By: Christa Meland
It’s time to plant seeds—to go all in and to grow our ministries and expectantly watch for the new life and harvest to come, North Star District Superintendent Mark Miller told members of the 162nd Minnesota Annual Conference Session.
He talked about a rare supply of Minnesota 13 cowpeas that he was given some time ago—noting that they will be dead in a few years, no longer capable of reproducing, if he continues to hold onto them. He pointed out that there are risks to planting. But a seed that is not planted has a 100 percent death rate.
“It’s sow and grow or die,” and this is the same challenge that’s facing the annual conference, he said. “It’s time to go all in and grow out…We are planting seeds in Minnesota—not just Minnesota 13s but the seeds of faith and life in Christ for generations to come.”
On Wednesday afternoon, conference attendees learned about people and churches planting seeds and seeing the harvest.
They learned about the brave and selfless act of St. Croix Valley United Methodist Church in Lakeland—a congregation that had become older and smaller in recent years. Last summer, members gave up their building, their identity, and their way of being church so that fast-growing Embrace Church could launch a new campus in their space and reach the next generation for Christ. “I believe it's the most powerful act of generosity I've ever seen in my entire life,” said Embrace Lead Pastor, Rev. Adam Weber, who briefly addressed attendees in-person. (Watch video.)
They also learned about a group of college students from Osseo United Methodist Church, who gave up their summer to travel the state and provide Vacation Bible School for churches that couldn’t otherwise offer it. (Watch video.)
Other highlights celebrated during a look back over the past year:
Church planting: In addition to Embrace Church launching a new campus in Minnesota in November (with 438 people in attendance!), Rev. Tsuchue Vang who serves Wheelock United Methodist Church in St. Paul founded a new Hmong congregation—Northwest Minneapolis United Methodist Ministry. It launched in January and meets inside of Olivet United Methodist Church in Robbinsdale.
Transformation processes: Close to two dozen churches have been engaged in a revitalization process within the past year. These intensive processes involve learning, consultation, and coaching—and 13 churches recently said “yes” to a set of prescriptions that came out of those processes. As a result (and just to name a few), Cross Winds UMC in Maple Grove will engage in a year-long prayer saturation initiative, Messiah UMC in Plymouth will engage in a “year of 100 new disciples,” and First UMC in New Ulm will work to create an environment where Pentecost can happen.
Church-school partnerships: Over the past year, the conference gave grants totaling $33,000 to 42 churches so that they could form a partnership with a school and make a difference in the lives of children. Those churches’ projects included providing food, clothing, and school supplies to kids; hosting teacher appreciation and back-to-school events; tutoring students; adopting classrooms; providing books for kids to take home; creating a community garden; and partnering on a public art installation.
Camping ministry: A few years ago, the conference camping ministry made some difficult but strategic decisions to consolidate camp properties and redesign summer programming. Those decisions are bearing fruit. In 2015, the camping ministry ended its operational year in the black for the first time in many years, and this summer, registrations are up 18 percent over last year. Earlier this year, the Dakotas and Minnesota conferences’ camp and retreat ministries’ combined their strengths and leadership and came together to form a joint governance team. This new arrangement will expand the camping-related offerings for United Methodists in each conference and allow the conferences to share best practices to create the strongest possible area camp and retreat ministry. The camping program is changing lives and developing future leaders who will someday change the world. (Watch video.)
Reducing carbon footprint: Six churches took on the challenge that the Hopeful Earth ministry team extended at the 2014 annual conference session to reduce their carbon footprint and be leaders in healing a broken world around climate change. These churches achieved between 5 and 25 percent reductions in their carbon footprints, respectively, by making changes that included installing LED and motion-detector lights, new waste management and recycling systems, programmable thermostats, and solar panels.
Vitality progress and challenges: A denominational report shows that between 2010 and 2014, the number of Minnesota churches that are vital increased from 12 percent to 15 percent based on several denominational vitality indicators. However, over the past 10 years, Minnesota churches have averaged a 3.48 percent decline in attendance and a 2.66 percent decline in professing membership. The conference’s goal: Increase the number of numerically growing congregations from 25 percent in 2014 to 40 percent by 2020. When 40 percent of congregations within a conference are growing in worship attendance and membership, experience and research indicates that the conference as a whole will be growing too.
FACT Report: Within the past year, leaders of the annual conference engaged in a process called “FACT,” which stands for Financial Analysis Consulting Team (think Healthy Church Initiative for an annual conference). The FACT team conducted interviews; reviewed piles of data; led focus groups with clergy, laity, and conference staff; and provided a report that identified four key challenges: lack of urgency regarding precipitous decline in membership and attendance; need to reconcile actual financial resources with asset deployment; build on current efforts to foster sustainable congregational development; and increase effectiveness in leadership development, particularly among clergy. Addressing these challenges is underway and will form the basis of our Journey Toward Vitality roadmap for the next four years.
“A seed—everything that it will become is right there in that little seed, but it must be buried in the ground, broken open, casting off what it has been in order to become fully alive,” said Director of Ministries, Rev. Cindy Gregorson. “No seed will live into its potential if it does not give itself away. So this is a brave and bold thing you are doing, Minnesota Annual Conference—trusting in the power of resurrection, willing to risk everything, letting go of who you are now for the sake of what God can and will do in and through you.”
Download a printed missional report to share with your congregation
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church