Outreach, willingness to change common threads for One Matters churches
Discipleship Ministries this year recognized 80 United Methodist churches that showed remarkable gains in annual baptisms, professions of faith and discipleship implementation. Each of these churches, nominated by their annual conferences, received a One Matters Discipleship Award.
"The One Matters Discipleship Award is meant to lift up a bright spot in each conference around discipleship," says the Rev. Jeff Campbell, director of annual conference relationships at Discipleship Ministries. "We are looking for churches that are turning things around with a renewed focus on making disciples."
Annual conferences work with Discipleship Ministries to celebrate churches that have moved in recent years from zeros in professions of faith and baptisms to positive numbers and to share what has been working in their context.
Each church receives a plaque and $1,000 from Discipleship Ministries to continue their work in discipleship. Some conferences match the funding and give more than one award.
NORTH CENTRAL JURISDICTION
One Matters Spotlight: Arthur United Methodist Church, North Dakota, Dakotas Conference
Arthur is a small farming community northeast of Fargo. Since 2002, the population has declined 16 percent. Now a few more than 300 people call it home.
When the Rev. Justin Iverson became the church's pastor in July 2015, the church had to go back to 2007 to find someone who had made a profession of faith there. Not a good statistic.
In 2016, six youth made commitments to follow Christ – after the Arthur church began placing a strong emphasis on its confirmation class ministry. Arthur's confirmation classes – and its new junior high youth group – welcome youth from other United Methodist churches in the area. They enter the life and ministry of the church and take the first steps to becoming disciples of Christ.
Iverson said the church attendance varies with the season.
"During the school year, we have about 60 regular attenders," he said. "But, like a lot of churches, during the summer it goes down with people on vacation, at the lake and such."
Prayer is an important emphasis for all members of Arthur. "We ask our people to pray at 5:17 each afternoon, either at the church or wherever else they are," Iverson said. "We pray for The United Methodist Church, our jurisdiction, our conference and our local church."
Other North Central Jurisdiction recipients: DAKOTAS – Gary UMC, Clear Lake, South Dakota; DETROIT – Wisner UMC, Akron, Michigan; ILLINOIS GREAT RIVERS – Pleasant Grove UMC, Farmer City; Christ UMC, Fairview Heights; IOWA—Varina UMC, Early; Colo UMC; Carson UMC; First UMC, Marion; Bloomfield UMC, Des Moines; MINNESOTA – First UMC, Lindstrom; WEST MICHIGAN – Coloma UMC; WEST OHIO – Anna UMC; Bath Community UMC, Lima; First UMC, Bellefountaine; First UMC, Greenfield; Flatwood UMC, Pomeroy; Hope UMC, Canal Winchester; Old Fort UMC; Perintown UMC, Milford.
One Matters Spotlight: Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, Colora, Maryland, Peninsula-Delaware Conference
About an hour northeast of Baltimore, Colora is a historic town of about 2,500 people. In 2015, the Mt. Pleasant church celebrated 175 years of ministry, but, sadly, welcomed no new church members that year.
But, in the first half of 2016, they received five new members by professions of faith! What happened?
After being appointed to Mt. Pleasant, the Rev. David Burke quickly developed a plan. He challenged the members to live out their faith by looking outside the church walls, reaching out to the "least and the lost."
Members responded to the challenge with enthusiasm. Inspired by Burke's relevant preaching, they began to accept responsibility for their own spiritual development, learning how to grow in relationship with Christ.
As their passion for discipleship deepened, they developed stronger leaders and rallied around the unifying vision of becoming Christ to their community. They developed a stronger ministry with children and youth, involving them in all aspects of the life of the church.
These efforts were fruitful. Not only has the church started to grow numerically, it has rediscovered its calling and now experiences the joy of following Jesus and transforming the world – beginning in a small corner of Maryland.
Other Northeastern Jurisdiction recipients: BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON – Cumberland Hagerstown District: EASTERN PENNSYLVANIA – Familia Dei UMC, Norriston, Pennsylvania; NEW ENGLAND – Vida Abundante UMC, Providence, Rhode Island; Highlands UMC, Hampden, Maine; Cheshire (Massachusetts) UMC; NEW YORK – First UMC, Flushing; SUSQUEHANNA – Southern Potter County Charge, Coudersport, Pennsylvania; UPPER NEW YORK – Hilton UMC; WEST VIRGINIA – Forrest Burdette UMC, Hurricane; Hambleton UMC.
SOUTH CENTRAL JURISDICTION
One Matters Spotlight: First United Methodist Church, Hamlin, Texas, Northwest Texas Conference
Hamlin is a small town about 40 miles north of Abilene. Its population has stayed at 2,000-plus for years. It doesn't really grow; it doesn't really shrink. Things tend to stay the same in Hamlin.
But don't tell that to the members of First Church. In 2014, they averaged eight people in worship. In 2016, they are averaging about 70 attenders. On Easter Sunday this year, 109 people worshipped together!
The Rev. George Price, Abilene District superintendent, credits the Rev. E.C. Ice, III, Hamlin pastor, with guiding the congregation to reach out to the community.
