Church Leaders Kick Off Quadrennium With Vital Congregation Focus


About 750 leaders of The United Methodist Church gathered in Jacksonville, Fla., this week to start the new quadrennium focused on the mission of cultivating vital congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, said the Council began planning and praying for this Extended Cabinet Summit nearly two years ago. “This Summit grew out of the Council’s commitment, forcefully stated in our 2012 Call to Action, to redirect the resources and energy of the denomination, including our own leadership resource, to increase the number of vital congregations throughout our global connection.”

Bishop Mike Lowry, chair of the task force on the Extended Cabinet Summit, said the greatest thing that we as a denomination can be about together is building vital congregations. “We state it in our Discipline and we believe it with both our hearts and minds that local congregations are where disciples are made,” said Bishop Lowry.

He said the task force wanted to present an experience done “with faithfulness and fruitfulness in a manner and style that lifted up the best of the Gospel, that was Christ-centered, that was excellent in its presentation and deep in its thinking.”

“We have observed that vital congregations are effective in developing principled Christian leaders, creating new places for new people, engaging in ministries with the poor and improving global health,” said Bishop Ough. “We have observed that conferences that are creating cultures of vitality have adapted their organizational and governance structures; they are guided by data and intentional missional outcomes; they are calling forth courageous, spirit-led leaders; they are helping existing congregations launch new mission-driven life cycles; they are starting new faith communities; they are learning to innovate.”

Ough said that nearly every annual conference is scrambling to innovate and help congregations and leaders adapt to rapidly changing mission fields.
“I’m just as excited about the future of The United Methodist Church today as I was when I entered in 1978 as a 17-year-old kid,” said Bishop Bob Farr of the Missouri Episcopal Area. “I see lots of islands of hope. I see lots of new ministries, people doing creative things … I’m very hopeful because of the local church and the work that local churches are doing in their mission fields.”

Bishop Farr’s comments resonated with the Rev. Mark Ogren, Director of Congregational Excellence for the Virginia Annual Conference. “I share that kind of enthusiasm within the framework of the sociological issues that have impacted our church here in the United States the last 40 or 50 years.”

Ogren shared the story of Scott Memorial United Methodist Church, a legacy church in the Virginia Conference, and a new faith community, the Gathering, and the partnership the two of them share which he says is an exciting part of what can be the future for The United Methodist Church. (Watch the video here)

Bishop Sally Dyck of the Chicago Episcopal Area reported on the work of the four Areas of Focus and how they present missional opportunities for churches.

Some of the achievements over the past few years in the Areas of Focus include:

  • Planting over 500 new churches in the U.S. and nearly 1,700 new church and faith communities in the Central Conferences.
  • Providing theological education in remote areas all over the world through the distribution of e-readers.
  • Awarding more than 1,700 seminarians over 4 million dollars in scholarships.
  • Conducting experiential training for hundreds of mission-oriented members and leaders across the U.S.
  • Training United Methodist health boards across the continent of Africa.
  • Distributing more than 2 million nets and impacting over 4 million lives through Imagine No Malaria.
  • Deploying more than 300 missionaries all over the world.
Bishop Lowry said that you can almost instinctively tell when you are in a vital congregation.

“You know it when you see it and experience it … you can feel it. When you walk in and say, ‘Something’s going on here.’ What’s amazing about it is that it’s not limited to ‘in here,’ it goes out into the world so that a benediction of the worship service really is a sending … and when you come to engage, you come to be a part of the mighty workings of God.”

It is planned that similar events will take place in the central conferences as well.

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