The Call To Action. One of the big buzz phrases this #GC2012. Here’s my take on one of the pieces of the Call to Action: Vital Congregations.
What is the Call to Action, or CTA?
The Call to Action Steering Team was created by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to guide our denominational response to the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and focus our ministry efforts around global health, ministry with the poor, growing congregations and developing leaders. In Fall 2010, the team delivered a plan that will lead to the reordering of the life of the church.
-Paraphrased from the Call to Action Report p. 14, found here.
- The church is at a crossroads regarding finances and membership
- [implied] Clergy and lay are not working towards casting a vision, which is not leading to vital congregations that are setting reasonable goals
What are the 5 Key Drivers of Vital Congregations?*
- Inviting and inspiring worship
- Engaged disciples in mission and outreach
- Gifted, equipped and empowered lay leadership
- Effective, equipped and inspired clergy leaders
- Small groups and strong children’s programs and youth ministry
A Vital Congregation…**
- makes disciples and transform the world
- helps non-believers become active, faithful disciples.
- helps disciples grow in their faith toward sanctification.
- are communities where disciples work at feeding the poor, housing the homeless and striving for justice.
How many vital congregations do we have according to this measurement?
4,500…of our 32,000 United Methodist churches would fit in the category of being “vital.” Which means that 27,500 of our church are not vital. That’s staggering.***
Aren’t we already supposed to be doing this?
Yes. It’s in the Book of Discipline. We just have to read it. But it’s not a question of being told what we should do. It’s a question also of how we should do it. And that’s going to vary across ministry contexts and peoples we serve. But clearly something is not working. Most of our congregations, according to these descriptors, are not vital.
I’m not going to go down the line and discuss what each marker of vitality could look like, but I’ll start with the first one because our churches can’t seem to get past the conversation on what worship should look like.
One of the markers of a vital congregation is inviting and inspiring worship. Does that mean ‘contemporary’ worship songs? [Editorial note: And I don’t mean The Faith We Sing, because those songs are at least 20 years old]. Does that mean we look more emergent and have someone live painting during the service? Do we stop signing hymns and get rid of bulletins and get screens that we don’t know where to put because our sanctuaries weren’t designed for them? What’s inviting and inspiring if we just change the aesthetic? Our worship gatherings have to be more than the music and beautiful slides and altar displays.
We have our mandate: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. How we go about that shouldn’t necessarily start with getting rid of the organist. Maybe it can start with prayer and listening for: How is our congregation joining Jesus in fulfilling his mission of advancing the Kingdom of God? Where is the spirit already moving?
It’s not going to be easy. It’s probably going to be painful, people will get hurt and our members might even leave. But we are not in the business of keeping the status quo or having merely the form of religion.
John Wesley was concerned about these same things even in his time, as he reflected:
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
May we venture forward, emboldened by the holy spirit and the grace of God.