I see a 20 to 50-year view of GNJ, and I am encouraged.
When visiting our daughter Kristin in Washington, D.C., Beverly and I like to attend her church. In February, during the opening hymn, a three-year-old walked up to the pulpit area and approached the pastor with her arms wide open. The pastor stooped down and received a big hug. During the children’s sermon, two choir members acted out a scene they had made up and all the children laughed. A member of the church shared his testimony. Two years ago he tried a number of churches and decided on this church because of their shower and housing ministry with the homeless. The last song was one the congregation didn’t know and barely sang but when it ended, the pastor said, “For not knowing that hymn, you did a great job.” I left feeling joyful and challenged, hopeful and concerned, embraced and sent forth for a mission. Vital Mission Congregations create experiences like this.
This is the fourth in a five-part series on building and growing a regenerative GNJ that is constantly generating:
- Passionate faith
- Transformative leaders
- Vital mission congregations
- Money, and lots of it, for mission
Vital Mission Congregations focus on five ministries almost with equal intensity:
- Inspiring disciples in worship
- Making new disciples
- Involving disciples in small groups
- Engaging disciples in hands-on community mission
- Inspiring disciples to give generously to mission
The church I described to you did not look like this eight years ago. It was a struggling urban congregation with a little over 20 worshipers. They lacked what vital mission congregations have: vision, energy, joy and a clear, compelling mission. Today this church has over 150 worshipers and it is not unusual for children to come up to the pulpit and hug the pastor or for parishioners to witness how the mission of the congregation captivated them.
Vitality begins with a compelling mission which starts with the question, “Why do we exist?” If your answer begins and ends with “to serve the people in the pews”, your mission will never compel or captivate new people. Captivating mission is a description of what the church is doing with others outside the congregation.
Vitality is launched by an exciting vision. The pastor opened the worship with words of not only who the congregation was but who they were becoming. Everyone was not only welcomed, but inspired to feel that they were an important part of who the congregation was becoming, even visitors. The pastor communicated several times during the worship that “we can’t do the mission and ministry without you.” She cast a vision of not only the congregation but what one’s life could become in light of the Gospel. People had a vision of who the congregation was becoming, their part in the vision and that there was a vision for their own life in this ministry.
Vitality is sustained through joy that is made known by a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The joy of Christ was made known in the three-year-old’s hug, two choir members “clowning around” and a member’s testimony of what it meant to experience God through this congregation. Joy is contagious and it is the leaders of the church who spread joy throughout the congregation by being joyous. Joy can even come forth from singing a song you do not know.
Vital congregations give almost equal attention to worship, new disciples, small groups, mission engagement and generous giving. These five take flight through a compelling mission, an exciting vision and contagious joy.
GNJ has made strong improvements in the quality of vitality within congregations and with the number of highly vital congregations. We began with 14% highly vital congregations and wanted to reach 41% by 2018. We are at more than 32% and well on our way. I hear stories from congregations of compelling mission in the community, emerging vision and newfound joy in the ministry of the congregation. God has a great future for us as we regenerate vital mission congregations.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey