Vital Signs – an alternative report

As I wrote yesterday, I really struggled with trying to input goals for my congregation in the Vital Congregations website. Part of my struggle arises because I do not think that this tool measures the right things and for the right reasons, but the biggest challenge arises because our tradition is one of storytelling, relationship, and connection. There is so much that Trinity is doing around these areas, and so much that we hope to be and are working toward. None of that fits neatly in a number or a chart. Numbers are interesting and important. They are part of how we evaluate our progress toward our goals. But they should not be the goals.

Instead, let me tell you the story of what Trinity is doing, and how we strive to live into our mission: Trinity United Methodist Church is called to become a free and fearless community  where people meet and experience Jesus, grow in love for God and each other,  and live fully and abundantly in Spirit-led service to the world. I believe these goals address the same areas as the Vital Congregations statistics, but with greater attention discipleship and formation, and add a few other areas besides.

1. Faithfulness to our membership, regular attendance and attendance as a percentage of membership – Trinity is in the process of “going digital” with our membership rolls and records, and then using the database to improve the accuracy of our roll and reach out to people we haven’t heard from in a while. We believe that one of the greatest sources of potential new members and attendees is actually the pool of our former attendees, invited back through letters, calls, and/or personal contact wherever possible. An accurate member roll will also help us better care for the members we do have, and make sure we see each active member regularly.
Of course we want more people to come to church for Sunday worship, but also for studies, volunteering time, serving, learning, and connecting. If we are faithful in our ministries and excited about who we are, we believe we will see this happen.

2. Activity in small groups for formation, education, and fellowship – We have found that we have the best response to short term studies or event-based groups. People are willing and able to come together for a finite commitment, or for a set amount of time. As such, we try to have one fellowship activity every 4-6 weeks, and we have had short term bible and book studies during Lent for the past two years, and have seen increased participation through those.

3. People active in mission – Trinity has seen a few members go on mission trips (both through the United Methodist trips and outside groups), but there are many more people who are interested in mission and are not able to go on a trip. Our mission team, which is a new team in the past couple of years, is therefore working to engage the congregation through presentations about mission opportunities and trips, inviting participation in local projects through area mission centers, and increasing participation in mission that happens in and through the church such as serving at the Community Lunch and Warming Center. The Mission team hopes in the future to be able to send a group from Trinity or in conjunction with another church on a mission trip. We wish there were places and ways to report the people who are in mission in the community and church through giving their time directly.
On a related note, the Lay Leadership team asked people to estimate the number of hours they had volunteered for the church, community, and mission in the past year, and the total for the congregation was 7,807 hours. We thought this was a great gift to the glory of God, and hope to see increased giving of talent and time in the years ahead.

4. Professions of Faith – We have no goal set for people joining the church by profession of faith. We understand that to be the work of the Spirit, and the fruit of our faithful ministry. We pray that we continue to see new folks choosing to make a commitment to God in Christ, as this means God’s work is being done.

5. Nurturing and educating new disciples – Trinity’s Christian Education program continues to grow, and we now have a small confirmation class beginning the exciting journey of exploring their faith. We also nurture children and teens through Sunday School, tween night, and a summer program. We know that the children of today are not only the church of tomorrow but the church of right now as well.

6. Financial Stewardship – Our Finance and Stewardship team is changing the way we think about money at Trinity. The chairperson, who is new this year, has brought a heavy emphasis on Stewardship of all resources and celebrating the gifts God gives us, in addition to continuing the important work of financial accountability for the church. He has led the Finance and Stewardship team in setting an ambitious goal of increasing our congregational giving (pledged, non pledged, plate, and special offerings) by about 30% in the next three years. This increase would mean (especially if costs grow only modestly and some of the improvements the Trustees are working on for greater energy efficiency bear fruit) that the ministries of Trinity UMC could be entirely supported by the giving of the congregation and steady income like building use. Church dinners and sales and events would then be for fun and/or to raise funds for specific mission projects.
To accomplish this goal, the Finance and Stewardship team is undertaking a year-round focus on stewardship and stewardship education with the congregation, focusing on a stewardship moment each month and continuing to place finances in the context of faithfulness with all God’s gifts.

7. Natural Church Development – These are the projects that have naturally arisen from our work and our visioning, but we also want to make sure this is where we are called to be and what we are called to do. Trinity has therefore begun the process of the Natural Church Development program, which will help us discern as a congregation one area that may be holding us back from going deeper as a church, and develop ways to address this place in need of growth using our greatest strengths as a church.

8. Pastor’s goals – As pastor I have specific goals for the ministry of Trinity church and the development of its lay leadership. These goals include:

  • At least two new people in new (to them) leadership roles per year
  • At least one new program, created/designed/envisioned and led by lay people started each year (past examples include the Thrift Store, Coffee House, and Warming Center)
  • Nurture and mentor the people who seem to be exhibiting a call to lay or ordained ministries
  • Focus pastoral contact on people who seem tentative about their involvement with church or their spiritual journey and in greatest need of care. See at least one of these persons strengthen, deepen, or begin their involvement with God/church/mission in a given year

Recognizing that there’s no set formula that would work in all places, I submit these stories as what is working here, who we are, and who we feel we are called to be. Perhaps it’s not better than the Vital Congregation program, but right now it seems to be better for us and where we are. I welcome your thoughts.

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7 Responses

  1. As I said yesterday, I feel strongly that the numbers should be reported as well. But this expansion on what you said yesterday is really inspiring.

    My guess is that we don’t do this because there is a profound sense that some pastors simply can’t pull off this sort of elegance.

    If it were up to me, I’d require this of pastors — along with the numerical goals. 🙂

  2. Couldn’t agree more that the numbers can’t be the goal. Well said!

  3. I suspect with goals and vision like this the numbers will go quite well. If all our pastors had the passion you appear to have about ministry I don’t imagine we’d need the dashboard. Do you think most pastors and churches are nearly as ambitious?

  4. […] that the Call to Action: Vital Congregations program is calling for. My colleague in Vermont, Rev. Rebecca Girrell Clark has written a wonderful piece about the inadequacy of the statistics to t… I agree with her that our reports are stale and leave out the heart of our ministry without the […]

  5. […] coming out of the Call to Action (which I’ve critiqued here and for which I offered a different approach). The flipchart reads “Denominational Goal: 1. Stop Decline. 2. Encourage […]

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