Digital Dialogue Focuses on Increasing Church Vitality

Date Posted: 4/17/2011

Members of the Texas Annual Conference recently gathered in five area churches to participate in the denomination’s global Leadership Summit on April 6. United Methodists worldwide joined an interactive, digital dialogue to consider the Call to Action to increase church vitality, which was set forth by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table.


More than 4,000 sites accessed the webinar throughout the three-hour span, and submitted more than 500 questions. In Zimbabwe, 300 United Methodists participated at the World Trade Center.  In the Texas Conference, 187 people joined the conversation at Williams Memorial UMC in Texarkana, Marvin UMC in Tyler, Wesley UMC in Beaumont, Christ UMC in College Station and Bellaire UMC in Bellaire. The format for the day was a one-hour presentation by Bishops, General Secretaries and a lay representative of the Connectional Table.


Speaking from Matthew 28:16-20, President-elect of the Council of Bishops, Bishop Rosemarie Wenner of Germany, addressed the global congregation of leaders: “Not all of us are called to go to a foreign country. All of us are sent out, to go and make disciples,” Bishop Wenner said.


“What does it mean to go?

“In God’s mission, we will have to go to places where we are aliens… In God’s mission, we will have to learn new languages to tell the gospel… In God’s mission, we, ourselves, will be transformed. We will not be the same. We will be more welcoming, more gracious, more risk taking, more diverse, less bound by rules, all-in-all more Christ centered and more in touch with God’s people outside the walls of the church.”


While acknowledging that the denomination’s mission field is “outside the church,” leaders also maintained that local churches are still the primary “disciple-making body.”  The “adaptive challenge” that the Leadership Summit addressed is to: Redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to increase the number of vital congregations.

“We need to make changes in how we behave as a church,” said Bishop Gregory Palmer of Illinois.


Time, funding and personnel are among the resources being evaluated.


How is vitality measured?

The summit focused on defining and measuring church vitality. A variety of benchmarks were lifted up, from Acts 2 to The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

Video testimonials were also used to illustrate fruitfulness. The Texas Conference’s St. John’s UMC in Downtown Houston and Windsor Village UMC in Houston were, featured as two of the denomination’s most vital congregations.

Although vitality can be clearly visible (or invisible), the question of how to measure it is still murky.


The Call to Action summarizes some components of vitality:

n       Effective pastoral leadership including inspirational preaching, mentoring laity, and effective management.

n       Multiple small groups and programs for children and youth.

n       A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services.

n       A high percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership roles.


Bishop Larry Goodpastor of Western North Carolina noted that although feelings are mixed regarding statistics, “we pay attention to what we measure.” What there is no ambivalence about is the church’s mission. “Theologically, our mission is clear: to make disciples for the transformation of the world. So, disciple-making should be measured,” Goodpastor said.


Visit to watch an archived copy of the event.