Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Journey

By Mike Bealla, Director of Connectional Ministries

Vitality … a passing fad?

Let’s be honest. Over the years, we in the church have heard catch phrases, themes, and visions come and go. Most have had value to encourage us, captivate our dreaming, and sometimes challenge our ways of thinking about and being the church. Right now we are hearing a lot about vitality. From its Latin root (I just wanted to let you know that I took Latin in High School!), vitality is about life. It also implies a sense of healthy existence beyond just being.

In the last year or so, the United Methodist bishops and General Church entities have encouraged us to think about our vitality. The Vital Signs dashboard was designed so that we as leaders of our churches could record data to the site so that we could track indicators of vitality. In the medical world, we know doctors chart our vital signs to measure how healthy or how ill we are at a given time. Keeping those charts also help give a long-term view of our health and, need I say it, our vitality.

While we might smile and consider all of this talk simply another passing fad that will come and go and be forgotten over time, perhaps the conversation is more prophetic than faddish. The reality is, the church exists as the living body of Christ present in the world today to continue Christ’s work. Without vitality any organism will eventually weaken and die. Perhaps checking our vitality is so much more important for the future of our churches than we might want to believe.

What is vitality and how do we measure it? The general church has suggested sixteen drivers of local church vitality … expressions of a church alive in mission and ministry. The Vital Signs dashboard is built upon several of these drivers, suggesting we can measure vitality by attendance, number of folks in small groups, number of persons involved in actual hands-on mission in their communities, dollars received for mission and ministry, etc. Others have described what a vital church looks like and does in a new flourish of books and articles.

While all of these methods of checking our vitality can help, let me offer a simpler measure. Since the very reason … the most important purpose … the one thing we must do to dare call ourselves the church is summed up in our mission statement of “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” why not begin there. After all, the mission statement comes from the very commissioning words of Jesus as he left the first disciples in charge of all that he had begun (Matthew 28:16-20).

 To be faithful to Jesus is, for the church to lead new people into new relationships with Jesus and each other, and to help nurture them in order that they will help transform the world into God’s kingdom. Having said that, how is your church doing? How many new professions of faith has your church celebrated this year? Have people in your congregation grown in their faith and commitment to Christ? What has changed in your local community because of your church’s faithful work?
The reality is, checking our vitality … checking the state of our health as a church … is not just busy work or a passing fad. It is both a measure of our faithfulness to Christ’s commission of the church and a call to be diligent in the things that really matter for the future of your church’s ministry.

Our Connectional Ministries Staff and the Growing Effective Churches Office can help you examine your vital signs and partner with you to provide the information and tools to help increase the vitality of your church’s mission and ministry. Without our concern for our vitality, the church will not be the people of God alive as Christ envisioned it.

How vital is your church? Think about it along the journey!

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