Elements of Discipleship and Evidence of Vital (Fruitful) Congregations

What makes for a disciple? What are the elements of discipleship? We (especially clergy) love to argue & debate ad nauseam about the various elements of discipleship. It is both a fun and a significant debate. I have taken part in this debate many times. But … at its most foundational, true discipleship has some straight forward characteristics. The elements of discipleship line up with the five vows of membership and the five fruitful practices. Those five elements line up with the vital signs. Disciples worship -->  presence --> passionate worship --> Vital sign of worship attendance Disciples make new disciples --> witness -->  radical hospitality -->  vital sign of number of professions of faith Disciples grow in their faith -->   prayers -->  intentional faith development --> vital sign of number of small groups Disciples engage in mission --> service -->  risk-taking mission and service --> vital sign of the number of people doing outreach in the community and the world Disciples give generously for mission -->  extravagant generosity -->  vital sign of the amount of money given to mission An example of a vital congregation engaging in a crucial element of disciple-making comes from Whites Chapel. This Sunday they will confirm 180 students! Additionally some 22 families will join the church with their confirmands. We would expect a large confirmation class from a church the size of Whites Chapel. We would further expect that a number of families might be joining the church with their confirmand. But this many! The high numbers in both categories are well beyond reasonable expectations and give evidence of a vital congregation deeply committed to disciples making (both in witness/radical hospitality and prayers/intentional faith development). Whites Chapel is just one example of many wonderfully faithful and fruitful churches in the Central Texas Conference. Biographies of God’s grace are being written in the hearts and minds of people all across the Central Texas Conference. I am humbled and grateful to be the bishop of such great conference engaged in a host of exciting ministries! Recently a team from the Central Texas Conference participated in a pilot program called Team Vital with some 10 other Conferences. Team Vital is an outgrowth of the work of the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table of the UMC. Its work is to design models for Annual Conferences to use in growing vital congregations. They shared some comparative data that is exciting.
Central Texas Conf # Highly Vital Cong. Professions of Faith Worship Attendance
2010 22% 2,007 44,995
2011 23% (+1%) 2,106 (+99) 46,607 (+1,612)
This is the latest comparison data that the General Council of Finance and Administration (GCFA) has available. (2012 data won’t be available till later in the year.) Furthermore, 76% of adult worshipers are in a small group; 23% of worshipers are involved in a mission experience; 14% of local church spending goes to mission (over and above connectional mission giving/apportionments); 39% of congregations are growing in worship attendance. (All data used here has been provided by the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), which gets its numbers from annual conferences, who in turn get their numbers from year-end reports filled out by the churches.) This is wonderful news giving witness to great faithfulness and growing fruitfulness. The elements of discipleship are blooming. The evidence of vital (fruitful) congregations is growing. Well done you good and faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ!