Year of the sums

July 25, 2011

At annual conference session, Bishop Sally Dyck drew our attention to the “nones”—people who indicate “none” when asked their religious affiliation.

This is the fastest growing “religious” group in America. They may be spiritual, but not religious. They may be emerging adults or mature adults. They may have roots in one or more faith traditions or be severed from any heritage of faith. They hail from diverse cultural, socioeconomic, and philosophical persuasions.

They have one thing in common—Christianity isn’t even on their radar as a conduit for values and practices that add anything constructive to life, individually or collectively. And we have one thing in common—we have “nones” among our own parents, siblings, cousins, children, grandchildren, neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

For church folk (especially those who read denominational newspapers), “nones” can become invisible in our normal routine of religious life. When it comes to the way we do church, out of sight is often out of mind. If we seek to open the eyes of our heart; if we believe that in Christ we have a gift to share that can fill a void with meaning and purpose; if we want to expand our circle of faith community; if we’re serious about accepting the transformation others offer us, just as freely as the transformation we offer others; if the “nones” count . . . then maybe we should count them!

Bishop Sally Dyck has designated this the “Year of the Nones” (see the July 2011 issue of Northern Light). Since the “nones” are not nobodies, but somebodies, this could also be dubbed the “Year of the Sums.”

At the core of our Wesleyan tradition is holding one another accountable in Christian love. The first step in being accountable is a count to be able to know where we are and where we need to grow. Two very tangible disciplines for adding up our connections with “nones” are forthcoming this year.

First, at the lay session at annual conference this year, the young adult coalition introduced a strategy for reducing the number of young adults removed from membership by charge conference action.

Every year, many churches across Minnesota “clean their rolls” of inactive and unresponsive members. The young adult coalition suggests that churches not vote inactive members under the age of 35 off their rolls. Instead, they recommend that churches send these names, with contact information, to the Minnesota Annual Conference for distribution to our new church starts that are specifically targeting this age group.

Second, beginning this winter United Methodists across the country will be asked to begin tracking progress toward goals for health and vitality. Using an online “dashboard” (under development) every United Methodist church will report weekly on small groups numbers, worship attendance, mission giving, engagement in mission, and professions of faith. Lay volunteers will be trained in consistent counting practices and will report these using the dashboard. The data is reported on the web site and also provided to the General Council on Finance and Administration. Congregations will receive a weekly e-mail reminder to record their metrics. The data will be visible to site visitors and leaders can celebrate ministry milestones promptly and regularly.

I pray that the year of the “nones” and the “sums” will refocus us as we rethink church together!

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.

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