Worship is at the very heart of discipleship. The word “worship” comes out of the old English meaning to be worthy, honorable. In a Christian context, worship is honoring and giving full allegiance to God in Christ above all else. Thus, the Apostle Paul will write to the infant Church at Rome, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) The first commandment (from which all the other commandments flow) is, “You must have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Two verses later we are given clear instructions as to the meaning of such a commandment in reference to idols. “Do not bow down to them or worship them.” (Exodus 20:5) The gospel of John reports, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
We could go on, but the implication is clear - worship is the very beginning of discipleship. It is an acknowledgement of primary allegiance, loyalty, trust and obedience! John Wesley is said to have remarked that worship is “the first and most basic act of Christian discipleship.”
Hit the pause button and step away from the theoretical to the practical for a moment. We Methodists hold to a deep conviction, based on the clear commission of the Risen Lord (ruler!) that we are to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” As such, worship is a foundational act (we could even say, the foundational act) of discipleship!
Now hit that pause button again so that we move forward and yoke the theological/theoretical commitment with a practical living. Worship attendance is a litmus test issue of discipleship built on biblical obedience and faithfulness. This is why average worship attendance is such a crucial metric for evaluating our success in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. This is also why professions of faith are such a vital metric. Professions of faith represent an exclamation mark of belief in our confession that “Jesus is Lord!”
In our WIG (Wildly Important Goal), we always begin with the narrative – stories of transformation under and through the Lordship of Jesus Christ (the first and most basic affirmation of faith). From the narratives we then move to our two, key metrics – average worship attendance and professions of faith. Both together, when guided by the narrative or stories of faith transformation, point to the heart of discipleship and offer a crucial clue as to the health of a vibrant and vital congregation.
Professing that Jesus is Lord; coming before God in worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; how are we doing? The answer is well and well done thou good and faithful servants! Here is a report base on data from the end of October.
In the graph below you’ll notice that the path we were on when we adopted the WIG in 2016 follows the red line (the bottom line – i.e. the one pointing downward). The green line (top, upward pointing line) represents the path we currently find ourselves.
The WIG is an attempt to get the Conference focused on our mission – to make disciples.
The issue is not the numbers themselves, but what they represent – more changed lives.
We achieve the WIG by reaching new and different people – we won’t reach our goal in 2026 by only reaching older, upper middle-class anglos (i.e. the WIG leads us to greater diversity and inclusiveness!).
As we reach new people for Christ, we will reach younger people and more diverse people
As we reach new people for Christ, we will become involved in more mission efforts in our communities – that’s what disciples do (especially new excited disciples). Our tracking data demonstrates that because of the WIG we are growing substantially in hands-on mission and ministry with those in need. It is what Clifton Howard calls “intended consequences!”
Yes, there will be “over counting” at 58,000 average worship attendance. Guess what – there was “over counting” at 42,000 and there would be at 34,000 also. We started off using a counting definition for worship developed by Path One in the General Board of Discipleship. We have since tightened our counts. Where the numbers look “off” or “made-up,” District Superintendents follow up to see if the reporting is accurate. We have strong reason to believe that our metrics are more accurate now than they have ever been. Is there still over counting? No doubt the answer is yes, but upward trajectory is far more accurate than it used to be.
But with 58,000 in worship attendance, there are certainly more disciples than at 34,000!
Is this sustainable? Yes, if we don’t dilute our emphasis and keep our focus on the narratives of life transformation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Consider also, what is the alternative to us having a Christ-honoring, Holy Spirit led focus? Continued decline into cultural irrelevance is not the will and way of God nor does a continued casual embrace of decline represent obedient discipleship.
“Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)