The study reveals God at work in transformational ways through The United Methodist Church. Opportunities for increasing our effectiveness and fruitfulness lie in the development and emphasis on increasing vital congregations.
The report calls for widespread reform and greater accountability at all levels of the church. The findings and recommendations are meant to guide and inspire the leadership of the denomination over the next decade. The question of "how" to increase vital congregations is still being formulated in this process. The question of "why" increase vital congregations has evolved over the past two quadrennia.
Following the 2004 General Conference leaders across the denomination were engaged in discussions around what God is calling us to do and to be today, individually and as a people called United Methodist. We have been seeking answers to the questions: What is faithful discipleship in our time? How do we as a community of faith fulfill the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
The process that unfolded leading up to the 2008 General Conference led us to clarify our mission and center our ministry on the Four Areas of Focus:
- Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.
- Creating new places for new people and renewing existing congregations.
- Engaging in ministry with the poor.
- Stamping out the killer diseases of poverty by improving health globally.
Even now, the newly released figures from the General Council on Finance and Administration show in the United States both professing membership and the average worship attendance continue on a downward trend (note: full details will be made available in the State of the Church Report due in early May).
These realities led to the creation of the Call To Action Steering Team by the Council of Bishops and The Connectional Table, a group developed to implement an independent study to inform and recommend changes to The United Methodist Church processes and structure, so that it may be more successful in fulfilling the denomination’s mission.
This evolution has taught us that more work is to be done to live out our mission and to be faithful stewards.
We do see positive signs of hope. This week, GCFA released the 2009 statistics from United Methodist churches throughout the connection. We learned that US congregations reported nearly 280,000 persons enrolled in covenant discipleship groups, more than 1 million children participated in vacation bible schools, over 800,000 persons served by daycare or community education ministries, and over 15 million persons impacted by community ministries for outreach, justice, or mercy.
We want to build on what is working.
The Call To Action report offers recommendations to jump start the process which includes reforming the clergy leadership development, deployment, evaluation, and accountability systems, reforming the Council of Bishops, and aligning the work of program agencies with the Church priority of building vital congregations. You can read the full details online.
The Connectional Table leadership wants you to know that we have been listening and reviewing online conversations. One writer on Bishop Schnase's Five Practices blog wants to hear more about how the Call to Action will impact pastors. "It seems to describe a type of pastor leader that many don't see in themselves. If I don't fit this particular description, what happens to me?"
Another blogger writes on United Methodeviations "How is this different?" The writer makes the case that similar studies were done in the '80s and '90s. He questions whether this is about missional transformation or institutional preservation.
From being a part of this process, I can say that the intention of this report is grounded in the Wesleyan tradition and is intended to start a process to allow the Church to fulfill its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
I think the questions and dialogue on the process before us are good. We need to challenge and engage each other in order to make sure that, together, we build a strong United Methodist Church; one that is forward thinking while still holding on to the very things that make us who we are.
The first step will be to affirm and live into the "adaptive challenge” model. This is the time for leaders with questions and ideas, such as the ones already mentioned, to get involved and participate in this building process. As the Interim Operations Team is named and begins it work this month, the Connectional Table will remain engaged to make sure a process exists for input across the church.
It sounds cliché to say "change is hard" and "change is messy." Or, even "change is difficult." So I will end with these words, attributed to Goethe: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves as well…Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” Let us begin this bold process now and allow for Providence to move among us so that we are fulfilling the Church’s mission.