At our summer planning retreat, the Cabinet had a good discussion with our Church Development Director, Mark Gough, about the renewed emphasis in our Indiana Conference for starting new congregations, new worship services, and new off-site or multi-site ministries. The Cabinet and I applaud this effort by Mark and his staff, which of course means we applaud the various churches and districts who are involved in these efforts with the help/support of our Church Development staff.

We also had a lively discussion about the question: How do we ensure that these new ministries and new congregations are United Methodist? What are the “marks” or characteristics of a United Methodist congregation? We asked those questions, not to quench the Spirit or to thwart this effort to start new ministries, but because we have supervisory responsibility to ensure that all of our congregations are being faithful to our United Methodist mission and values. In fact, as we developed our list of the Marks of a United Methodist Congregation, we realized that many of our existing congregations in the Indiana Conference fail to live up to this list.

In order to facilitate discussion and to involve more persons in developing this list, we offer the following list as a “draft” or starting point for this discussion. Please feel free to respond to this E-pistle, and your responses will be compiled and shared with the Cabinet as they continue to develop this list. Here is our list:

The Marks of a United Methodist Congregation:

  1. Preaches/teaches Wesleyan theology, including the quadrilateral of truth and the means of grace.

  2. Makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

  3. Has a “connectional” understanding of the church’s mission and organization.

  4. Focuses outwardly upon outreach, evangelism, missions, advocacy, and service.

  5. Follows the Three Simple Rules of Wesley: Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God.

  6. Practices the Five Fruitful Practices of congregations: radical hospitality, passionate worship, risk-taking mission and service, intentional faith development, extravagant generosity.

  7. Focuses upon the grace of God in worship, congregational life, and personal devotions.

  8. Opens the doors of the church to all who come seeking God.

  9. Welcomes laity and clergy working in partnership in ministry.

  10. Abides by our Book of Discipline, including Wesley’s understanding: “in essentials unity, in non-essentials freedom, and in all things love.”

Of course all of these Marks are also an indication of what patterns or characteristics are not the Marks of a United Methodist Congregation. #1, for example, means teaching Wesleyan theology not Calvinist theology. #3 means having a interdependent, Connectional understanding of ministry, as opposed to an independent, congregational understanding of ministry. #4 means being outwardly focused in ministry and mission, as opposed to being inwardly focused upon our comfort or even just our survival as a congregation. #7 means a focus upon God’s grace, as opposed to an implicit or explicit focus upon the works righteousness of being religious. #8 means welcoming everyone, in contrast to those congregations which are subtly or not so subtly exclusive. #9 means clergy do not dominate the ministry, but rather they lead as servant leaders. #10 means living with a sense of discipline and purpose, but not being hamstrung by rules.

What do you think? Are these the right “marks” of being a United Methodist Congregation? What others do you suggest are more crucial? Are any of these incorrect or unimportant?

More importantly, how does your congregation measure? We want our new congregations to be United Methodist in nature, but we also want to challenge all of our existing congregations to be fully and faithfully United Methodist. Is your congregation hitting these marks?