Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I hope you had a joyful and blessed Christmas and I pray God will bless you, your family and your congregation during 2017.
As we approach the New Year, I give thanks for all God is doing through GNJ. This past year has been a gift to so many people throughout the world because of the faithfulness and service of our laity and clergy. I want to highlight some of the things God has been doing through us in 2016 and share what we can anticipate in 2017. We will look at 2016 through the things that are important to our mission: transformational leadership, making disciples, vital congregations, transforming mission and giving.
Critical to our future is recruiting and developing transformational leaders. We have been experiencing a turnaround in GNJ and our dedicated and courageous lay and clergy leadership are leading the way. We have now 251 clergy participating in coaching and PaCE groups. This represents more than half of our clergy leadership. We are hearing from pastors that this is making a difference in their leadership. You can hear Lakesha Groover’s testimony by clicking here.
We are working on a comprehensive leadership development plan for laity that will be completed in 2017. Conference Lay Leader Rosa Williams, Connectional Ministries Director Hector Burgos and I are working with lay leadership to create one seamless lay leadership development program to develop lay leadership skills. It will include certifications for the various roles in the life of a congregation.
Our Mosaic clergy recruitment and development program has moved from three clergy to 14 clergy with 12 congregations now participating. This program has successfully recruited five new clergy who would not have been pursuing ordination within GNJ if it were not for the Mosaic program.
In 2016 we launched a new congregation, Greenhouse, that now has more than 35 people worshiping regularly. New congregations are often one of the primary ways to reach new disciples for Jesus Christ.
Our IGNITE Youth Conference tripled in attendance over the last three years. This year we had 1,300 participants. It is powerful to see young people come forward on the final night of the three-day conference to commit or rededicate their life to God through Jesus Christ. As many as 700 youth came forward this past year.
The Camping Board and GNJ leadership are exploring how we can have a world-changing student ministry focusing on students from junior high through college with the purpose of reaching more younger and diverse disciples of Jesus Christ. I am convinced we will embark on a ministry that will change lives and change our churches. I ask you to pray for this ministry and look for a program presentation at the 2017 Annual Conference Session.
Our greatest challenge in making disciples is connecting with the people in our communities, particularly young people with a message that is hopeful and transforming. I am witnessing more and more congregations finding new ways to connect with people in the community. During the week, some offer hot coffee and prayer on the sidewalk to people in the community while other churches are doing block clean ups, going door to door inviting people, and encouraging the community to participate in mission trips or IGNITE.
Here are two web pages that will help your church reach new people.
Maybe small groups, the Church Council, Staff Parish Relations Committee and Outreach Committee can each read and discuss these articles and decide on five things you will do in 2017 to reach new people.
We have made strong progress in growing vital congregations. When we started, 14% of our congregations were highly vital. We wanted to turn that around by 2018 so that 41% of our congregations would be highly vital. Today, we’re at 32%. We have moved from the middle of our U.S. conferences to number 4. This is a tremendous accomplishment and is a testimony for how God is working through our lay and clergy leadership.
Our most vital congregations focus their ministry on 5 things:
- Creating inspiring worship and increasing the number of disciples in worship
- Starting more small groups that appeal to church members and the community and increasing the number of people in small groups
- Creating more hands-on mission opportunities and involving more disciples and community residents to be in mission with people in the community or around the region
- Sharing more stories in worship about how God has transformed someone’s life and encouraging people to share these stories with others to begin the process of making new disciples
- Sharing inspiring stories of how people’s giving is changing lives and the world and inviting people to give generously
I assure you that if you prayerfully and faithfully commit to the five markers of vitality listed above and do them regularly throughout the year, over time you will see God work through your congregation.
A Transformed World
- We completed our 250th Sandy home, helped our 500th Sandy family, received our 11,000th Sandy volunteer and raised our 16,000,000th dollar to rebuild lives and homes from Sandy
- We helped more then 400,000 people through hands-on mission locally and around the world
- We gave $12.5 million to mission
- We packed more than 50,000 Stop Hunger Now meals for developing countries
- Our mission agencies, CUMAC, Respond, Neighborhood Center and the turnaround of Camp YDP are serving thousands of people in Patterson and Camden
Finance and Administration
- We have gone from a low of 78% Shared Ministry collection in 2011 to being on track to receive 87% in 2016. That is amazing and has enabled us to reduce or hold flat the shared ministry budget since 2013. Thank you! Our plan is to continue to increase the giving rate to 92% by 2019 and continue to hold flat or reduce the Shared Ministry budget.
- We built a new Mission and Resource Center, and it is paid for. Thank you Council on Finance and Administration and Board of Trustees for your wise counsel and faithful stewardship!
- Our Communications Team won five awards and is producing creative and outstanding materials for us. Check out this video they produced here.
- We made a successful Maintenance to Mission transition that is not only saving us money but allowing us to accomplish more. For instance, we had 22 closed churches and parsonages for sale and we have sold or are getting ready to close on 7 of them since August. This not only provides funds for our mission but reduces our liability.
- Our foundation has grown from $4 to $34 million over the last two years. Thank you congregations that are investing through the Foundation. You are investing wisely, socially responsibly and you are receiving a healthy return while strengthening the mission of GNJ.
Yes, look at all of the difference God has done through GNJ – new transformational leaders, more disciples, growing congregations, amazing community mission, and healthier finances and administration.
I invite you to pray for and continue to work toward a better church. God wants to do even greater things through us!
Blessed New Year and
Keep the Faith,
Bishop John Schol
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey