By: Bishop Scott Jones On 5/24/2011
Topics: Bishop's Columns & Blogs
On April 6, the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table hosted a global, digital and interactive leadership summit. More than 3,500 people gathered in more than 1,000 locations to participate all at the same time. When we sang “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” we were singing in English, French and Portuguese at all hours of the day. What was 11 a.m. in the Central time zone was 6 p.m. in Zimbabwe and midnight in Manila.
The purpose of the webcast and conversation was to talk about the Call to Action. The leaders of our church have approved the following statement of the adaptive challenge we see facing our church at all levels:
We believe we must redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
From a technical point of view, the webcast was a great success. Simply gathering that many people together for conversation about crucial issues facing our church was wonderful. And we did it without the major travel to one location and all of the costs and environmental implications involved in such a meeting.
We learned that the younger leaders of our church wanted to have a conversation on social media like Twitter, and we did not sufficiently plan for that. But one of our Kansas pastors started such a conversation, and so many people participated that we were “trending” on the Twitter home page for a while.
While I served on the design team for this event, I was not on camera. Instead, I was in a back room reading the e-mails and organizing them for the participants. We received 518 e-mails, only a few of which could be answered live. But a key theme in many of them was, “What is a vital congregation?”
In one sense, that is a question that needs lots of conversation in as many places as possible. I believe that vital congregations can be found in all parts of the world, with a wide variation in size, worship style, ethnicity, language and theological perspective. I know of small churches in rural Kansas settings that are vital. We have a number of large vital churches in both the East and West conferences that are vital. So, what are the distinguishing characteristics?
The brief answer to the question is that vital churches make disciples and transform the world. They help non-believers become active, faithful disciples. They help disciples grow in their faith toward sanctification. They are communities where disciples work at feeding the poor, housing the homeless and striving for justice.
While every church does some of this, vital ones are changing lives and transforming communities in growing ways.
For too many years, we have been content with a form of discipleship that is less than what God truly asks of us. I believe we need to show people the United Methodist way of salvation, an understanding that is our way of saying, “This is the will of God for your life as taught by the Bible.”
Vital churches are ones that offer this way of salvation to everyone it can reach, and the church itself is a means of grace whereby people experience God’s saving power in their lives. When this happens, churches grow in numbers and they reflect the diversity of their communities.
The main challenge facing our denomination today is to increase the number of vital churches.