A Call to Action: by the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church

The Unite Methodist Church
Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.                     Matthew 28:18-20 –The Great Commission and                                                       Matthew 22:36-40 – The  Great  Commandment

A Call to Action
The United Methodist Church is called to be a world leader
in developing existing churches and starting new vital congregations
so that we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world

Disciple making and world transformation occurs through vital congregations.
Vital congregations are Spirit-filled, forward-leaning communities of believers that
welcome all people (Galatians 3:28), make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthews 28:18-20), and serve like Christ through justice and mercy ministries (Micah 6:8; Luke 4:17-21)

A vital congregation has
Inviting and inspiring worship
Engaged disciples in mission and outreach
Gifted, equipped and empowered lay leadership
Effective, equipped and inspired clergy leadership
Small groups and strong children’s programs and youth ministry

A vital disciple is a changed follower of Jesus
Matthew 22:36-40 – The Great Commandment
Disciples worship
Disciples make new disciples
The United d Methodist Church
Disciples engage in growing their faith
Disciples engage in mission
Disciples give to mission

The Call to Action
The United Methodist Church continues to be a spiritual influence in the world for the Gospel. Essential to its ministry are healthy, vital congregations. But what makes a congregation vital and what do vital congregations do? While the true testimony of a congregation lies in the stories told by those whose lives have been transformed, there is also other information that clearly shows the movement of the Spirit in vital congregations around the world. The United Methodist Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table commissioned a study to better identify the key activities of vital congregations.

The study reviewed the statistics of 33,000 churches and found that nearly 5,000 over a five-year period were growing and engaging a greater percentage of their membership in worship and ministry. They were engaging disciples in worship, in making new disciples, in growing their faith, and in giving generously. It was not only that these things were occurring, but they were evident at a significantly higher rate than in other churches and the vital congregations — no matter what their size, location, or ethnicity — demonstrated relative growth trends over a period of several years.
The study further examined these churches and found they shared at least 16 ministries/strategies in common. The study called them “drivers of vitality,” and indicated that if churches worked on all 16, they would move toward vitality or become more vital. The 16 ministries/strategies can be grouped into four areas:

Engagement of disciples in small groups and the number of ministries for

Children and youth
1. Vital churches have more small groups for all ages.
2. Vital churches have more programs for children.
3. Vital churches have more programs for youth.

Lay leadership
4. Vital churches focus on increasing the effectiveness of lay leaders (understand their role and carrying these roles out effectively).
5. Vital churches have lay leaders who demonstrate a vital personal faith (regular worship, intentional spiritual growth, personal devotional life, and giving of financial resources).
6. Vital churches place an emphasis on rotating lay leadership in order to involve more people over time.
7. Vital churches call, equip, use and support more lay leaders than non-vital churches. (Twenty percent or more of their worship attendees describe themselves as current or past leaders in their church).

8. Vital pastors give attention to developing, coaching, and mentoring lay leadership to enable laity to increase their ability to carry out ministry.
9. Vital pastors use their influence to increase the participation of others in order to accomplish changes in the church.
10. Vital pastors motivate the congregation to set and achieve significant goals through effective leadership.
11. Vital pastors inspire the congregation through preaching.
12. Vital pastors, when they are serving effectively, stay for a longer period of time. (Short-term appointments of effective pastors decrease the vitality of a congregation).

13. Vital churches offer a mix of contemporary (newer forms of worship style) and traditional services.
14. Vital churches have preachers who tend to use more topical sermon series in traditional services.
15. Vital churches use more contemporary music (less blended music that includes traditional tunes) in contemporary services.
16. Vital churches use more multi-media in contemporary services (Some congregations in other parts of the world may have limited access or do not use multi-media to the same extent and therefore it may not be as important as it is in some cultures.)

While the study noted that vital churches give more to mission, some have noticed that other types of mission engagement and outreach are not listed as proven “drivers.” This is because, during the past, we have not collected this data consistently across the UMC and therefore the research could not quantitatively substantiate mission engagement. But, in conversations with vital congregations, they tell us that this is an important aspect of their ministry. Directly related to the giving to mission is in all matters fostering a spirit of generosity both giving and serving in individuals and in congregations. It also should be noted that while the study alludes to spiritual vitality in the faith of the laity and the inspirational leadership of clergy, one should not see these ministries/strategies as mechanical operations. Rather, they are undergirded or enlivened by a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.

Vital Congregations Are Spiritual Mission Stations of the Church
In the first-century church, Christ’s ministry took root and grew as congregations were established. These congregations became the body of Christ — transforming lives and communities. They were courageous and forward-leaning spiritual mission centers for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Courageous and forward-leaning mission congregations practice spiritual disciplines. Our vital work is a spiritual adventure based in John Wesley’s means of grace. John Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we were not to be idle waiting to experience grace but we are to engage in the means of grace. The means of grace are ways God works invisibly in disciples, hastening, strengthening and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through disciples. As we look at the means of grace today, they can be divided into works of piety and the works of mercy.

Works of Piety
Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others
Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

Works of Mercy
Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others
Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the poor

Making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is part of a spiritual adventure that is empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit as churches engage in the means of grace. Spiritual goals are accomplished by connecting the means of grace with proven vital church practices such as planning, strategic direction, prioritization, clear focus and alignment. The following material is a planning guide for congregations to set spiritual goals so that they practice the means of grace, increase vitality, make disciples and transform the world.

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