While I am on renewal leave, I have invited Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director of the Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth to share a guest blog. This report was originally published June 19, 2019. Bishop Mike Lowry
At Annual Conference 2019, I gave a report for the Center for Evangelism, Mission and Church Growth. This is a synopsis: A key part of the report was some of the things we are learning, especially after 17 months of increased worship attendance in the CTC. We are one of the few United Methodist Conferences in the country that can speak of any kind of growth in this season of decline.
Our greatest strength is our existing and new clergy, church leaders, church families, church buildings and campuses around the CTC area. Every church and every pastor is working hard focusing on the mission that makes us who we are -- "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Investing time, staff and money in this area makes the most sense in this season if we want to reach the four million people in the CTC area. We have clearly refocused to supporting and resourcing our existing local churches.
New Faith Communities
The initiative to create 100 New Faith Communities (NFC) in three years is working, often including a grant from the Smith Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth. Of these NFC's, 42 have received a grant and have an average worship attendance increase of 5 percent; this includes several NFC’s that did not work, though most have; in every size, style and location of church. It’s been amazing to see churches that have been in slow decline for years experience a turnaround in energy, excitement, growth and even more, reaching people we were not already reaching. Our overall worship attendance increase for the CTC is directly connected to the churches that have begun NFCs.
Online worship has increased exponentially from church to church; again, every size, style, and location. One of the things we are seeing is congregations not only making worship available online by social media (YouTube, etc.), but also adding elements that make it a legitimate faith community of its own; attenders offering prayer requests, giving, and even connecting with other attenders, including an online faith community pastor. This model is one that every church can do and it is reaching people we are not already reaching.
Missions continue to be an amazing part of our church culture. The smallest church to the largest serve the community and even the world. Our 5-star mission awards, covenant mission relationships, foodbanks, backpacks, partnerships with local schools, etc., all reflect this. If a Methodist church is in a community, the community knows because it serves that area. This responsibility to serve is integrated in our United MethodisteEthos. Our Early Response Teams who serve in disaster areas and Volunteer In Mission Teams have grown exponentially as we continue to send volunteers to Hurricane Harvey recovery areas and local flood areas. The number of volunteers has increased substantially. Methodist’s love to help those who are hurting, though we are still struggling to connect our mission work and evangelism as partners in growing churches.
When we did the Exodus Project a few years ago, one of the things that we immediately understood was that our summer youth mission trips were very successful, Reaching areas around the county and changing the lives of the youth and volunteers who are a part of this. This year, we have 1,214 in CTCYM missions at this writing – adding another 212 in July. We also have many churches who do summer mission trips for youth on their own or in partnership with other churches or organizations. We do this well.
New Ways to Reach New People
It's new things that reach new people, new worship services, new missions, new small groups, new partnerships, new people reach new people, new disciples make more new disciples. Tweaking old things may help a little, but creating new things grow churches.
If a Church and its leadership can keep focused on the mission to make disciples, to grow, to transform the community the church is in, and not get distracted, keep budget, staff, volunteers, and the church family inspired, resourced, trained, and focused on the church’s God-given purpose, then a turn around and an extended season of growth and effectiveness is possible.
Remember, grants are still available for beginning a New Faith Community at ctc-reg.brtapp.com/NewFaithCommunitiesGrantApplication, but with this we continue to learn that lead time, hard work, and preparation are key to succeeding at the NFC effort. Without the work, they are typically going to underperform or fail. Check out resources on our NFC page at ctcumc.org/nfc, also there are helpful ideas at mikeramsdell.com.
A weekend experience for your church we call GROW includes three workshops throughout the year is also available to help churches make disciples. We are working with seven churches currently and are seeing positive momentum. If you want to know more, contact Meg Witmer-Faile at firstname.lastname@example.org. GROW is designed to nurture a culture of growth and is focused around the senior pastor and leadership of the church. More information is available at ctcumc.org/grow on the Smith Centers page. This is not a consulting process. It is an inspirational and educational process for church leadership that paves the way for senior leadership to lead a church into a season of growth.