Growth of state makes shifts in thinking even more critical

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Growth of state makes shifts in thinking even more critical

May 11, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0669}

NOTE: A headshot of Stiggins is available at

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event will in some ways hearken back to a time when pastors came to the annual gathering to do more than just sit and listen — when they came to share and celebrate the good things happening in their congregations.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the Florida Conference’s Office of Congregational Transformation (OCT), is excited this year’s event will provide that opportunity. He said several churches and the ways they’ve made significant headway in meeting the goals established by the Bishop’s Fundamentals will be featured.

Stiggins is firm in his assertion this is not an attempt to embarrass or ridicule any church that has not met the Bishop’s Fundamentals. Instead, he says, it’s an effort to demonstrate to the body at large that the Fundamentals can be achieved and are making a difference in churches, communities and the lives of Christians. It’s designed to be a celebration of the positive ways God is at work across the connection in terms of increasing professions of faith, worship attendance and community service — the three key areas under the Fundamentals, each with both measurable and effort goals.

Stiggins said he is aware implementing the Fundamentals is a move to a new way of thinking for many churches.

“It’s like changing the direction of a very heavy vessel,” he said. “We are shifting our cultural norms. We are trying to change the culture of the annual conference.

“While at one time we only seemed to ask churches to pay their apportionments, the pastor’s pension, the pastor’s health insurance, and the property and casualty insurance, we are now moving in a different direction. The focus is less institutional and more missional. It’s assumed that churches are doing those things, but we are asking for churches to do more in terms of being a church. We want to refocus attention at the heart of what we’re about as an annual conference.”

In the fall of 2005 Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker visited clergy in each of the conference’s nine districts to share goals he was encouraging all conference churches to meet in 2006. 

The goals focus on the fundamentals, or basics, of ministry — inviting others to profess their faith in Jesus Christ, offering quality worship that brings people closer to God and motivated to serve their world, and reaching out in service to others. They were designed to enable all churches in the conference to be more effective as a team in practicing the fundamentals of the mission of the church.

Stiggins says the growth of the state makes achieving those goals more critical than ever if the conference is going to be successful in its commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

According to Floridians for a Sustainable Population, 1,000 people move to Florida each day and three Florida cities rank among the top 10 nationwide in percentage growth from April 2000 to July 2004 among cities with populations greater than 100,000. Miramar in Broward County grew by 39.5 percent, Port St. Lucie in St. Lucie County by 33.4 percent, and Cape Coral in Lee County by 25.1 percent.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Florida’s 2004 population was more than 17.3 million, a 4.7 percent increase over 2003, while the United States grew by 3.8 percent.

Stiggins said every zip code in the state is growing.

“There’s no good reason for 65 percent of the churches in our conference not to grow,” he said. “We do not have a flat population growth. People are moving here every day.”

While churches and pastors may be concerned about the shift in thinking the Fundamentals represent and the ability to achieve the goals, Stiggins said they are attainable. And although what’s being asked of churches may seem new, Stiggins said it isn’t: “These things are what we’ve always been about.”

Stiggins said he has some ideas why churches are having problems in meeting the goals. He said culture doesn’t support congregations like it used to, church and community demographics are at odds, there is lack of technological improvement, and older generations are not reaching younger generations.

Stiggins says one issue for older congregations is stagnation over time, leading to failure in carrying out the mission of the church. He said this tendency becomes apparent when church members no longer reflect the demographic surrounding the church.

“The church begins to feel grounded as the world around it is changing,” Stiggins said. “They are no longer a people on pilgrimage with God. As Christians we are people who live out the Gospel, but for some churches Christendom has died.

“A congregation can begin to hang onto the ways that worked well two decades ago. Rather than focusing on finding new ways to live out and present the eternal Gospel to a changing world, a congregation can drop anchor. They cling to their familiar style of ministry, and then their effectiveness in reaching people and impacting the community declines.” 

With a number of factors at work, a church fails to fulfill its core purpose.

“Churches can’t do what they always did,” he said. “What they thought was wonderful, just perfect for them in the past, can’t be done with the same results today. They must reach out to subsequent generations in different and new ways. We have congregations in every district that are overcoming these obstacles, and we want to spotlight them to let everyone know it can be done.”

Stiggins is hoping the brief cameos that will be shared will inspire congregations to realize God is at work in these churches and can be at work in theirs, as well.

The 2007 Florida Annual Conference Workbook will list each congregation that met or exceeded the Bishop’s Fundamentals, as well as a list of what congregations did as an evangelistic outreach in their communities.

Stiggins said most of all he wants churches to be inspired to be “Christ’s light and salt” in their communities.

“This is not mission impossible,” he said. “It can be done. We just need to join hands and figure out how it’s done.”

More information about the Bishop’s Fundamental is available at

More information about the “From Generation to Generation” 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event is available on the conference Web site at


This article relates to Christian Discipleship/Bishop’s Fundamentals/2007 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011