The United Methodist Church has set bold goals to increase the number of disciples, address poverty, improve
the health of children and improve leadership by the time of the next General Conference in 2020.
Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area led a presentation that laid out the goals for the worldwide church in the next quadrennium. The goals include:
Make 1 million new disciples.
Develop 3 million principled Christian leaders.
Build 400 faith communities with an emphasis on addressing poverty.
Reach 1 million children with life-saving interventions.
“These God-sized results are indicators of vital congregations,” Bishop Hagiya said. “As we work together, we change lives. We serve an amazing God who can do more than any of us can ever ask or imagine.”
1 million new disciples
Bishop Michael Lowry of the Central Texas Conference said these goals serve as a call to ministries around the world and that each of the goals build on each other. While 1 million disciples may sound like a large goal, he said, “the straightforward way that happens is building faith communities,” often comprised of about 50 people who work together to serve in missions and teach.
“One of the things we know is that new faith communities invigorate,” he said. “They help renew and transform existing congregations.”
Bishop Lowry said these goals are important to the future of the church.
“Let me make this abundantly clear: Without creating new places for new people, the United Methodist Church is doomed,” he said.
One act of discipleship is helping address poverty around the world, said the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe,
general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society. The goal of creating 400 faith communities to address poverty will help address the issue at the local level. Doing so will help allow for more people to be participants in finding solutions that make the most sense for their communities.
“We’re interested not only in cultivating new soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but in fact doing advocacy so we begin to eradicate poverty rather than sustain poverty,” Henry-Crowe said.
Mercy and justice ministries must go hand in hand, Henry-Crowe said. The church will be working across agencies in an effort to help address problems at the neighborhood level and beyond.
“We are committed to helping congregations think about this and commit their prayers, their gifts, their talents and their partnerships in communities all around the world,” she said.
Health care for 1 million children
Another mission is to reach 1 million children worldwide with life-saving interventions. To achieve that goal, the hope is to challenge as many as 10,000 United Methodist churches around the world to get involved in at least one health ministry in their communities.
Thomas Kemper, executive secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, said the initiative will take lessons learned from the successful Imagine No Malaria campaign to spread the message – and efforts – around the world.
Kemper said a major component of the effort will be gaining input from the communities the church hopes to serve, particularly in Africa. He said it will be important for people in the “global south” to dictate the priorities instead of having them set in the United States.
He cited what the church found in Sierra Leone, where more than 350,000 nets were distributed.
“There were some villages where the net distribution happened and people then asked ‘What is this church about? Can we also have the church? Can you also send us a pastor and not just nets?’ ” Kemper said. “We are not distributing nets to make Christians. We are distributing nets to keep people alive. But our expression of our health work and solidarity with people in poverty also leads them to ask, ‘What is this church that engages with us?’ So this is really a joint effort.”
Bishop Hagiya said a key point to all of the 2020 efforts will be effective leadership. While current pastors and lay leaders are important, a clear focus on the 2020 goals will be youth. Citing the need to captivate the church’s young people and to draw in more youthful Christians, Hagiya a distinctive social media campaign will be necessary.
The plan is to start by involving 12 social media entrepreneurs – people within the church, clergy and laity, who are popular on social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to promote the initiatives being undertaken by the church. The goal is to raise up 3 million new, strong leaders by 2020.
“Unless we get younger, we are also doomed, and so this is a way for us to really see the fruits of a new church emerging,” Hagiya said. “Our strategy, if we’re going to reach young people, has to take a turn. We really feel that this needs to be a movement if we’re going to gain any traction.”
The strategy includes tapping into the passions of young people to show them how they can use their interests to help others in the name of Christ. Bishop Hagiya said a big challenge moving forward is the delivery system to people who are unfamiliar with United Methodist systems so people know what opportunities exist and how they can get involved.
“We want to compel people in their local communities, where they are, to make a difference, whether it be hunger programs, or environmental programs or whatever they are interested in, their passion,” Bishop Hagiya said. “We want to unleash that.”
Bishop John Schol of the New Jersey Episcopal Area said local churches will play the biggest role in determining the success of the 2020 goals. Noting that The United Methodist Church met the challenge of doubling the number of vital congregations – defined based on a number of factors, such as worship attendance and the number of people involved in missions – since the 2012 General Conference, Bishop Schol said the worldwide church still has a number of congregations who are struggling.
The purpose provided through missions and disciple-making work could help create more vital congregations.
“We have more congregations in the United States than we have post offices,” Bishop Schol said. “If we can get out the message and the word and the mission as well as the U.S. postal Service that is going to make a big difference in our communities.
Bishop Schol said the strategy behind all four goals will need to start with solid communication and interpretation of what the goals mean and represent. He said the church’s membership has a rich history of proving that if robust goals are set, the people are willing to do what it takes to achieve them.
People in local churches also have to be inspired to pursue the goals and then to develop strategies and resources necessary to help provide direction to congregations.
"I think there needs to be all around the world people that are commissioned and that congregations really make this important to their own ministry and what they’re doing,” he said.