Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Blessed New Year!
As we begin the New Year, I give thanks to God for each of you and all God is doing through you. GNJ’s ministry in 2017 was fruitful. We saw significant progress in many of our congregations who made more new disciples, increased faith through more participation in small groups, stepped forward with new mission projects in the community, increased worship attendance and continued to give 100% to shared ministry or increased their shared ministry giving in 2017. God is doing important ministry and mission through you, our laity and clergy. Thank you for your dedication, willingness to try new things and trust in God.
When we look at the last four years, God has done amazing ministry through us. Signs and wonders are all around. Who would have believed then that we would have:
- Increased the percentage of worshipers engaged in small groups from 43% to 65%
- Increased the number of worshipers participating in mission from 30% to 50%
- Improved congregations’ shared ministry giving rate from 78% to 88%
- Reduced the amount we apportion churches by more than $1 million
- Raised $750,000 for Imagine No Malaria which helped to save more than 50,000 lives
- Built and paid off a $5 million Mission and Resource Center
- Developed five new resources to strengthen leadership and grow vital congregations
- Reorganized our staff to be a leadership development team
- Reoriented superintending so that district superintendents spend only 20% on administration, and 60% on resourcing leaders and congregations with an additional 20% of their time exploring new mission and church opportunities
- Grew the United Methodist Stewardship Foundation of Greater New Jersey from $4 million to more than $46 million
- Started 52 new faith communities (new worship services, second site ministries and new congregations)
- Started IGNITE Youth Conference which brings 1500 young people to nurture their faith each year
- Moved from the middle of the pack in congregational vitality within the denomination to #4 in US conferences.
All of this occurred during our Superstorm Sandy relief and recovery effort, A Future With Hope. Our recovery effort has rebuilt more than 260 homes, recruited, housed and deployed more than 13,000 volunteers and raised more than $17 million.
Praise God! God has been at work through you. Our ministry is a powerful witness that GNJ has a future with hope. God has more for us as we continue to pray, humble ourselves and commit to giving our best for God.
In part, we have seen this progress because in 2013 we set ambitious goals and developed a plan – a road map for GNJ ministry. We have made changes along the way as we learned and encountered the unexpected, but having a plan and goals kept us focused and moving toward our mission and vision.
As we make strong progress in many areas of ministry, we have important challenges ahead of us. In the next 10 years, 50% of our clergy will retire and a number of our churches will choose to merge or discontinue because they do not have enough people and/or money to sustain their buildings and ministry. We will be faced with deeper cultural and denominational shifts that call for a bold God sized vision and the courage to step into the future with passion and conviction to connect with our communities in new ways that transforms lives and communities.
These challenges are natural. They are based on cultural shifts and the challenges congregations are facing to reconnect with the people in the community.
In the midst of the challenges, what will be our posture, our attitude?
There is no doubt in my mind, after witnessing all God has done through you, that GNJ has a future with hope. In the last four years, I have witnessed more young adults under 30 experiencing the call to ministry and graduating from seminary. I have witnessed more churches trying new things. I have heard the testimonies of some of our smallest congregations that have found renewed purpose and are growing.
So that we continue to make progress, I am inviting all of us to believe – to believe that God is ready to do miracles everywhere. What would it look like to be a church where signs and wonders are occurring, where people see the very presence of Christ in our mission, worship and ministry? I believe God’s power is within us waiting to be unleashed.
In 2018, we will build on what we have learned over the past several years, develop a new strategic ministry plan for 2019-2023 and continue to focus on developing leadership for a bold mission through our congregations that will change and transform lives in our community and around the world.
As we begin this new year, I invite you to give thanks for the good work God is doing through your congregation, to pursue a God sized vision and to believe that God’s power is waiting to be unleashed through you.
Thank you for all you are doing and I look forward to serving with you in 2018.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey