Vital and Passionate Congregations

It is a privilege and honor for me to serve the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference as the Director of Connectional Ministries. We, as United Methodists, are connected in many different ways- especially in our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This is the shared purpose of every church and of every member.

Over the summer, I visited both India and South Africa where I worshipped with different congregations.  While in South Africa, I saw the vitality of our Church expressed in passionate worship, generous giving, and loving hospitality.

Believers gathered for worship with great enthusiasm and celebration – singing, dancing, and joyful sacrificial giving. During one service, as soon as the offering plates were placed in the front center aisle, people moved forward to bring their gifts. They sang and danced. It was a festive celebration of giving, Which lasted up to fifteen minutes. Everyone wanted to be part of it. One woman, who probably had very little, brought a chicken as her offering. Others brought food offerings, as these people had little or no money. This reminded me of the spirit of generous giving of the widow that Jesus spoke of in Luke 21: 1-4.

While I worshipped with our brothers and sisters in South Africa it was incredibly apparent that the church was packed with people of all ages – from the smallest babies to people who have gained several decades of wisdom. Whole families came to worship together. The Gospel was powerfully preached. Everyone was challenged byan inspiring message. The call for prayer was a time when many came forward for the laying on of hands. There was such arich sense of community and support.

This experience was a confirmation of the various reports we hear of the United Methodist Church growing rapidly in Africa and Asia. I couldn’t help but wonder how we could bring this vitality to our churches in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference?  I feel that the Church in our part of the world has lost its original mission of being a people sharing the gospel of Christ with passion. How can we recapture this vision and increase the vitality of our congregations?

We have had many training opportunities in the past, where the Conference has worked strategically to equip our church leaders – both clergy and laity. Yet, the conference as a whole has been declining in membership, worship attendance, and giving. In order to reverse these trends, we need to spend time in prayer, discerning God’s will for our congregations and the conference.

Our Council of Bishops has given our United Methodist Church a Call to Action. Each congregation is asked to gather with the purpose of discerning its projected growth in five different areas: professions of faith, worship attendance, number of small groups, number of disciples engaged in mission, and amount of money given to mission.These five areas were determined from research on growing and vital congregations.  We are being askedto look at how the church will grow over the next four years in these five areas. Please enter your projections by December 31 at: www.umcvitalcongregations.org.

The Conference Staff has committed to a weekly time of prayer on Monday mornings at 9:00 am.  During this time we pray for our congregations, clergy, laity, and leadership – especially in these challenging economic times when so many are struggling with finances. We ask that you keep our Bishop Peggy Johnson and our dedicated staff in your prayers as we fulfill our call to lead and resource our congregations. As we – as a Church – strive to recapture the vision, let us continue to pray and spread the love and gospel of Christ in our churches and neighborhoods. God Bless!

By Christopher Jacob Kurien

The Rev. Dr. Christopher Jacob Kurien is Director of Connectional Ministries for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference: christopherkurien@gmail.com  or ckurien@epaumc.org or 610-666-9090, ext. 230.