Vital congregations series entry #6: Why engage in service and outreach?

November 26, 2012

How do you measure a lake? You could measure depth or surface area, or water clarity, or fish population, or mineral content, or invasive species, or any of a host of other variables. How to measure it depends on how we plan to use it!

So it is with service and outreach. We could measure missional activity in a variety of ways, but through the United Methodist Vital Congregations dashboard reporting, we’re measuring the number of people engaging in local, national, or international mission or outreach each week. This measurement offers not just a glimpse of the potential impact on our world as a result of our collective witness, but also offers insight into our potential for transforming the lives of the volunteers—whose lives are also changed through service.

It’s been eleven months since the churches of the Minnesota Annual Conference began recording and reporting weekly statistical data for the 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 the Office of Congregational Development for assistance.

In this column I’ve been exploring priorities and practices for each of these seven vital signs. This month we ponder the fifth metric: Why engage in service and outreach efforts?

Reggie McNeal addresses this question in his book Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass, 2009). Within our current culture he observes that:

· altruism is alive and well; people believe they can and should make a difference

· in our quest for personal growth, people need the cross-fertilization that comes when we move outside our normal spheres of comfort

· people hunger for spiritual vitality even though their trust in religious organizations has waned.

In light of this current societal momentum, as people of faith we transform the world by starting to transform ourselves. The church doesn’t just do mission; the church is mission. The church doesn’t just have services of worship; service becomes an act of worship. The church doesn’t just survive by their community’s support; the church thrives by being a support to their community.

McNeal goes so far to assert that “the role of the church is simply this: to bless the world.” I wonder how different our ministry decisions would be if the church acted as those blessed to be a blessing.

At the close of a recent Healthy Church Initiative training session I invited participants to stand and join hands in prayer. Fifty-three people encircled the room and automatically joined hands facing each other as they have in so many other settings before. This time, I invited them to drop hands, turn around to face outward in the circle and then rejoin hands.

Figuratively, this is the exercise that all of our churches need to practice. The natural tendency is to turn inward and focus on one another already in the group. We can still hold hands, we can still support one another, and we can still have each other’s back while at the same time focus on the people and needs outside our circle that so desperately seek someone’s attention. May God envelop them in and through us!

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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