Research from a process that regularly gathers data on the five “missional vital signs” of the Florida United Methodist Church is pointing toward fruitful progress in a couple of key areas.
For a little less than two years, Conference churches have been asked by Cabinet to collect data on five core areas: Passionate Worship; Radical Hospitality; Intentional Discipling; Salty Service; and Extravagant Generosity. The data is to be collected on a weekly basis and reported monthly through the districts.
The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, Director of the Office of Congregational Excellence, speaking at an Annual Conference event.
“Whether this is the beginning of a trend or not, we will have more of an idea about sometime in February or early March, when the figures are in from 2010,” Stiggins continued.
In terms of compliance with the data collection, Stiggins said more than 60 percent of churches are reporting consistently. Janet Kelley, East Central District administrative assistant, recently shared that 100 percent of congregations in their district have now begun reporting their Missional Vital Signs.
“We gave churches a lot of time to get on board,” noted Stiggins. “The idea is to get people to focus on the things that are missionally most vital to the church. Each of the vital signs is a way for church leaders to keep their finger on the pulse of how they are doing.”
Stiggins added that most of the vital signs are an outcome that churches were already tracking, with the exceptions of small groups and salty service. He continued that the intent behind tracking was never simply to collect and crunch numbers, but to encourage the discipline and vitality that can come from simply asking the right missional questions every week.
“The number one way to tell whether a church is heading in the right direction or drifting away from Christ’s mission is engagement in the community,” he said. “If you look at the statistics in the back of the (Florida Conference) Journal, there is no way to tell a congregation that is totally self-absorbed from one that is totally engaged in ministry to the world. I think that’s kind of a fatal flaw—kind of like going to a doctor who never checks your blood pressure and being surprised when they have a bunch of patients with blood pressure issues. You haven’t been alerting people that this is a critical thing to cultivate.”
In terms of impact upon the local church, Stiggins said, “I have heard story after story of congregations that began to engage their community missionally and then realized, ‘Oh my gosh, this is really important.’ They found people were excited to focus on this, and that they were doing more than they realized.”
The Conference’s efforts are ahead of the curve, based on the recent Call to Action from the UMC Council on Bishops that includes increased accountability concerning the mission of the church. A General Conference-level group, headed by Bishop John Schol of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, suggested nearly the same five data points upon which churches across the denomination should focus their energies.
“The group surveyed 25 conferences to see what they were measuring on a regular basis, including Florida,” Stiggins added. “The strategy we took is the strategy they took, as well. The group is also recommending that giving beyond the local church be measured. Bishop (Timothy) Whitaker has said that in preparation for General Conference, every church is going to be asked to set a goal for all five of these metrics, including the one about extravagant generosity that is a little more pointed than the current metrics being collected on generosity.”
During recent visits to all of the districts, Whitaker emphasized that collecting the Missional Vital Signs is going to be an ongoing effort and something for which the general church is calling.
According to the recommendations in the PowerPoint presented by Bishop Schol’s group, congregations would be asked to set a goal for each of the following areas for the years 2012 through 2015:
- Worship attendance
- Disciples engaged in mission
- Professions of faith
- Mission giving
- Spiritual/discipleship formation groups
In addition to these congregational goals, Schol’s group suggests that Annual Conferences—during the 2012 General Conference—present goals for the four core ministry areas identified during the 2008 General Conference: creating new places for new people; engaging in ministry with the poor; stamping out killer diseases; and developing principled leaders.
Reporting on achievements in these goal areas would take place during the 2016 General Conference. Bishops and general secretaries would lead their conferences and general agencies to resource congregations to reach these goals. Bishops would gather and report quarterly the progress toward the goals and evaluate what is helping and hindering achieving the results that are desired.
In addition, Schol’s group suggests that every congregation across the connection utilize its 2011 charge conference to report the goals they have set for each year spanning from 2012 through 2015, relating to the five areas listed above.
Conference leaders would identify the total goals set by churches for each of the five areas, and identify their goals for the four areas of ministry focus flowing from the 2008 General Conference. Conferences would prepare and bring these to the 2012 General Conference as part of a covenanting service in which congregations and conferences would covenant with one another to engage in fruitful ministry. Conferences would also provide quarterly reports to the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table.
Schol’s proposal also emphasizes that Conferences and General Agencies would develop resourcing plans to equip congregations to be fruitful.
“Collecting the Missional Vital Signs is just a strategy for helping us to be accountable for missional fruitfulness,” Stiggins said. “Everyone who looks at this stuff knows the numbers don’t tell the whole story. It’s like a doctor knows you can’t just look at blood pressure or weight or respiration rate.”
News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011, email@example.com, Lakeland
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tenn.