God calls on God’s people to make disciples. Discipleship Ministries oversees and nurtures new faith expressions in creating new places for new people and assists in the renewal and revitalizing of faith communities.
By being relevant and vital, United Methodists will touch more lives and draw more people to Christ. Our primary purpose is not to help churches grow, but rather we seek to help them reach more people with the good news of the Gospel, to grow more people as gifted and called disciples of Jesus, and to send more people into the world to love and serve God and their neighbors in all they do. We provide tools, resources, workshops, events and training to help leaders and congregations more effectively make disciples for the transformation of the world
Congregational Vitality Pathways Overview
If we are honest, while we want to be a part of a vital congregation, we may not know what that looks like or how to get from where they are to vitality. Perhaps it's because our culture has defined vitality as the number of people we attract to our buildings and the amount of offering we collect. But what if we look to Jesus as our example of vitality? By our modern metrics Jesus' ministry might not be considered vital. He occasionally attracted large crowds, but most of his time was spent with 70 people or less, mainly 12-20 and often with just three. Also while we are convinced that 99% of our ministry needs to take place in our buildings, 99 percent of Jesus' ministry took place outside the walls of the Temple, the church building of his day. His ministry took place in fields and on the water; in homes and on hillsides; he went to where the people were and didn't wait for them to come to him. And his focus was on helping people build relationships with others and grow in their relationship with God. With this as our focus we will begin our journey toward vitality.
Vitality is about living life to the fullest (John 10:10). A vital church makes a definable and notable difference in the lives of those in their community. What mark are we making as Christ-followers so that all might live life to the fullest? Vital churches:
- See all the people: Build authentic relationships that create belonging as everyone feels known and valued as Children of God.
- Deepen discipleship: A process for maturing disciples who witness to Jesus Christ through acts of devotion, worship, compassion, and justice.
- Live and love like Jesus: Servant leaders put themselves on the line as they proclaim good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, set the oppressed free and comfort all who mourn beyond the walls of our buildings.
- Multiply impact: aligns our mission to God’s call by listening and discerning with the broader community how we might reshape ministry and repurpose resources for the greatest good.
To help you get from your current reality to God’s place of vitality, we have designed 3 Congregational Pathways. While each of them are different, each has a similar goal; to help you discern and implement your next faithful step. We have the incredible opportunity and privilege of sharing the love and grace of God with our communities. This type of work is messy, complicated and challenging for those who want a quick fix. Rather than a quick fix, you are invited to join us on a journey toward the vitality God is offering you, your congregation and your local community.
Participation in a particular pathway is not based on a congregation's numeric metrics, like worship attendance and financial stability, even as those factors likely play a role in a congregation’s discernment process. Placement will be largely based on your unique Readiness360 score (www.readiness360.org). This web-based tool provides a 360-degree assessment, completed by members and invested people within your congregation. This tool measures congregational strength in four areas:
- Spiritual Intensity, which measures a Congregation's deep love and passion for God.
- Missional Alignment, which measures a Congregation’s ability to prioritize their investment of resources (time, talent, treasure) according to a biblical vision and mission.
- Dynamic Relationships, which measures a Congregation’s relationships with new people and among leaders and congregants.
- Cultural Openness, which measures a Congregation’s capacity to welcome people who are different, newer or younger than them, particularly those who may have different experiences, perspectives and stories.
Congregational Vitality Pathway Descriptions
The Launch Initiative
Congregational leaders tend to ask themselves two questions, one focuses on the past and one focuses on the present. Questions like: “what happened?”, “what led up to this?”, or “remember when…” questions all focus on the past. Questions like: “what’s important right now?”, “how do we fix this?” or “what are our current challenges?”, tend to focus on the present.
Vital congregations ask questions focused on the future, without dismissing their past or being rooted in the present. These congregations tend to ask the “what’s next?” type of questions. Following the Resurrection, the Disciples were asking the question, “What’s next?” and Jesus provided them the answer. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gathered his Disciples on the mountain, prior to his ascension, and left them with these instructions: “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
If you’ve been asking the question, “What’s next?”, if these words of Jesus resonate with you and your congregation, then perhaps you are ready for the Launch Initiative.
This pathway is designed for congregations who are ready to get to know their community, move beyond the walls of their buildings and multiply their impact. This journey will equip and train your congregation to develop and form Fresh Expressions as a method to reach new people and engage your community. This resource will help you find creative ways to move “from the seats to the streets” and connect with people outside the four walls of your building.
A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples.
These Wesleyan Fresh Expressions of church embrace four missional values:
- Inclusive: (missional) a manifestation of God’s outreaching love, a place of healing, not harm, an environment of grace, a belonging before believing space where all are welcome and where the “good news” is good for all and made available to all (Luke 4:18–19). The community exists primarily for people neglected by the church.
- Accessible: (contextual) meaning close, culturally appropriate, and speaking the common language(s) of the context. This value was embodied by Jesus in the incarnation when he came and “made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
- Transformative: (empowering spiritual growth) where people can be honest about their wounds, challenges, and the progress of their spiritual growth in a community of love and grace. Members are free to process their discipleship journey in an unfiltered and prayerful way that brings real healing (James 5:16). This empowers them for works of mercy and justice in their communities.
