United Methodist Vital Congregations

There has been so much talk about “The Call to Action” and “Vital Congregations” on so many levels within the United Methodist Church that I almost (note: I said, “Almost”) hesitate to write about it. I have seen messages from Bishops in a number of UMC publications, read blogs by people who used to serve on the General Board of Discipleship as well as a number of blogs by ordained elders and local pastors. It seems that everything written by the Bishops that I have read (especially what I see in the most recent issue of Circuit Rider magazine) highly favors this Call to Action. However, some ordained elders and local pastors are unsure on this matter while others are openly against it.

For those of you who don’t know what the Call to Action is, it is something that is being implemented right now throughout the United Methodist Church. It seeks to move the denomination toward growing what it refers to as vital congregations and will use marketing metrics to help decide whether a congregation is vital and/or a minister is effective in their calling. This will also mean a massive restructuring of a number of our agencies on a very large scale.

So, what does a geek like me have to say about it? After all, I have only been a part of the UMC since 2003 and have only been a vocational minister within my denomination since 2007. Do I really have a right to talk about it? My response is adapted from the cartoon Phineas and Ferb, “Why, Yes! Yes, I do!”

As a quick background, I went back to college in 2006 and graduated in 2008. My Bachelor’s of Science is in Organizational Management. The program I was in was geared toward working adults thereby requiring me to do a research paper. Being the geek I am, I decided to do a paper on how the United Methodist Church might minister best to people who work in food services and retail jobs. I did quite a bit of research and my ultimate observation was this needed more study. Unfortunately, I did not have time to do this because before I graduated I ended up serving three local congregations and immediately after graduation I was moved to a new charge so that I might attend seminary.

I know this is getting a bit long but please try and hang in here with me.

I give this background because I investigated using marketing practices with United Methodist ministry. I even examined our denomination from a franchise model and threw in quite a few other ideas from my experience in retail management as well as from my studies in class. There were a number of things that I saw as working to grow the organization if it was viewed as a business. It was at that point I realized I had to stop because this is not ministry. This is not spiritual vitality but, rather, this is organizational vitality which we often find opposed to one another. (There are times when they are aligned but, in my experience, that has been rare.)

So, after years of working in retail, sales, collections and a variety of other fields, I thought I would give my insight into what it takes to make vital congregations. Oh, I might also add that I have been studying the Scriptures for almost two decades and am completing my M.Div. in May just in case you’re interested. Maybe this background will help you understand my viewpoint a bit more clearly.

Here is the best way to produce vital congregations and I am going to quote from one of the best marketing gurus of the past 30 years: Seth Godin. He says, “Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money.” Or, as the Apostle Paul and Jesus put it, “the whole of the law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:14) If we want our pastor’s to be vital pastors then the answer is simple, “CARE FOR OUR PEOPLE!” If we want our congregations to be vital congregations then we teach them to “CARE FOR PEOPLE BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE CHURCH!

In marketing terms, for those of you still in that mindset, I’m talking about product placement. Christians should be placing the product (themselves) out there in the world in such a way that it is unmistakable. Be Christ to the world and let the world see it.

Programs, metrics, restructuring, guaranteed appointments, apportionments, bishops, elders, local pastors, and congregations are all useless. The only thing worth a frik in all of this is whether or not Christ is living in us in such a way that we are truly caring about each other and the world around us. You can do everything in the world to get people into the building and you can cajole and manipulate them into giving money but if you want to truly transform the world and make disciples then, as Jesus said, “love one another.” (John 13:35)

If we want to fix things, we need to get over ourselves and all of our plans and marketing dreams and begin to actually love the people around us with the love of Christ Jesus. The fix doesn’t begin on the organizational level but, instead, begins in the hearts and minds of Christians who are “strangely warmed” in such a way as to live out this faith in the world around them.

Oh, and it also means that we have to be willing to say to those cruel, unkind, hate spewing people that claim the name of Christ that we truly question whether the living Christ dwells within them. Those Christians who define their “love” but the number of people they hate really need to examine themselves and see if they’re following the Christ who said, “Forgive them….” when talking about those people who were killing Him. We also need to tell them to flee the wrath to come because wrath always comes down hard on an unloving heart. Yes, let’s get off our rear ends and actually call people to love others in a radical way and if we get a few people willing to live in such a manner then we will see vital congregations growing but, most importantly, we will see the world around us changing.

Thanks for your time…now get outta hear and go love someone in the name of Jesus. Maranatha.

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