Wesley Memorial: a vital congregation???

What is a good measure of success? Most people would say numbers. Numbers seem not to lie. They are facts, right? Numbers are a quantitative, objective way to measure growth, decline, success or loss. But I am a firm believer that numbers do not tell the whole story; in a way numbers can and do lie.

Right now the United Methodist Church is calling churches to hand over their numbers. This church-wide data collection is called a “Call to Action” meant to help churches assess their vitality and grow into more vital congregations. Our church, Wesley Memorial, had already begun a visioning process when the UMC Vital Congregation initiative was introduced. We have had many conversations, looking at and studying numbers, numbers, numbers over the last two years. We do want to grow and we know some changes must be made in order for us to have a more sustainable congregation. Otherwise, as the UM Vital Congregation graph predicts (see below), we will be dead within a decade. Most churches and pastors, however, are treating this call for numbers as just more paperwork outside the usual Tables I, II, III and Charge Conference forms that are both filled out every calendar year. Most churches know their numbers inside and out, and most churches are always looking to grow. But can studying and focusing on our numbers really help us become more vital congregations? In some ways, yes. But do numbers tell the whole story? Can numbers truly say if a church is vital or not?

I would argue that Wesley Memorial is a vital congregation in many ways. We do need some growth to financially sustain us over the next decade, but if we ceased to exist today I think the community would feel the effects of our doors shutting. For a small church, we do an enormous amount of outreach in many areas of our community. Over the course of 12 months we serve, support and provide financial assistance to over 15 local non-profits, charities or ministries. When there is a need in our community, our church is quick to respond. We average 50-60 on Sunday mornings, which in the South is considered a “small” congregation. But of the 50 to 60 members and regular attendees, 100% of them are involved in outreach, evangelism and small groups. I’d rather have a small church with only 50-60 congregants and 100% participation than a mega church with less than 10% participation. The generosity and compassion of my church never ceases to amaze me. God has been able to use something small, like Wesley Memorial, to do great things for our neighbors and the Kingdom of God, and I believe God will continue to use our church in mighty ways as long as we continue to seek God, love our neighbors and invite people to join our discipleship community at Wesley Memorial. According to the vital congregation graph, Wesley Memorial is not vital; we are a dying church. Numbers do not tell the whole truth, and thank goodness we worship a God in the business of miracles and resurrection! The goals for our church attest to our belief that God can and will nurture our church in growth and vitality in areas where we need growth and vitality. With God, we have the power to change our predicted future. With God, nothing is impossible. With God, numbers never mattered much. Time and time again in the Bible, God is able to take the few, the small, the seemingly non-vital people and things and make great things happen–Moses’ rod, David’s sling, the widow’s pots, twelve rag-tag disciples, a boy’s lunch. Nothing is impossible for God.

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