Bishop Ough is helping us refine our Minnesota Annual Conference mission and vision with laser clarity (see Bishop’s Corner in this issue). Missional congregations that are cultivating spiritual vitality, reaching new people, and healing a broken world bear much kingdom fruit. They experience the “signs and wonders” of God’s spirit breaking through and raising people to new life in Jesus Christ. Not coincidentally, these fruits can be measured in the following ways:
Reach New People
· worship attendance
· new professions of faith
Cultivate Spiritual Vitality
· number of small groups
· number of people in small groups
Heal a Broken World
· number of people sent into mission
· mission giving
· contributions undergirding local church ministry
It’s been over a year since the churches of the Minnesota Annual Conference began recording and reporting the seven bulleted vital signs listed above through our nationwide United Methodist Vital Congregations program. According to our denominational Vital Congregations Project Team leader, Amy Valdez Barker, 58 out of 59 U.S. annual conferences have set goals. Each conference, including Minnesota, is at a different stage of tracking and reporting status across these seven important metrics. I’ve written about the rationale for measuring these factors over the past seven months and conclude this series with this article.
In Minnesota, 68 percent of our churches are registered and submitting data to the online dashboard. By district: Big Waters: 38; North Star: 71; River Valley: 60; Southern Prairie: 27; Twin Cities: 45. Before visiting a congregation, your bishop, district superintendent, and conference staff are now able to access an immediate reading of your congregation’s vital signs to supplement the year-old statistical data in the conference journal. It provides us timely information and helps us ask you relevant questions. I’m creating a mechanism for conference-wide tracking of inputs (assets), throughputs (systems), and outputs (impact) of ministry. Your vitality data helps discern the most fruitful connectional initiatives and interventions for enabling churches to better reach new people, cultivate spiritual vitality, and heal a broken world.
Current United Methodist statistical information is now available to the public (visit http://tinyurl.com/umcstats). In addition to summary data, you can also view all local church information by selecting the corresponding jurisdiction, conference, district, and church. This kind of transparency helps leaders work together on the collective call to grow numerically, spiritually, and in impact on our communities.
A fellow stumbled his way about town, mouth open, gasping for breath, and eyes popping out. He went to the doctor, who checked his vital signs—breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate—and diagnosed that the man had just weeks to live.
The man prepared for his demise by making his own funeral arrangements and picking out his burial suit. With all of his dress shirts well worn, he shopped for a new shirt and tie for his reviewal. Walking into a men’s clothing store, he promptly asked for a white shirt, size 14½ neck. “Wait a minute,” said the sales person. “Let me measure your neck.” She threw a tape measure on him and announced that the fellow had a size 16 neck. She observed, “If you wore a 14 ½, you’d be stumbling about town—mouth open, gasping for breath, and eyes popping out!”
Regular check-ups are just as important for the body of Christ (the church) as they are for our individual bodies. However, we may need to temper our vital sign measurements with a disciplined look at the things that restrict healthy living and healthy ministry. Now that we’re starting to establish an organizational culture of measurement and accountability, let’s remember that this is only a tool to help us remove the restrictions to a Holy Spirit that breathes life and wide-eyed wonder into every community of faith!
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