News and Views

Discipleship Council reports growth in church vitality

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In its report to Annual Conference, the Rev. Jessica Hayden, the chair of the Discipleship Council, reported on the state of discipleship in BWC’s 606 churches in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and the panhandle of West Virginia.

Her report was based on the Discipleship Ministries Report, filled out by each local congregation at its annual church conference.

The Discipleship Council, which works to ensure that the Conference’s resources are aligned with its vision, mission, and critical issues, is particularly interested in assisting churches in living out the Wesleyan acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion. They also spearhead efforts to increase church’s commitment to create ministries of inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism. The focus on anti-racism is proclaimed in the denomination’s Constitution, Hayden pointed out, which says, “The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate racism, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.”

This is the second year of the Ministries Survey, Hayden said. In the BWC, churches are strongest in the areas of compassion, worship, and devotion, and less active in the arenas of witness and justice ministries.

Among the other findings:

  • A growing number of churches have an intentional discipleship plan; 75 percent of the BWC churches are either talking about or implementing such a plan.
  • Eighty-two percent of BWC churches agree that United Methodists should be working toward racial justice and are on a pathway to do so. Sixty-three percent of churches report preaching at least once a month on issues of race and 55 percent offer monthly dialogue and learning on building Beloved Community.
  • While more than 70 percent of congregations report inclusive behavior regarding youth, only 13 percent of churches report have more than 16 youth involved in the life of their congregations.
  • In 2021, 13 percent of churches reported having no professions of faith, up 9.4 percent from the prior year.
  • In 2021, 53 percent of churches also reported feeling stagnant or in decline, but hopeful that their current initiatives will bear fruit. At the same time, 72 percent of churches said they were growing in discipleship and 62 percent reported a growing number of people engaged.

 Hayden, who also serves as pastor of Randall Memorial UMC in Washington, D.C., celebrated the sense of resilience and perseverance expressed by local church leaders.

During 2021, Hayden said, 60 percent of BWC churches reported engaging in feeding ministries, 35 percent in ministries for unhoused neighbors, 17 percent in summer camp, 9 percent in ministries involving domestic violence, and 6 percent in immigrant advocacy and support. 

These ministries, Hayden said, are shining examples, of the BWC’s vision to have 100 percent of its churches operating at 100 percent vitality, recognizing that “transformed lives transform lives.”