The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2004 states that the “mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ,” and that “local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” The North Carolina Conference has taken seriously this charge, leading most conferences in professions of faith, new member, and worship attendance growth.
Five decades ago Bishop Garber helped birth in this annual conference a spirit for planting new churches. The 101 churches planted since that time represent over ten percent of our 840 churches in the annual conference. In the year 2004 these churches represent 24% of conference’s worship attendance, 31% of the professions of faith, and paid 22% of the total apportionments. Worship attendance is one measurement of a church’s health and 35 of these churches are among our top 120 churches with more than 200 persons in worship each week. Of these churches, 7 have more than 300 in worship, 5 report more than 400 in worship, 10 see over 500 in worship, and 1 has over 1,500 persons in worship. The fruit of living into our Lord’s Great Commission brings energy and life to our annual conference.
In 2003-04, the Congregational Development Fund, Inc., with the support of Bishops Edwards and Gwinn, and an outstanding team of laity and clergy, launched A Time to Grow funding initiative. To date, about $1 million has been committed by members of the initiative’s steering committee members. A Time to Grow initiative continues to solicit support from interested laity for the Academy of Leadership Excellence in one-on-one and district cultivation events. A national search has been conducted for a person to serve as the executive director of the Academy for Leadership Excellence and a pilot launch of the Academy is expected to occur in the next year.
We recognize the mission of engaging a multi-cultural community that Reconciliation UMC in Durham is undertaking and will celebrate their chartering as a church at the 2006 annual conference. We appreciate the experimenting of beginning emerging ministries within existing churches and facililities. The Shepherd’s Table faith community reaches over 80 Zimbabwean immigrants each week and is hosted by McMannen UMC.
It is the function of the Commission on Congregational Development, and the associated Office of Congregational Development, to aid congregations and their lay and clergy leaders in creating strong and effective churches. Annually, new churches, and older churches of all sizes, are assisted with vision and mission planning, staff development, lay and clergy leadership development, building committee organization, and evangelism and outreach instruction. Each year about 100 churches are assisted, most of them small membership in size, and this was again the case in 2005. In the past decade, 35 new churches have been started within the bounds of the North Carolina Conference. These churches have been started in city settings, growing suburban communities, and rural communities. Membership in these new churches includes persons who are affluent, middle class, and poor, Anglo, Hispanic, African-American, Korean, Native American, and Asian.
The Office of Congregational Development continues to provide through its annual contract with Percept Group, Inc., up-to-date community demographic data, accessible on-line and without cost, to all local churches (www.link2lead.com).
The Ten Dollar Club, now in its 53rd year, is administered by the Office of Congregational Development. The Club’s loyal members continue to provide funding to underwrite grants to new churches for land purchase and first building construction.
Allen Bingham, Chairperson