Indicators help churches become improved centers for discipleship


Second in a series.

By Embra Jackson
Administrative Assistant to the Bishop

The calling of all churches is to become disciple centers. The United Methodist Church has as our mission, “To make disciples.” However, recent statistics indicated that not many of our churches are fulfilling this mission.

In the last issue of the Advocate, we addressed the A2 indicator of servant ministries. In this article, we shall discuss indicators 3, 7 and 11 – baptisms/professions of faith, average worship attendance and average attendee tenure – combined under the heading of evangelism, or discipleship.

Approximately 40 percent of all United Methodist churches received no new members by profession of faith in recent years. Many of our conferences and churches are declining in membership. Some will blame the decline on our denomination being too “liberal” regarding social issues. Others will blame the decline on the bishops and other denominational leaders.  Some will cite a lack of contemporary worship services as the culprit. Others will cite a loss of traditional worship experiences.

However, I believe that the decline lies solely in none of the above areas. The decline is occurring, in my view, because we have often failed to develop a strategy for disciple-making. Some call this our DNA or core value.  

Until our denomination and local churches set aside time for Bible study, prayer and spiritual discernment, we will continue to decline. By beginning with God’s word, prayer and reflection, we will become connected with God and growth will occur. For some churches, this may not mean numerical growth, but spiritual growth will occur because we are connected to the source of all life, God. 

With God, all things are possible
The Holy Spirit must be allowed to enter our churches. Think back to May 1738 at Aldersgate in England. It was here that John Wesley’s heart was strongly warmed. John was convinced that the Lord loved him. This great movement of Methodism began when John Wesley took time from his schedule to read God’s word, to pray and to reflect upon God’s word. We should allow God’s Holy Spirit to enter into our churches today. If we do so, I am convinced that God will bless our efforts.

A recent survey by Faith Communities Today offers specific items that can impact church growth. This survey concluded that having a contemporary worship service, “appropriate” geographic location, a Web site and absence of major conflict are key elements to positive church growth. Another survey indicated that appropriate leadership was a vital component for church growth.

The present size of the congregation is not as vital as the leadershi

“Two of the three highest attended United Methodist churches were long-time small churches before the right leadership came in. Windsor Village was 20-something strong before Kirbyjon Caldwell arrived as pastor. Mount Pisgah was a sleepy little country church at the edge of Atlanta’s sprawl when Warren Lathem came. Whites Chapel in Southlake, Texas, was a little white board country church for years, but is now in the top 10 attended UMCs. Another notable once-small church is Ginghamsburg, whose story is legendary,” commented the General Board of Global Ministries’ Office of Research in its February Background Data for Mission newsletter.

If your church has not been involved in significant church growth recently, I would suggest the following:

  • Pray. Prayer should be the foundation for any church and for our ministry. Matthew 21:22 states, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”
  • Study the Bible. A study of the Bible is an important aspect of disciple-making. Churches that are grounded in God’s word grow. Acts 2:42 states that the early church devoted itself to “teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers.” As a result, approximately 3,000 persons joined the church in one day.
  • Reduce conflict. Conflict occurs in all walks of life, even in the church. However, visitors can sense when there is conflict in a church. Because persons often come to church seeking peace, it is important to offer a congregation that is warm, friendly and accepting. Christian love and forgiveness must be practiced.
  • Worship more. The more diverse worship services a church has, the more likely it is to reach new people for Christ. More than half of the congregations that use contemporary styles of worship have had substantial growth, according to Faith Communities Today’s FACTS on Growth report.
  • Create a Web site. Congregations with Web sites are likely to grow. A Web presence can be interpreted that a church is forward thinking and poised for the future.
  • Develop a specific disciple-making plan. “Next Church.Now” by Craig K. Miller offers such a plan. In addition, the conference’s SMART (A29) Plan is a useful resource in assisting churches in developing such plans. The Igniting Ministry “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” campaign is another excellent resource.

If we are to reverse our downward membership spiral and to assist our churches in becoming discipleship centers we must re-establish our connection to God and to our mission as people of God. By reconnecting with God and our mission, we will fulfill our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Jackson serves as administrative assistant to the bishop.