New resource counts on discipleship
BY MELISSA LAUBER
As United Methodists in the Baltimore-Washington Conference focus on spiritual growth, churches are being asked not just to count their disciples, but to make their discipleship count.
Each congregation is being invited to begin recording its weekly vital statistics to enable church and conference leaders to more effectively see trends and plot future growth and spiritual development.
The statistics for worship attendance, new membership, financial giving, small group participation and mission involvement will be measured on The Dashboard - a denominationwide electronic tool designed to help create vital congregations, said the Rev. David Argo, conference director of connectional ministries.
Pastors who started new appointments this year began using the Dashboard on July 1. Other pastors are expected to begin using it Jan. 1, said the Rev. Ianther Mills, superintendent of the Washington East District.
However, the tool is open for churches to begin their recording as soon as they wish.
Within the Baltimore Region, enthusiasm is high and 40 churches have signed up so far.
"This is a great resource for congregations so that leaders can identify trends and peculiarities to worship attendance that allow planning for optimal response," said the Rev. Karin Walker, superintendent of the Baltimore Suburban District. "It is a great way to understand a broader picture of the faith communities we serve."
Keeping weekly tabs on these important numbers will help congregations meet their goals and be more faithful to what God is calling them to do and be, Argo said. "Each number we record represents a life - a life touched and changed by Jesus Christ. This is a tool for transformation and that's something I can get excited about."
At its heart, the Dashboard provides church leaders with metrics, information and insights that will allow challenges and opportunities to be recognized and addressed in a proactive and creative manner."
To sign up, churches can visit http://vitalsigns.gcfa.org and fill out the request for participation section.
Churches that sign up will be sent a weekly e-mail inviting them to record their vital stats. The email will contain a link to the "My filing page," where churches can record a weekly tally of:
- Total worship attendance at all regularly held worship services;
- Total number of people received into the church by profession of faith;
- Total number of people engaged in small groups;
- Total number of people from the congregation engaged in mission and outreach;
- Total amount given by the local church to other organizations and charitable ministries;
- Total offering received through pledges and offerings.
Churches can then use these numbers to evaluate their ministries. Sometimes this ability to look closely at one's ministries can yield unexpected results and new growth.
Maintaining the Dashboard, which will automatically tabulate statistics, will also assist people compiling their mandatory annual statistical reports and provide feedback to help churches assist with meeting their goals.
Most of the conference's churches have submitted ambitious, God-sized goals in the areas of worship attendance, professions of faith, apportionments, mission engagement and small group participation, Argo said.
Research has shown that individuals and groups that work toward specific, well-defined goals tend to improve and grow, often achieving success 30 percent more often than those without goals, he reported. The Dashboard will provide concrete measurements to assist congregations by taking some of the mystery out of working toward their goals.
To help churches learn how to effectively use the Dashboard, resources, including a comprehensive online video are provided by the General Council on Finance and Administration at www.umvitalcongregations.org.
Some critics of the Dashboard and the denomination's focus on creating vital congregations have questioned the need for collecting and recording metrics.
Argo and other conference leaders say they understand this concern and hope churches will also tie in "God-sightings" and moments when they saw God at work in their churches and communities as part of the weekly record.
The Dashboard offers opportunities for recording these moments of God's transforming power.
He recalls the quote that "anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed."
By creating a means to help churches grow in vitality and discipleship, Argo said, we will bear the spiritual fruits of discipleship.
Anyone with questions about the Dashboard are invited to visit www.bwcumc.org/resources/vitalsigns or contact their regional administrators at the Mission Center.