Charge conferences to seek signs of healthy churches


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Each fall, United Methodist churches hold charge conferences where, at least theoretically, the churches’ mission and ministry are evaluated. 

One of the difficulties is knowing how to do that. What indicates a healthy, vibrant church? 

Churches in the Mississippi Conference will have a new tool this year to help assess their health: the A2 Indicators.  

“Our goal is two-fold,” said the Rev. Shane Stanford, who helped develop the indicators with his wife, Dr. Pokey Stanford. “We want to have churches participating in a corporate dialogue about information normally put on charge conference forms instead of one or two people filling these out. Bishop (Hope Morgan) Ward has said this is a report to the charge conference not the annual conference. 

“The other goal has been to help identify next-step assessments for congregations. Not all churches need the same kind of assessment. This gives us an idea of the nuances congregation may need to move forward.” 

“The A2 process will evoke a helpful conversation in each local church,” Ward said. “Some of the questions will be familiar. Others will be new. None will be complicated or difficult. In working with the 12 areas identified in the A2 process, each congregation will identify areas of strength and areas that might be strengthened for ministry.”

The program is based on Acts 2:42-47. Prior to answering the questions, the congregation will have the opportunity to work through a study guide that examines four themes in Acts 2:42-47. 

The Rev. Embra Jackson, administrative assistant to the bishop and who helped develop A2, said he thinks the scriptural aspect makes the A2 assessment process attractive and effective. “The biblical references will lead the congregation,” he said.  

“It will also mean less paperwork. A2 is centered more on conversation about the mission of the church. Because of that, I think the local pastors will embrace it.”

Jackson said churches sometimes fall into following business principles in conducting ministry. “The questions are about core values,” Jackson said. “They ask whether the church has its core values centered on Wesleyan traditions and Christian traditions.” 

Stanford, who serves as a consultant on congregational development for the conference, said results of the assessment could be unique to each church. Jackson said the key focus of the assessment is, “What has God called you to do and be?” 

Ward said she believes using A2 will enable the conference to partner better with the local church. 

“The purpose of the annual conference is to strengthen local churches,” she said. “The local church is the mission station of the United Methodist connection! It will be good to continue to share ideas that are working, missions that are unfolding, persons who are being blessed. We continue to learn from one another in the family of the annual conference.” 

Once a church has completed its assessment, Stanford said the goal is to have the leadership delve deeper into the church’s ministry efforts. 

“I hope the assessment sparks better ministry,” he said. “The primary intention is to help congregations meet themselves where they are, to begin discussing where we need to go. Other assessment steps have to take place at a deeper level. 

 “The next step will be to have a more narrative assessment in congregations,” Stanford said. “The assessment is tailored toward that congregation. Some issues will be programmatic. Some issues are about visioning. Some are about ministry viability; is this a congregation that has a viable ministry life or possible transitions in the future?” 

Jackson said the conference’s 11 district superintendents and members of their staffs have received training so they can assist churches in interpreting the indicators. 

Long term, Stanford said he believes A2 will enable the conference to allocate resources more effectively. 

“We should get a real idea of where our churches are,” he said. “I think what we will discover is that we have a lot to celebrate and a lot of challenges. This will put everybody on the same page. It will help us to take limited resources and direct them to areas be most effective.”