Vital Congregations series entry #7: Why support mission beyond the local church?

January 02, 2013

“Why are we giving money away to other charities when we can’t support our own church budget?” The words, voices and contexts may differ, but the question is common in many congregations. The provocative irony is that in this day and age, we may not be able to support our own church budget unless we do give money away to other charities!

At the November 2012 national gathering of United Methodist congregational developers, we learned about a new hip-hop church in Concord, North Carolina; a college campus ministry that became a new-church start in Harrisonburg, Virginia; a new Hispanic ministry in Dodge City, Kansas; storefront venues in small towns across Ohio that view a common video download of the sermon during worship; and After Hours, a faith and action community meeting in several Denver, Colorado, taverns.

What we’re discovering on the cutting edge of ministry is a new paradigm of evangelism. In the ’80s and ’90s, many churches focused on developing a worship experience that would draw newcomers to the church—so launching a new church or growing an existing church meant offering an attractive service of worship.

Nowadays, most unchurched people aren’t even looking for a “church” let alone a worship experience. But they are looking for a way to make a difference in their community. They want to know that their investment of resources (their time and treasures) is truly changing lives for the better.

Because they can’t easily make a significant difference on their own, they want to get involved with an organization—not for the sake of supporting the organization itself, but to channel resources collectively to bring good news and hope and positive change to their corner of the world. If a church isn’t living as the kind of organization that gives itself to make a difference in its community, then why would people think it could make a difference in their own lives?

It’s been a year since the churches of the Minnesota Annual Conference began recording and reporting weekly statistical data for our nation-wide United Methodist Vital Congregations program. United Methodist churches across the country have set goals and are intentionally tracking seven important metrics:

1.       worship attendance

2.       persons received into membership by profession of faith

3.       number of small groups

4.       number of persons participating in small groups

5.       number of people engaged in service and outreach efforts

6.       amount of money given for mission beyond the local church and

7.       total contributions for local church ministry

Thanks to all the congregations that are faithfully responding to the weekly link for data entry. For the few congregations that have technical difficulties with the system or still need help getting started by submitting their goals, please contact in the Office of Congregational Development for assistance. Through this column I’ve been exploring priorities and practices for each of these seven vital signs of congregational health and vitality. This month we focus on the sixth metric, “Why give to mission beyond the local church?”

The new front door into most existing congregations is through outreach and missional presence in the community. From financial contributions to hands-on involvement, more and more people are coming to know God, Jesus and the church first through missional relationships (spirituality), and not through institutional commitments (religion). But then again, maybe this isn’t all that new. Near as I can tell, Jesus didn’t share much Good News about the church. However, he did share a lot of Good News about God’s Kingdom becoming as real on earth as it is in heaven! And when asked about saving for ourselves or giving to others, Jesus also said, “What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?” Matthew 16:26 (CEV).

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

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