News and Views

Council unveils ministry data tool

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By Erik Alsgaard

Have you ever wondered if there’s a United Methodist church near yours that has a feeding program? Or, perhaps your youth group needs a van for a field trip but you don’t know where to turn?

Thanks to a new interactive data tool offered by Discipleship Ministries of the BWC, answering those questions – and more – just got a whole lot easier. Connect with the Interactive Data Tool

This new tool was just one resource highlighted during the Discipleship Ministries report at Annual Conference on May 31.

“Multiplying world-transforming disciples is our main thing,” said Kris Neale, chair of the Discipleship Council.

The Discipleship Council’s report revealed interesting information about the BWC’s churches, including the fact that 137 churches who reported that most people in their church participate in acts of witness also reported high acts of justice, compassion, and worship.

“This wouldn’t be surprising to John Wesley,” Neale said. “Given our desire to reawaken our DNA, we would strongly encourage churches to focus on equipping disciples to witness and engage in acts of justice.

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling praised the work of the Discipleship Council and the Discipleship Ministries staff of the conference.

“This discipleship committee, our director and staff do so much work to help us be and informed, capable, competent, annual conference,” the bishop said. “They will come out to local congregations to work with laity and clergy so that we have everything we need to do this work. We couldn’t do this without them,” Bishop Easterling said.

The bishop also encouraged congregations throughout the conference to take advantage of the resources, tools, and personnel available to make disciples.

“Sometimes, we’re not taking full advantage of everything they have to offer,” Bishop Easterling said. “We cajole ourselves into believing that we are leaning into all that is before us; that we’re already being collaborative …. But if we’re honest, we’re not. There is room for us to stretch and to grow. This Discipleship Council is at the tip of the spear to help us.”

The new interactive data tool also promises to equip local churches to expand ministry opportunities and make new disciples.

“When the Discipleship Council first saw this tool, we thought it would help churches see that the data they provide in their annual reports is being used, but that they could also use it to better collaborate and map assets in the communities in which they serve,” said Christie Latona, Director of Connectional Ministries for the BWC.

For example, the interactive tool could help your church strengthen, update, or start an intentional discipleship process, Latona said. “Let’s say your church has been talking about putting together an intentional discipleship plan but has gotten stuck on understanding what that means,” Latona said. “In just a few clicks, you can easily find churches near yours that could help teach you.

“Many churches in the BWC are rediscovering the joy and vitality of being in ministry,” she said. “Sixty-eight churches are trying something new… some of these are in the 11 congregations that were early adopters to Catalyst, discerning how to leverage their resources to pursue God’s call.”

The Rev. Jack Shitama, director of the Center for Vital Leadership for the BWC and Peninsula-Delaware annual conferences, noted in the report that more than $1 million was distributed in 2023 to local churches as grants. These grants “are for local churches to improve vitality, encourage innovation, and engage in missional action planning,” he said.

In their report, Discipleship Ministries noted that nearly 40 percent of BWC churches in 2023 did not have an intentional discipleship process, but that number is down slightly from 2022.

The expectation, Latona said, is that every church should have a clear process for inviting, maturing, and sending out world-transforming disciples. About one in four congregations in 2023 were implementing such a process, which is up a bit from 2022.

Another aspect of discipleship is making new disciples. Nearly 15 percent of churches in the BWC reported zero professions of faith in 2023, but that number is also down from 2022. Meanwhile, 82 percent of congregations reported that they were “growing in discipleship” in 2023, continuing a trend upwards since 2021.

As the report neared its conclusion, Latona invited youth members of the Annual Conference and their leaders to come forward to lead all those gathered in a rousing dance praising “a very big God.”

Conference youth leaders announced that a special weekend youth conference, “Ignite,” will be held next March. “Ignite is more than a conference, it is more than bands and speakers. It is about a generation united for Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Sam Tryon, pastor of Brookfield-Immanuel Charge in Brandywine, the incoming chair of youth ministries for the BWC.