Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #3

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.) Finding B: Decline in congregations averaging 100 or more AWA Implications This decline is not new. Today there are 4,000 fewer United Methodist churches in the United States with 100 or more in worship than in 1975 when this trend began. But conferences cannot grow, even with superior large church growth, without stopping the decline of other churches. While the decline in your conference is modest, pay attention to it. Remember that this declining pool of churches with 100+ attendance accounts overwhelmingly (over 80 percent) for apportionments, attendance, membership, and professions of faith. Recommendations 1. Focus on mid-size churches. District superintendents must focus on churches with 100+ AWA, no matter how few or many there are in a district. Without a deliberate effort to arrest the collapse of this group of churches, United Methodism within the district will continue to decline. 2. Give special attention to churches surrounded by population growth. Many areas are not growing, and most United Methodist churches are not immediately surrounded by growth. Many churches continue to decline in the midst of population expansion; yet it stands to reason that those in growing areas have a greater chance for growth. 3. Evaluate the possibility of church relocations. Congregations in existence prior to 1990 are a locus of decline in worship attendance. More than half of these congregations are losing in worship attendance. One reason is that they tend to be located where the population is no longer growing. Review the location of churches, plotting existing churches against population changes past and projected, and track the location of members. This can indicate where relocation may extend the United Methodist witness.   In the Cabinet we focus especially in appointment making on what we call the 126+ers.  They are the churches worshipping 126 or more on an average Sunday.  Why 126?  Because 126 in average worship is the approximate size needed to sustain a full time elder with salary, housing, health insurance, pensions, etc.  (In truth we are not at all rigid about 126.  We are simply conscious that increasing the number of churches that average approximately 126+ is crucial to the health and vitality of the Central Texas Conference.) Interestingly enough, churches averaging less than 100 do better with a part-time appointment instead of a full-time appointment.  This appears to be counter-intuitive but deeper reflection yields insight.  A church worshipping less than 100 that tries to support a full-time pastor is often (not always – remember one cannot be rigid in applying this criteria; there are exceptions!) spending so much of its financial resources on pastoral salary and benefits that it does not have the resources left to engage in vibrant ministry.  Furthermore, with a part-time pastor, lay leadership tends to step up thus leading to healthier churches! Church relocation is also critical.  One of our vital moves this year at Conference was the decision by Thompson Chapel UMC to relocate to a different site precisely in line with this recommendation.  These are exiting days, not only for Thompson Chapel in its faithfulness but for all of us!

[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report