context, tools introduced at the plenary retreats;
  • Be in regular touch with a designated Westmont staff liaison, who will provide support and resources for your team;
  • Share findings, insights, challenges, and plans with our learning community, at retreats and through our network of participating churches and organizations.

2024-25 Cohort Retreat Dates
Find below our 2024-25 cohort retreat dates. 2025-26 dates will be announced Spring 2025.

  • September 14, 2024 
  • January 18, 2025
  • April 26, 2025

Free Conferences and Events
All cohort participants are invited to attend, free of charge, periodic conferences and events at Westmont that are especially relevant to the purposes of Thriving Communities. In 2023, those include Westmont's Conversation on the Liberal Arts and Lead Where You Stand leadership conference. Please inquire about these and other events at


Who is eligible to participate?
Christian churches in the Central Coast region of California are eligible to participate in Thriving Communities. Attendance is required at four plenary retreats in Santa Barbara; with that in mind, we suggest that churches on the 101 corridor between roughly Thousand Oaks and San Luis Obispo will find it practical to participate.

Why focus on the Central Coast?
Thriving Communities is committed not only to providing dialogue and resources for churches who seek to thrive, but doing so in a way that strengthens the place where God has planted us. We limit participation to the Central Coast to focus on needs that are local and particular, and to deepen relationships with others who encounter those same needs.

Is Thriving Communities a church consulting program?
We know and appreciate the good work that church consultants have done for congregations in our area. But we think of the purposes of Thriving Communities somewhat differently. If participation in the program prompts congregations to improve their programming, communication, administrative health, and the like, we certainly applaud those outcomes. But we’re most concerned that Central Coast communities­­­—communities in which Westmont itself has a part­­­—should become stronger, more relational, more integrated, and more caring. Our purpose is not to tell churches how to “fix” themselves, but to explore with congregations in our region big questions about our call to work toward God’s kingdom on earth, in the midst of pressing needs and rapid change.

Does Thriving Communities have a particular denominational or theological identity?
Westmont College identifies most closely with the broad tradition of American nondenominational evangelicalism. But it is important to us that Thriving Communities cohorts should not be limited to churches from that religious stream. Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, or Pentecostal Christians will all see things about God’s work in the world that others miss, and that diversity of perspective is critical to our mutual understanding of our place and our calling.

What are the theological underpinnings of the work?
Two theological themes loom large for the leadership of Thriving Communities. First, a robust doctrine of Christ’s incarnation suggests to us how important it is to be truly present in our neighborhoods. God came to the world not abstractly or theoretically, but tangibly, in a particular place, time, and culture. To follow Christ means to live into that radical model of presence. Second, and in distinction from the way the term is often used, we believe that Christian vocation is both clear and communal. Clear, in accordance with Jesus’ command to love God and to love our neighbor above all other priorities (Matthew 22). And communal, because of scripture’s wholesale witness to the importance of Christ’s entire body, and not just its individual members, in seeking, knowing, and doing God’s work in the world.

What dispositions are important for participants?
We hope that participants will come to Thriving Communities in an open, exploratory way, ready to hear what God’s Spirit is saying to the Church. We hope especially that church teams will be prepared to:

  • listen to one another, and share their congregation’s own experience with others;
  • reimagine their “circle of concern,” looking within and beyond their congregation to find communities that Christ’s body should serve;
  • approach conversation and decision-making with a spirit of humility and openness to God's prompting;
  • engage conflict as an opportunity for understanding and growth.

What does Thriving Communities cost?
Thanks to the generous support of Lilly Endowment Inc., Westmont is able to offer the Thriving Communities program entirely free of charge for participating churches. All program activities and lodging are covered, and we offer small mini-grants to churches for their own associated programming and projects.

Thriving Communities is one of three programs at Westmont that help churches and individuals explore God’s call. If you work with high school youth, we invite you to learn more about Trailhead, a summer experience that invites young people to slow down and see how their lives might participate in God’s work. If you’re a pastor, please consider Frontiers, a program that supports ministry professionals through seasons of visioning and transition.