Why a Focus on Vitality in Existing Congregations?
The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church says, “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” ¶120.
In a United Methodist church, vitality is apparent where disciples of Jesus Christ are being formed and where the world is being transformed.
Shane Claiborne (author of The Irresistible Revolution and other books on post-modern Christianity) says, “If you set out to make a church, you may or may not get disciples, but if you set out to make disciples, you will always get the church.” One of the problems with our current obsession with vital congregations is that we may get Shane’s insight and the Discipline’s mandate backwards. The focus of our mission is vital disciples. Churches, healing, world-transformation – these arise from vital disciples, the forming of whom is the foundation of the mission.
Nevertheless, congregations are what we currently have and, as the Discipline so clearly articulates, they are the primary arenas for disciple making. If our congregations are not vital, we will not fulfill the mission.
Nurturing the vitality of our local congregations is necessary and valuable for several reasons. There are people in our existing congregations who desire and deserve to have the life-giving experience of a vital disciple community. The places where our congregations exist are populated by beloved children of God who deserve participation with the joyful community of a vital congregation.
The leaders and resources necessary to plant new congregations in new places and to extend our current congregations to future generations must come from vital congregations. Finally, we believe that the world still needs United Methodist Christianity – that our traditions of practical piety, of personal and social holiness, and of an open and questioning theology remain relevant for the world today.