When I visited my doctor for my annual physical exam, he seemed to want to know a lot of numbers including: my weight, my blood pressure, my pulse rate and various blood tests. Lots of numbers, but those numbers are not the only part of my exam.

My doctor also asks me lots of questions about my health, and in fact this year he wanted to know about the death of my mother and how I am being affected by that grief and the stress of my work as a bishop. Health is more than numbers, but the numbers seem to tell him part of the story.

With that background, I share with you some numbers about our new Indiana Conference, which I believe are a good sign of our health as The United Methodist Church here in Indiana. Our total membership grew from 197,349 at the end of 2009 to 200,620 at the end of 2010; likewise our average total worship attendance grew from 116,519 in 2009 to 117,750 in 2010. Those 2010 numbers are “incomplete” which means not every church has reported year-end 2010 statistics, but as more churches report, we will have an even larger number for 2010 since those unreported churches are currently recorded as a zero in both categories.

What does it mean that our Indiana Conference had net growth in both membership and worship attendance in 2010? Well, for one thing, it has not happened in more than 40 years in the Indiana Area. We have been on a long, slow, steady decline which hopefully is turning around. Whether or not, those 2010 numbers are just a “blip” on the statistics or part of an actual growth trend is something we will not know for perhaps another five years. But it is a start.

For those who care about the health of our UMC in Indiana, those numbers are an indication of hard work, ministry, outreach, hospitality to newcomers, and a growing witness for Christ in our state.

At a recent meeting of the Council of Bishops, I heard many other good numbers. They include:

  • Our United Methodist membership worldwide has grown to more than 12 million for the first time;
  • Our total giving to the denomination was up significantly in 2010 despite the recession (with our Indiana Conference leading the way in growing our general church apportionment payments from 50 percent to 84 percent);
  • Our UMC has started more than 400 new congregations this quadrennium toward our goal of 650 new churches by 2013;
  • Participation in mission work and VIM (Volunteers in Mission) teams are at an all-time high.

Do those numbers mean that we have no problems as a denomination? Of course not, but such numbers are vital signs of health, life, and growth. Our Council of Bishops has approved a new series of simplified measurements to help us measure the vitality of our congregations and conferences. We are calling those “vital signs,” and we will be keeping track of those trends on a frequent basis.

There is always a danger we will put too much emphasis on numbers, and some may even try to play the “numbers game” and report inaccurate numbers. But most of those numbers represent people and ministry and changed lives.

In the Book of Acts and in the Journals of John Wesley and Francis Asbury there is a huge emphasis upon numbers (how many people were baptized, how many faithfully attended their small groups, how much money was given for missions) – always as a way of attempting to measure and notice the power of the Holy Spirit at work. Spiritual growth is always hard to measure, but it helps if we go by the numbers.

Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of
The United Methodist Church
“Making a Difference in Indiana
and around the world.”

Our Indiana Conference had net growth in both membership and worship attendance in 2010.