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How the Holy Spirit and a WIG are Growing Central Texas Conference Churches

January 15, 2019



by Vance Morton*

Moderator's Note: The following article was updated on Jan. 16 to reflect the latest VitalSigns data. 
Average weekly worship attendance and professions of faith in the CTC have increased for 11 consecutive months – a trend that’s expected to continue into 2019
There is a new level of excitement rippling throughout the Central Texas Conference – a buzz that comes with knowing that God is doing amazing work with and through the local churches of the conference. It’s an energy that finds pastors and laity eagerly praying for and expending resources and time in support of … a WIG? Churches are growing, disciples are being made and the WIG is helping to energize and equip the local churches. Of course, the WIG discussed here is not the kind you wear on your head. Rather, it’s the conference’s Wildly Important Goal.   
 
“Simply put, ‘the WIG’ is the conference’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” explained Mike Ford, conference lay leader. “As a conference, we believe the best way to make disciples is through the approximately 300 local churches of our annual conference. To help focus our disciple making efforts and continue to effectively pursue our mission, the members of the Annual Conference voted to set a 10-year plan to grow the average worship attendance and professions of faith.”
 
Before the conference could grow, it would have to halt and reverse a multi-year trend of decline in church attendance. As such, by adopting this 10-year WIG during its 2017 Annual Conference, the Central Texas Conference set out on a journey through 2026 that many would consider quite “wild,” if not impossible in America today.
 
Of course, all things are possible through Christ. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and by focusing on reaching new people and making disciples, the WIG is already bearing fruit. Not only is the multi-year decline in worship already being reversed, the local churches of the Central Texas Conference are experiencing a near year-long trend of growth. The Central Texas Conference has seen average weekly worship attendance and professions of faith – the primary metrics used to measure progress of the WIG - increase for 11 consecutive months (Feb.- Dec. 2017). All indications suggest the growth trend will continue into months 12, 13 and beyond.
 
“The prevailing thought when we began this journey was that it could take two to three years just to stem the decline,” said Bishop Mike Lowry, episcopal leader of the Central Texas Conference. “The fact that we are already seeing the signs of growth at this point and hearing the narratives of what God is doing through the local churches of the conference is outstanding!” 
Why a WIG?
The concept of the Wildly Important Goal comes from Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling’s widely read work, The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. The Cabinet read the book in late 2016 and was intrigued enough by the concepts brought forth in the book that they shared them with the Conference Core Team, which then recommended the idea to the 2017 Annual Conference.  
 
“A prevailing idea gleaned in reading The 4 Disciplines was how we keep our focus in the midst of ‘the whirlwind,’” explained Bishop Lowry. “We all too easily get caught up in ‘the whirlwind’ – the day-to-day routine and activities encountered when dealing with the business of the conference and/or the local churches. We lose focus on the mission.
 
“For us, the WIG is the mission – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” continued Bishop Lowry. “It is easy, oh so easy, to forget that our marching orders from the Risen Savior and Lord are to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19-20). The WIG and the metrics we adopted to determine our level of success have been wildly successful in helping us keep our focus on the mission.”
 
Recording, measuring and celebrating the increases in market share and professions of faith are vital in keeping the conference locked in to the WIG.
 
“Our churches report worship attendance and professions of faith each week via the VitalSigns system,” said Jeff Roper, executive director, Roberts Center for Leadership and Administration. “We create reports on that data every month to track progress. Each member of the Cabinet is tasked with contacting at least five churches each month about their progress – and at least three of those contacts must be praising and/or encouraging in nature.” 
 
Market share is defined by the WIG as the average weekly worship attendance divided by the population of the mission field. The market share (or kingdom share as it is also known) in the Central Texas Conference was 1.1 percent for 2016 – approximately 43,000 in average weekly worship attendance in an area of four million people. The WIG’s aim is to grow the conference’s market share to 1.25 percent by 2026. Since the population of the conference is projected to grow by 15 percent in the same time period, growing market share to 1.25 percent will require an increase in average weekly worship attendance of 35 percent. 
 
The goals for professions of faith are equally lofty. In 2016, the conference had 1,845 professions of faith. In 2017, 2,111 professions of faith were recorded, and the latest available data shows 2,171, through November 2018. The target number of professions of faith by 2026 is 3,500. 
The Power of New Faith Communities
One of the ways the conference is helping churches achieve their growth goals is by encouraging and actively working with churches to try new ways of reaching new people in worship – an initiative the Central Texas Conference calls New Faith Communities. The Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions & Church Growth has established a goal of creating 100 New Faith Communities across the conference by 2020.
 
“Growth in a local church comes from creating something new to reach people we are not already reaching,” said Rev. Mike Ramsdell, executive director of the Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions & Church Growth. “Growth rarely happens from tweaking things we are already doing.”
 
One of the new ways the conference is energizing and equipping churches to reach new people is by offering grants of up to $10,000 to help churches create New Faith Communities. To date, 30 churches have applied for and received a New Faith Community grant.
 
“The idea behind the grants is to create new energy around new things and reach new people,” remarked Rev. Ramsdell. “We have a new faith community meeting in a bingo hall, a party barn, around a meal and in so many other new and creative ways to reach people. The key for us is that it’s a faith community that is worshipping together and that we are reaching people we have not previously reached at that church.
 
“The Vital Signs data shows that churches with new faith communities are growing at more than twice the total conference growth rate (4.4 percent for NFCs vs. 1.8 percent conference-wide),” Rev. Ramsdell continued. “Investing in new things to reach new people creates a much higher rate of growth.”  
The journey is just beginning
While the initial 18 months of the planned 10-year journey have been blessed by God beyond initial expectations, the Central Texas Conference fully understands that there is still a long way to go to reach the 2026 goals set by the 2017 Annual Conference. However, with a continued faith in the leading of the Holy Spirit and focus on the WIG, the local churches will maintain (and potentially increase) their focus on and diligent work towards reaching new people and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
 
“We give God all the glory as we celebrate these first few strides towards being faithful and fruitful in the accomplishment of our WIG,” pronounced Bishop Lowry. “The Great Commission of the Risen Lord is being lived out here in the Central Texas Conference.”
 
For more details on the Central Texas Conference WIG, visit www.ctcumc.org/WIG.
 

*Vance Morton is the Director of Communications & IT for the Central Texas Conference. (vancemorton@ctcumc.org / 817-877-5222)