- Connectional: (networked) Methodist fresh expressions exist in a relationship with each other and the wider church. They assume the emerging social structure of the network society in a digital age. This connectionalism resembles the nature of the early church and is particularly evident in the relationship between Jerusalem and Antioch (Acts 15).
During this 12-month experience, each congregational team will be assigned to a cohort facilitated by a Field Guide. In addition to asynchronous learning opportunities, there will be several retreats and time for Teams to plan and dream together.
“You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift—your true self—is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs.” — Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft
While we recognize that each of us has a unique gift to offer, Jesus also reminds us, in John 13:34-35, how others will know that we are his followers: “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
While the disciples had experienced and been taught many things during their three-year journey with Jesus, he was giving them one final instruction in this text. He was sharing what it would take to continue the impact of his ministry in this world. Would it be their speaking abilities, their miracle-working powers, or their courage? No, Jesus said they would impact this world as they continued to love each other.
Your next faithful step comes when you engage in the deep and adaptive work we seem to want to avoid – an intentional re-engagement with the communities in which we are located. We have to see and connect with the people God has called us to reach. This becomes the foundation of effective ministry.
The Catalyst Initiative is designed to help your Church do two things. First, it’s designed to help you love better; love one another and love your community. And it will help you discover your congregation’s call and unique gift that you can bring to your community. It is a year-long congregational cohort process of discovery, exploration, and renewal. It empowers a church to initiate a Spirit-led vision and understanding of its community; ignite faith into action, and invigorate people to claim God’s vision for your lives and community. Participants will learn to more deeply and intentionally cultivate discipleship, to discern and experiment, to build better relationships with one another and those in the community, to evaluate and design ministry for the most meaningful impact, to identify and leverage assets and to create alignment and systems that sustain ministry into the future. As a result, congregations will increase their skills, confidence and resilience so that more transformed lives transform lives. Congregations are placed into cohorts guided by a Synergist who journeys with them. >>Learn more
The Readiness Initiative
Churches of all shapes and sizes are going through challenging times. Your church may fall into this category. The once lively and vibrant building you call your church home seems more like a museum. Your church may be wrestling with what the future holds and asking yourselves, “What can we do? Where can we find answers? How do we get unstuck?”
These are the types of questions Ezekiel was asking himself - The LORD’s power overcame me, and while I was in the LORD’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones. He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry. He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?” I said, “LORD God, only you know.” [Ezekiel 37:1-3]
As you think about your congregation, do you see only dry bones or do you see the possibility of new life, through God’s Spirit? However you answer this, perhaps the Readiness Initiative is the right Vitality Pathway for you. After completing the Readiness 360 survey and having a facilitated conversation about the results, your congregation will be placed in a cohort for this 12-month journey, facilitated by a Readiness Guide. Throughout the year your Congregational Team will work through a process that will give you a 360-degree view of your congregation, leadership, ministries and community. The goal of this journey is to help your congregation discern your next faithful step. In addition to opportunities for your Congregational Team to work together, there will be “Town Hall” gatherings of the entire congregation and several retreats, during which you will learn more about the impact of the Readiness 360 drivers.
Assembling the Team
Assembling your team is an important step in the journey. The content you will receive is critical to the pathway you are traveling, but just as important are your traveling companions. Prayerfully and thoughtfully invite prospective members to the team. Here are some tips and considerations for assembling your team:
- Avoid the temptation of:
- Assigning this work to an already existing team or committee within your church. Many of our committees and teams are bogged down with the current operation of the church that little space is left for innovation.
- Having too many paid staff members populate the team. This is your opportunity to create something new and encourage participation from beyond the current structure.
- Asking people based on position rather than passion or giftedness.
- Identify people who are respected in the congregation and can influence momentum. There needs to be at least one person on the team who others will listen to and truly hear what is being offered through the congregational vitality journey.
- Be mindful to invite people who represent the diversity of the congregation and the neighborhood in which your church exists. Remember, not everyone on the team needs to be a member of the congregation.
- Ensure that each team member has the desire, ability, and the commitment to engage in this process. The Catalyst Initiative is at times a fast-paced process and has approximately the same time commitment as the Disciple 1 Bible Study. Therefore, your team members can expect to spend an average of 10 hours per month for learning and implementing. Be upfront about expectations and responsibilities of team members so they are not surprised later on in the journey.
- Consider inviting people who are newer to the church. These people are more likely to bring a new set of eyes and a different perspective to conversations and learning as the church navigates reaching the unchurched in its community.
- Consider inviting people who are experiencing a season of “holy disruption,” sensing or desiring something new or different for the church, and more importantly, for those in the community that are unchurched.
- Make sure that each team member has internet access and a basic knowledge of computer etiquette. Or have a team member who is willing to work with members who are enthusiastic about the work, but may need some guidance.
- Once your congregation has received an invitation to a particular pathway, make sure that each team member is available for the orientation retreat (May 14, 2022) and other dates given per pathway.