"When E.C. was appointed in 2014, he had eight people in the church," Price said. "To say the least, the situation was dire! E.C. arrived with this burning call on his life. He came from a prestigious – and lucrative – job in the business world in Houston. But, he was raised in Abilene and wanted to get back to make a difference in west Texas."
Ice started working with the eight people, encouraging them to see Hamlin as their mission field. They began to see opportunities everywhere.
Price said, "Two things I see that E.C. has done. First, they have really stressed intercessory prayer for the church and the community. They let people outside the church know that they will pray for them. This has received great response from the community.
"Second, they are involved in the community. If there is a need, they want the community to come to them. For example, there was a person in town who needed a handicap-accessible porch, and the church took care of it. A few months ago, a tornado hit a small community nearby. The church not only sent water; they took it over themselves and helped people who had damage.
"That speaks to people."
Other South Central Jurisdiction recipients: ARKANSAS – Midland Heights UMC, Fort Smith; CENTRAL TEXAS – Meadowbrook UMC, Fort Worth; First UMC, Hamilton; NEW MEXICO – Grace UMC, Alamogordo; St. Stephen's UMC, Albuquerque; Asbury UMC, Odessa; OKLAHOMA INDIAN MISSIONARY – Boiling Springs UMC, Ada; Nanih Chito UMC, Durant; RIO TEXAS – Bastrop UMC; First UMC, Eldorado; First UMC, Kerrville; George West UMC; Floresville UMC; Liberty Hill UMC; Templo Emmanuel, Brownsville; TEXAS – Central UMC, Galveston.
One Matters Spotlight: Trinity United Methodist Church, Paducah, Kentucky, Memphis Conference
Trinity Church's discipleship strategy is simple: Engage their members who are already there to reach out to those who haven't joined them yet. That "yet" is the hook.
The congregation is making its presence known in Paducah, a town of about 25,000 people, roughly halfway between Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri.
"Trinity knows that God has called us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," said the Rev. Susan Engle, pastor. "We focus our time on defining what it means to be a disciple, using practical ways to develop our relationship with God and others, and learning what it means to offer Jesus to our neighbors."
Trinity encourages its members to serve, leading to a great deal of community involvement. They participated in the city Christmas parade, collaborated with a local elementary school to help kids improve their reading skills and started a concert band with members from 10 years old to 60-plus. Creative missions and ministries attract active members to volunteer.
Members invite friends to church, and some join. One new member first came after being invited to an Easter egg hunt. Another, an exchange student from Japan, came with his host family. He made a profession of faith and wanted to be baptized before returning home. He still participates in church life through Trinity's Facebook page.
For Trinity Church, making disciples is the secret to growing.
Other Southeastern Jurisdiction recipients: FLORIDA – First UMC, Pahokee; Grace UMC, Plant City; KENTUCKY – Trinity UMC, Winchester; MEMPHIS – Bemis UMC, Jackson, Tennessee; Edith UMC, Riply, Tennessee; El Redentor UMC, Memphis, Tennessee; MISSISSIPPI – Crossroads UMC, Sarah; NORTH CAROLINA – Shiloh UMC, Stumpy Point; NORTH GEORGIA – Allgood Road UMC, Stone Mountain; RED BIRD MISSIONARY – Annville UMC, Kentucky; SOUTH GEORGIA – Bonaire UMC.
One Matters Spotlight: Lander United Methodist Church, Wyoming, Yellowstone Conference
In 2011, Lander Church recorded one profession of faith and two baptisms. Not exactly stellar, but better than some churches. Not satisfied, however, they asked how they could do better.
The Rev. Mark Calhoun encouraged the church to work on hospitality – and it has.
Since 2011, Lander Church has seen 13 people baptized and welcomed 20 new disciples through professions of faith. Worship attendance continues to climb. After the church started live streaming the sermon, a number of people who first worshipped outside the church walls have come inside. Knowing that hospitality today often begins online, the church webpage gives plenty of information to make potential visitors comfortable.
A Lander native, Calhoun is a self-proclaimed "second career pastor." He was appointed to Lander in 2012, after working in the family business, responding to a call to ordained ministry and attending Saint Paul School of Theology. Lander is his third appointment.
"A big emphasis at the seminary was around contextual education," Calhoun explained. "Hospitality is a big part of that emphasis. We went around Kansas City and learned how to identify the context of the community. That has made all the difference here.
"We identified two main areas – increasing our presence in the community and the reshaping and updating of our space as our initial mission. Then the second year, we mixed in discipleship. After that, we began experiencing growth. We have grown from 87 to 134 in four years. In smaller churches that's not too shabby!"
Other Western Jurisdiction recipients: ALASKA – Korean UMC, Anchorage; CALIFORNIA-NEVADA – Clovis Memorial UMC, California; Ely UMC, Nevada; First Tongan UMC, San Bruno, California; St. Luke's UMC, Richmond, California; Trinity UMC, Colusa, California; Wesley UMC, Fresno, California; OREGON-IDAHO – Westside UMC, Beaverton, Oregon; PACIFIC NORTHWEST – Rochester UMC, Washington; ROCKY MOUNTAIN – Bristol UMC, Colorado.
Polly House is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee, who is also serving as editorial assistant for Interpreter.