I don’t know if you know it or not, but our denomination is in trouble. Deep trouble.
You’ve seen or heard the numbers. Attendance is down, churches are closing, debt is up.
So what are we supposed to do?
A group of church leaders met throughout this past year to figure that out. Our own Bishop Hopkins and Bishop Palmer were part of the group, as were other Bishops, lay persons, experts in a number of areas.
I encourage you read their final report. It’s known as the Call to Action Report and you’ll find it here. Give it a read. It should only take you an hour or two. In fact I recommend you distribute it to the key leaders in your church.
Here’s the bottom line. They tell us we have to get focused on one thing: making and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In United Methodist non-jargon, that means go get new members and involve them in your church.
In doing the research the committee not only talked to people (we’re good at that) but they also crunched a whole lot of numbers. They defined vital churches as those with strong attendance, growth and engagement. For you small church folk who are always being picked on for being small, rejoice, the report indicates that as long as your are growing, you can be vital.
Out of the 32,000 churches they crunched, just 15% were deemed “highly vital” by the group. That’s just one in seven.
Is your church one of the one in seven? Or are you in the majority?
The report points to four key factors in a church being “highly vital.”
- Effective pastoral leadership including aspects of management, visioning and inspiration
- Multiple small groups and programs for children and youth
- Mix of traditional and contemporary worship services
- High percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership roles
For you lay people who want to blame your pastor for your troubles, you have an agreement from the study. But the bad news is that if the pastor wants to blame the lay leadership, she also has that agreement. Clearly the entire church needs to work together to get this done.
And in my mind the key is that the Call to Action challenges us to put all of the petty stuff aside. Do you not have an afterschool youth program because the trustees fear they will have to repaint the fellowship hall more often? Is your worship stuck in the 50s because your worship committee doesn’t like contemporary music? Does your congregation welcome all visitors, as long as they look like, act like and smell like the current members?
It’s time to put all of those things aside and get serious about growing the church.
Not only is the denomination called to action but every single local church is as well. Are you going to answer that call, or will you let it go to voice mail because your church is too busy with the status quo?
Distribute the report to your leaders, then spend the first quarter of 2011 doing several things:
- Determine if your church is highly vital
- If not, what is keeping it from being vital? This will get sticky and I insist you participate in holy conferencing, but as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is to admit you have a problem
- What changes can you make immediately to help become vital?
- What changes will take a year, three years, five years? How can you make these things happen?
We really are called to action. Please pick up the phone.