FORT WORTH, Texas—Team Vital, the newest phase of the Vital Congregations Initiative, launched at First UMC in Fort Worth, Texas, February 21 to 22.
Last week, eleven conferences of The United Methodist Church, including representatives from the California-Nevada Conference, began a two-year journey of collaboration, using unique and innovative strategies for growing more highly vital congregations. Team Vital is working on a goal to double the number of highly vital congregations over the next quadrennium. "Other annual conferences want to learn from the discoveries we are making in our circuits and our mission focused ways of engaging ministry. We can also learn some things from several other conferences," said Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., Bishop of the California-Nevada Annual Conference.
The Vital Congregations Initiative grew out of the Call to Action Study in 2009, calling for growth of more highly vital congregations – congregations that have life changing stories, transformative mission, and fruitfulness. Vital congregations come in all sizes, contexts, and racial ethnic groups but what they have in common is consistent growth over time, engagement of their people in mission and small groups and generous giving.
The Rev. Bener Agtarap, California-Nevada Conference Superintendent for Congregational Vitality, said, "The Vital Congregations Initiative may be perceived by some that it only focuses on numbers and counting those numbers. I agree that numbers show facts; however, along with narratives, faith can be strengthened." He added, "By supporting these numbers with narratives and faith stories, we are able to count and celebrate the things that make a difference in the world and things that matter to God." Agtarap cites the Vital Signs and Wonders project as one way of sharing those inspiring stories about vital congregations whose mission and ministries have contributed for the transformation of the world as a result of their efforts to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
The two-day meeting invited team members from invited conferences to explore their offerings and challenges, and to be in dialogue with other annual conferences, sharing both best practices and the communal narratives of the faithfulness and fruitfulness of their ministry. Bishop John Schol, Bishop of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference who leads the Vital Congregations Initiative, presented a report on the status of vitality in the UMC demonstrating that between 2010 and 2011 the number of highly vital congregations grew by 1.2%. The Western Jurisdiction leads the United States jurisdictions in the percentage of highly vital churches.
Attendees included eight bishops, 75 clergy and lay leaders, and representatives from five United Methodist general agencies.