NASHVILLE: Research conducted by United Methodist Communications on behalf of the Connectional Table reveals widespread denominational support for the Church's Four Areas of Focus, adopted by the 2008 General Conference.
"The research shows that most respondents believe that the Areas of Focus are very important for the church," says the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. "But we also heard that knowledge about the areas is still somewhat limited."
"General Conference affirmed the four Areas of Focus because they are essential areas of ministry [which] most of our vital local churches are already doing," says Bishop John Hopkins, chair of the Connectional Table. "It is more important that we do the work than know the language of the areas of focus. Our heartwarming response to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile demonstrates that United Methodists understand the importance of sharing the love of Jesus Christ to those who are poor and without adequate medical care."
Support is uniformly strong for three of the four areas: engaging in ministry with the poor, developing principled Christian leaders, and creating new places for new people/revitalizing existing congregations. Fewer people indicated that combating diseases of poverty is very important for the denomination, although many who indicated that initiatives are not important said they lacked enough information to have an opinion.
However, although respondents reported limited knowledge of the four Areas of Focus, they indicated greater familiarity with initiatives affiliated with the areas, including the Nothing But Nets anti-malaria initiative and the Rethink Church advertising and welcoming campaign.
Survey participants reported that their local churches are active in many of the areas associated with the Areas of Focus – including 54 percent of pastors, who said that their church had participated in Nothing But Nets during the last year.
"This feedback reveals opportunities to align the messaging of the church more closely with the positive work it is doing," says Hollon.
Hollon points to a survey question that asked respondents if their church understands the concept of connectionalism. Just 18 percent of pastors, 14 percent of leaders, and 12 percent of members agreed strongly that their church understands connectionalism.
"As a connectional church, we are united by a common mission and governance that allow us to reach into the world as the hands and feet of Christ," says Hollon. "This research points to the need to build understanding about the connection by communicating how it extends our reach and the scale of our abilities to create change as followers of Jesus. The connectional reach of The United Methodist Church empowers each of us to achieve more together than we could achieve individually or as a single congregation. It makes us much bigger than ourselves, able to do much greater work."
The study, conducted in December 2009, includes survey results from 2,895 pastors, 805 church leaders, and 1,416 members.