2014 in Review: Your Faith in Action
January is a great time to celebrate district, conference and global highlights from 2014 and set goals to accomplish during 2015.
While few have a natural fascination with numbers and metrics, numbers do help tell a story. As the Texas Annual Conference works together to tell a story of transformation, it is helpful to know more about the cast of characters in the story, that being the 666 local congregations across our expansive portion of the state.
Each January brings “Report Day,” a day set aside for each local congregation to answer 180 questions that provide a consistent summary of the prior year. “Some churches enter their data directly into the General Council on Finance and Administration data system and some mail it in,” explains TAC Information Technology Manager Ivan Krowl, “but all participate in this exercise so that the denomination or conference can assess trends and successes. This data is a good tool and benchmark on the life of the church.”
Connectional Resources Assistant Rochelle Cebrun spends months analyzing the data for more indepth insight, however here are a few ‘rough numbers’ providing an early look at several of the key indicators summarizing 2014 in our conference. Center Director Dr. Elijah Stansell notes, “In context with the two previous years, you will see that our most exciting news relates to strong increase in baptisms last year. Most of our other numbers are better than 2012, but did not surpass 2013 – which gives all of us, individually and collectively, a means of focus for this current year.”
The TAC encourages congregations to track three weekly metrics via the Vital Signs website: average weekly worship, professions of faith and hands-on-mission. “This regular discipline helps congregations stay focused on the most critical data in the transformation story and get a head start on Report Day data,” adds Ivan. Additionally, he says there is work underway on a more robust “dashboard” that might enable instantaneous analysis on trends and church performance that will further guide decisions and indicate areas needing support. And a new metric, that of small group participation, might soon be added to the report as this area of ministry is quickly gaining popularity as a center for spiritual formation and personal growth.
Another key metric celebrated by the Texas Annual Conference is what Dr. Stansell calls “A portion-meant” for others: otherwise known as apportionments. His team congratulates 565 churches for paying 100% in 2014, and gives special thanks to those that contribute more than 100%. “We are then able to pay as a conference so that United Methodists and those in need are provided for through our many ministries and special initiatives.”
For a wider view of how the Texas Conference benchmarks against the 56 others in America, this report provides a snapshot. (PDF)
North District Superintendent Sandra Smith is excited to share the transformation stories of two of her churches with rising trends highlighted in these charts. Dayspring UMC, Tyler is a relatively new church that is experiencing inspirational growth. Grace UMC Palestine bought and repurposed a local country club property last year and turned the clubhouse into the worship area. The church now has more people attending than they have members in the church for the year.
Ivan adds, “Collecting, charting and dissecting these numbers year after year will sometimes reveal some heartache here and there, but it is helpful to be more effective in ministry. It’s good to remember the popular comment that you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
The valuable results that are achieved at the conclusion of each annual reporting cycle are due to the loving dedication of many people. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of the church volunteers and staff who gather all the details together, the clergy who review what is submitted, the district staff and statistician volunteers who check every detail, GCFA who stores the data and manages the on line systems, and the conference office staff who again double check it all,” adds Ivan. “It is this marvelous team of so many that make the process each year a success. Everyone involved deserves a resounding Thank You.”