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Church leaders focus on building healthy congregations

 


Church leaders focus on building healthy congregations

Feb. 2, 2005

By Billy Reeder*

HOUSTON (UMNS) — Faith formation, disciple making and social witness are the foundations of healthy congregations, speakers told United Methodist leaders at a conference on building strong churches.

About 1,300 local church and conference leaders from across the United States met Jan. 27-30 to learn more about creating and maintaining healthy congregations.

"As conference leaders, we are responsible for helping build healthy local churches that are truly making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

"Sadly, however, some of our churches aren’t so healthy," she said. "We want our churches to be growing, vital and relevant to the needs of the community they serve. And we want conference leaders to have the best collection of resources to build these healthy churches."

The underlying principle of the event was the "belief that, to be a great leader, we must be spiritually grounded and able to provide effective leadership," Greenwaldt said.

Greenwaldt’s agency, based in Nashville, Tenn., organized the event, "Healthy Churches Transforming the World."

A healthy church "is not just simply about being either dead or alive, but being a community with vitality and vigor," wrote Marcia McFee, conference worship leader, Oakland, Calif. Participants used four "vital signs" — breathing, pulse, blood pressure and temperature — as symbols of vitality while seeking deeper meaning for their lives and their churches.

Eighty-four workshops focused on such topics as stewardship, discipleship/evangelism, conference/church life, communications, racial-ethnic ministries, spiritual leadership and social witness and mission.

During the event, participants discussed in depth how a healthy church looks and acts, and how they can strengthen the health of their local congregations. The conference also emphasized that the health of a church is not about size or number of members, but more about faith formation, disciple making and social witness.

Bishop Gregory Palmer of the Iowa Area encouraged the audience to find harmony between self-piety and social activism.

"Do not think for a minute that God gives you a choice between one or the other," he said. "We are called to strive for both." Palmer, in a closing address, urged the participants to find balance. He stressed that the church should not have "worship wars" but that all types of worship services should be full of authentic praise.

The Rev. Leslie Griffiths, dean of the Wesley Chapel in London, also addressed social justice. He described how he can see the cemetery where Susanna Wesley, the mother of Methodism founders John and Charles Wesley, is buried, along with other Methodist "saints." This close proximity, he said, is a reminder of the need for continuing Wesley’s work on education and social justice issues.

"When I am asked why I am a Methodist, without hesitation I reply that the combination of the belief in a personal God and working toward social justice is utterly intoxicating," Griffiths said.

During the gathering, volunteers from the event bought more than 300 sack lunches at a local McDonald’s and delivered them to homeless people. The volunteers invited the people they met to the conference’s banquet that evening. About 100 guests participated in the evening meal and worship.

The "Healthy Churches" conference was the successor of jurisdictional training events that had been held every four years by the General Council on Ministries, which was dissolved by the 2004 General Conference.

*Reeder is director of communications for the United Methodist Church’s Arkansas Area.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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