II. Sustainability - Understanding your congregation’s sustainability and how to strengthen your sustainability.
A United Methodist congregation is a part of a worldwide movement, and each congregation is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). The congregation exists for the purposes of God by being the body of Christ, the embodiment of the teachings and life of Jesus demonstrated through disciples actively witnessing to and serving others.
The congregation is rooted in the mission field to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through vital congregations (Acts 2:41-47) who:
- Gather disciples to worship God by planning and leading regular worship services that connect with people in the community and inspire people to follow Jesus Christ.
- Organize disciples into small groups to form, nurture and shape disciples of Jesus Christ to live and account for a Christ-like life in the world.
- Develop disciples into witnesses who by their life and testimony lovingly attract others to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
- Send disciples to engage in mission locally and globally to do justice and mercy ministries.
- Inspire disciples to give generously to the mission of the church.
EPA develops lay and clergy leadership to develop congregations and engage disciples in service to the world. Many of our congregations, congregational leaders and pastors have engaged in the resourcing of EPA and are growing the mission, developing skills as leaders and increasing congregational vitality. We praise God for the growth of our mission, leaders and congregations. We also recognize that current challenges impact congregational sustainability. While many congregations are thriving, other congregations are declining and struggling. There is no one reason. Congregations become at-risk because of cultural shifts, congregational crisis, internal church conflict, difficulty in adapting to new forms of not being able to connect with people in the community, or combinations of these, and many other reasons.
EPA has three urgent challenges that threaten our mission and the health of all our congregations. They require immediate attention and action.
- Financial Concerns
- Declining Congregations
- Liability Issues
When finances become the driver of ministry, the long-term sustainability of a congregation is in question. Through the Sustainability Pathway congregations will look closely at future sustainability and other options to consider for increase financial sustainability.
Small churches are a gift to many communities. They provide an intimate worship experience and a place where people feel at home and useful to the mission of the church. The difficulty is when congregations become so small that they are no longer able to have a robust mission in the community, meet financial and administrative obligations and attract new people.
As congregations have become smaller, we see:
- Fewer new disciples: 273 congregations failed to make one new disciple in the most recent statistical year and many struggle to carry out basic ministry: These congregations may not raise enough money to sustain basic levels of mission, ministry and operations.
- Deferred building maintenance: Disrepair of church property creates greater liability for all our congregations.
- Lack of administration and accountability: Congregations are failing to carry out in a timely manner administrative responsibility (Safe Sanctuary policy, charge conference and statistical reporting, clergy and congregational evaluations, etc.).
- Liability Issues: The inability to administer basic ministries and operations in our churches place the entire conference at great risk of causing harm to people. As United Methodists we follow John Wesley’s rule to “do no harm.” Deferred maintenance and lack of administration can lead to liability concerns.
The Sustainability Pathway supports churches who are willing to look closely at the health and vitality of their congregation and their mission to determine an appropriate path forward for the congregation. In the Sustainability Pathway, the Sustainability Team will work with the local church on how to strengthen current sustainability. Through prayer, focus groups, community demographics assessments & congregation self-assessments, the facilitator will support the church in developing an action plan.