How to grow vital, disciple-making churches

By The Rev. Gordon Hendrickson, Conference Coordinator of Congregational Development
Primary Focus

The mission of The United Methodist Church is to “make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  This is based on the Great Commission of Jesus, found in Matthew 28:18-20. Allowing the transforming grace of Jesus Christ to be experienced by our local churches, districts, and conference means forcing us to reach out to share Christ in ways that meet the needs in our communities.

Action Plan

Let the Holy Spirit flow in the local church, the district and throughout the conference. How?

  • Invest time in every meeting or gathering reading and reflecting on the Word of God, and share God moments in fellowship and prayer.
  • Stimulate a permission-giving movement of new ministries to flow and grow, as long as they agree with the aforementioned mission of the local church, district and conference.
  • Provide churches with information to help them define their communities, see their gifts and stir their passion for reaching out to meet human needs in their communities and beyond.

At each charge conference churches must be able to define their communities and describe how they are reaching or will reach out to meet the needs of their communities. Use an information database, they should examine “Call to Action” criteria to determine if they are a vital church with vital leadership:

  1. Disciples in worship: worship attendance.
  2. Disciples making new disciples: numbers of professions of faith.
  3. Disciples growing in their faith: number of small groups that nurture and encourage spiritual growth and hold people accountable for growth. (These can be short-term or long-term groups, such as Sunday Schools, Bible studies, etc.)
  4. Disciples engaging in mission: number of disciples doing outreach in the community and the world.
  5. Disciples sharing their resources for mission: amount of money given to mission (including apportionments paid and support for all UM and non-UM organizations active in advocacy, education, health, justice, mercy, outreach and welfare anywhere in the world).

Other tactics

Each district should create “213 teams”* to help churches assess their ministries to see if they are vital congregations, or what they need to do to become vital congregations, or where are potential new places to be in ministry.

Superintendents should select and provide training to prepare individuals as coaches who can work with pastors and churches to create vital congregations. They should also continue to develop more Growing Church Covenant Groups and Mission Connections to help clergy and laity achieve the primary disciple-making focus together.

Creation of an ongoing preaching symposium can enable pastors to become better pastors. All pastors should also be receiving continuing education in evangelism. And each pastor should take the DISC assessment test and share the results with the district superintendent and local church.

We must look for new, creative ways to reach new people and create new places (or modify old spaces) to attract and serve them.

*The term “213 teams” comes from Paragraph 213 of the 2012 United Methodist Book of Discipline. It lays out a process for assessing ministry viability and potential. Some questions for a group of churches in that process might include:

  • What kinds of things are our congregations doing well?
  • How is each congregation impacting its community for Christ?
  • Are there some things we could do better through mutual cooperation?
  • Can our appointed clergy be deployed more effectively?
  • Are all of our church buildings needed for the worshipers we currently serve?