We now have a house church in Italy, Texas worshipping 8-10 regularly in Spanish. This narrative, which was shared during our latest Cabinet meeting, slipped in almost softly behind the continuing upheaval caused by the recently concluded General Conference and The United Methodist Church’s decision to adopt the Modified Traditional Plan.
Eight to 10 people might not sound like much, but I remind us that each person is someone for whom Christ died. For decades, The United Methodist Church and the Central Texas Conference as a part of the UMC have struggled to reach out to the Hispanic population in our midst. Now, through a cooperative parish experimental initiative in the Navarro County area, ministry is traversing ethnic and linguistic barriers. Our largest Spanish language worship service is the Iglesia Jeme service at First UMC Corsicana. They now regularly have a little more than 120 people in worship. Disciples are being made as both lives and our world are being slowly, steadily transformed.
We have all heard the saying “keep the main thing the main thing.” It is profoundly true when it comes to our God-anointed, God-given mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our WIG – Wildly Important Goal – of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” is far, far more than simply an institutional objective. It is imbedded at the very heart of the life and ministry of the church. (Indeed, much of the debate about inclusion, same-gender marriage and ordination is itself an extended debate over how the church should best and most faithfully go about the disciple making mission.) The WIG mission is given to us by the risen Christ. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Making disciples is the main thing. Narrative stories like a house church in Italy, Texas or Iglesia Jeme at First UMC Corsicana connect with the measurements of increased worship attendance and professions of faith. Narratives and metrics reflect each other!
There is tremendous reason to celebrate and be hopeful over our future with and for Christ. The Central Texas Conferences’ market share (or if you prefer Kingdom share) grew in 2018! (You can read all about it in the WIG Stories section of our conference website.) The general population of the area that makes up our conference grew 2 percent in 2018; however, as previously reported, we grew almost 4 percent (3.6% to be precise). That means we grew our churches faster than the population growth. As Jeff Roper, our Executive Director of the Roberts Center for Leadership and Administration likes to put it, “that is a big deal!” It is indeed! Well done Central Texas!!
Furthermore, by keeping the “main thing the main thing”, we have hit another very important milestone. The local churches of the Central Texas Conference have now grown for 13 straight months! Again, Jeff comments, “This is very important, because it means we have shown ‘growth on growth.’ Here is what I mean by that – there are two things very difficult for a declining organization to do. The first (which we have already done) is to halt the decline and start to grow. The second is to keep growing when the prior year comparison period was a growth month – showing ‘growth on growth.’ February 2018 was the first month we showed growth in average weekly worship attendance. We have now continued that growth and, we have begun to grow from that first period of growth into a new era of growth – this is very exciting!"
The two graphs to the right are included to help us visualize this kingdom building accomplishment (click on either to enlarge). With regards to worship attendance:
- Almost all districts showed growth for the 12 months ending February.
- We continue to show stronger growth in churches with New Faith Community grants – 5.1 percent. New ministry reaches new people!
In an earlier blog, I wrote about how we are now able to document growth in mission engagement (ministry with the poor) through WIG growth in average worship attendance and professions of faith. I also noted that we can document spiritual faith development (Bible Study, small groups, prayer, etc.) which has resulted from WIG growth. We are beginning to see signs that there is a connection between WIG growth and extravagant generosity as well. The connection shows up especially in churches that are reaching out to share the gospel with new people. Churches which have received New Faith Community Grants are up 1 percent in giving for 2018. While this is not a huge difference, it is an important one. Giving tends to lag behind other faith involvement by three to five years. Diving deeper into details, we see a few churches with remarkable increases in Budget Giving who are strongly engaged in New Faith Communities. These include:
- Belton – up 21%
- Burleson – up 22%
- Mart – up 36%
- Jarrell – up 22%
In the Five Marks of a Methodist: The Fruit of a Living Faith, Professor Steve Harper writes: “Here is the essence of our discipleship, remaining firmly in Christ, which makes us followers of Jesus ‘not in name only, but in heart and in life,’ a life in Christ in which we are ‘inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God as revealed in the written Word.’ In Wesley’s view, a disciple is one who ‘thinks, speaks, and lives according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. A Christian’s whole being is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And 'having the mind that was in Christ’ one so walks as Christ also walked.” (Five Marks of a Methodist: The Fruit of a Living Faith; Steve Harper, pg. 62)
May we continue to keep our focus on the main thing! The risen Christ is with us.