Vital congregations series #1: Why measure?

July 03, 2012

It’s been six months since Minnesota United Methodist churches began reporting weekly statistical data to the denomination-wide Vital Congregations project. United Methodist churches across the connection have set goals and are tracking progress in seven areas:

  1. worship attendance
  2. people received into membership by profession of faith
  3. number of small groups
  4. number of people participating in small groups
  5. number of people engaged in service and outreach
  6. contributions for mission beyond the local church
  7. contributions for local church ministry

Thanks to all the congregations that are faithfully submitting their weekly data. For the few congregations that have technical difficulties with the system or still need help getting started, please contact Laura Miles ( in the Congregational Development ministry area for assistance.

Over the coming months, I’ll explore in this column some best practices for each of these signs of congregational health and vitality. Let’s start with the question, Why measure?

The Vital Congregations Dashboard for collecting data is an intentional effort to:

  • shift our mindset so that our primary focus and commitment is on fostering and sustaining congregational vitality
  • articulate and commit to newly clarified and dramatically higher performance expectations for all levels of the church
  • expect and provide courageous, accountable leadership that assumes responsibility for upsetting current paradigms and shaping and adopting new understandings that result in more effective practices, and
  • institute and report measurable performance results in all sectors of the denomination on an ongoing and regular basis, enabling us to learn and adjust the ways we invest and use our talent, time, and money

New thinking for new results

As the Christian mainline has progressively slipped to the sideline, it’s clear we’ve got to do something different. Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Instead of doing the same and getting more of the same, turning sights toward goal setting and performance tracking provides the necessary framework for a church to move toward its preferred future. It’s a discipline that compels us to prayerfully discern where God is calling us and faithfully follow where God is leading us.

Consistent recording and frequent reporting focuses our attention on what we’re counting and encourages and cultivates more of the fruitful practices we are measuring. With goals come strategies for achieving those goals. Find a sample ministry plan template, goal setting directions, goal submitting instructions and plan implementation support at

As members of the United Methodist Church, we pledge to faithfully participate in ministries of our church by our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. In turn, churches commit to providing the resources and the vehicle for fulfilling this pledge. At the core of our Wesleyan tradition is holding one another accountable to these vows in Christian love. The first step in being accountable is to secure a count to be able to know where we are and where we need to grow. Growing disciples are leaven for vital congregations, which cumulatively contribute to our conference-wide goals that were dedicated in an act of worship at General Conference 2012.

Minnesota’s goals, the sum of all local church goals submitted, over the next five years will return us to the strength of United Methodist work and witness that existed five years ago. It may not sound like much, but if each church individually meets its goals, then collectively, we will boldly reverse a two-generation-long trend of decline!

Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058