Vital Churches

Being Presbyterian myself, I don’t always keep up with Methodist initiatives as well as I ought. I was interested to learn about the UMC Vital Churches initiative, which appears to align well with the work our Council has been doing lately.

Vital congregations are:

  • Spirit-filled, forward-leaning communities of believers that welcome all people (Galatians 3: 28)
  • Places where Disciples of Jesus Christ are made through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28: 18-20)
  • Communities that serve like Christ through justice and mercy ministries. (Micah 6:8, Luke 4:17-21)

A Vital Congregation has:

  • Inviting & Inspiring Worship
  • Engaged Disciples in mission & outreach
  • Gifted, Empowered & Equipped Lay Leadership
  • Effective, Equipped & Inspired Clergy Leadership
  • Small Group Ministries
  • Strong Children’s & Youth Ministry

(See this list of 16 drivers of vitality.)

The congregations include disciples (Matthew 22:36-40) who:

  • worship regularly
  • help make new disciples
  • are engaged in growing in their faith
  • are engaged in mission
  • share by giving in mission

Numbers – Bright Spot

In their (totally awesome) book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath explain how to bring about organizational change. One of the key principles is to “identify bright spots.” That is, find things that work and learn from them and celebrate them.

Even in the generally dismal state of affairs as the mainline church shrinks into insignificance, there are bright spots. The Methodist Church, in its otherwise disheartening statistical report, noted that the Greater New Jersey and the Kentucky conferences both grew this year: New Jersey for the first time in 45 years.

Here’s the bright spot:

Leaders in both New Jersey and Kentucky have embraced an adage from church-planting circles that it’s easier to make babies than to raise the dead.

“You don’t grow an annual conference by trying to revitalize existing churches,” Davis said. “I think some can be revitalized. But I don’t think we’ll ever revitalize enough churches to reverse the attendance and membership trends that we’ve seen over the last several decades.”

That’s triage at work, and it sounds harsh. But it holds out the possibility that existing churches can look to their younger, more vital sister congregations, and copy the things that work.

(Aside: what is it about denominational web sites that makes them pick link-unfriendly CMSes? The article itself is hidden behind a Flash(!) “headline,” so it took me three tries to figure out how to link to the article. It’s almost as bad as the PC(USA) web site.)