It seems that lately we have been hearing lots of news about problems and disputes in our United Methodist Church, and those realities must be faced and addressed. However in my recent meetings of the Council of Bishops, Connectional Table and General Council on Finance and Administration, I heard lots of good news about our UMC which we need to claim, celebrate, and share:
- Since 2008 we have started 776 new congregations in the United States, of which 47% are ethnic churches, far exceeding our goal of 650 new congregations.
- In 2012, for the first time since 2001, the number of Professions of Faith (new disciples) among United Methodist churches in the U.S., grew.
- Our number of congregations that can be labeled as "vital congregations" has grown in one year from 15% to 16% -- not a huge increase, but a good indication in the first year of this emphasis.
- Among congregations which regularly report their Vital Signs, they are growing by 4.6% while those churches NOT setting or reporting Vital Signs goals are declining by 2.6% -- a pretty good indication that when churches set growth goals they tend to achieve them.
- The Council of Bishops has reaffirmed the missional direction of our UMC to be focusing upon increasing the number of vital congregations whose fruit is evidenced in the Four Areas of Focus. That reaffirmation is important because it means we are not jumping around or altering our priorities (as we have often done in the past), but we are sticking with this effort to keep focused in all areas and levels of the life of our United Methodist Church. Information about these Four Areas of Focus is found on our denomination's web site (UMC.org).
- As always, the response of United Methodist to the disastrous storms in the Philippines has been swift and generous. UMCOR already had an office in the Philippines before the storm hit, and they are on the scene with supplies and aid -- because of your giving. The online giving to UMCOR for this purpose is already near $1 million, which does not count yet the offerings that will be coming from local churches.
- The GCFA (which I chair) is working on a plan for "global apportionments" whereby all Annual Conferences around the world would participate in funding the UMC, not just the Annual Conferences in the U.S. Many bishops and leaders in the Conferences outside of the U.S. want to participate, and several are already leading their Conferences to make voluntary donations to help fund the global work of our UMC. This is very important as we become more and more a global church with fast-growing conferences outside of the U.S.
Meanwhile here in Indiana there is also good news from our UMC:
- We now have over 200 congregations participating in the "Fruitful Congregation Journey" toward becoming more vital and vibrant congregations.
- Response to those impacted by the tornadoes of last Sunday has been swift and primarily local, which is the best way to respond.
- Giving by our churches to their Conference Tithe and District Apportionments continues to be strong, with the hope that all of our congregations will finish the year strongly during December (it helps that it will be a 5-Sunday month) with generous offerings to support their local, conference and global ministries.
- Our two newest churches in Avon and Jeffersonville have both "launched" in recent weeks, and your generous support of the Conference Tithe budget is what supports them financially. We also ask you to keep them in prayer. The two new churches are: Riverside church in Jeffersonville led by Pastor Daniel Payton and The Branches church in Avon led by Pastor Alex Hershey. Those new-church pastors deserve our affirmation for their risk-taking ministry.
- The Campaign for Africa University continues to gain momentum. Our Indiana Conference voted a $1.6 million goal to endow a professor of agriculture and to endow student scholarships. We have completed District Rallies for AU in 7 districts (NW District is this Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Dayton UMC), and I sense a lot of enthusiasm for this project. We are asking all of our churches to bring a church pledge to the 2014 Annual Conference Session, and I foresee a great response.
This coming week as we celebrate Thanksgiving, many of our churches will generously respond by collecting food, feeding the hungry and offering praise and thanks to God who is the source of all things.
Yes, we have concerns and issues and even problems, but there is much Good News in our United Methodist Church for which I give thanks to God. Above all, I give thanks for the Good News of God's love in Jesus Christ whose Advent we will soon celebrate.