Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Schnase Quotes from Seven Levers

I am going to run a series of quotes from Bishop Robert Schnase book on UMC Conferences -- Seven Levers:  Missional Strategies for Conferences, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2014.  The list will grow as I read through the book.  
  • [Discussing a new vision for the Missouri Conference.]  Nothing was borrowed wholesale from others, nothing was entirely original, nothing was top down, nothing was rushed, and nothing was accidental . . . nothing remained entirely the same.  (Page 28)
  • John Wesley . . . created conference to unite, energize, strengthen , and empower faith communities and resource them with leadership. (Page 30)
  • Fear distorts vision, and lack of communication feeds fear.  (Page 49)
  • [The Missouri Conference] identified two activities that the conference must perform in an exemplary fashion or else the conference fails in its mission -- pastoral excellence and congregational excellence. (Page 117). (Shaw notes:  Our Rocky Mountain Conference Imagine Team has been focusing on competency as the single word to describe both of these.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Imagine Team Sustainability Script

Bertrand Russell (in a quote sometimes incorrectly attributed to Chuck Schuster) once wrote that some of us are “moved emotionally by statistics. This capacity …. is as rare as it is important.” 
Numbers moved Jesus emotionally to action.  Otherwise, why would he gone to go looking for the Lost Sheep, if he were not moved? 
I am going to challenge you for a few minutes to be “moved emotionally” by numbers. 
Let me start with …
New Church Starts
From 1945 to 2001 – what is now the Rocky Mountain Conference started 61 churches.  That was an average of more than one a year. 
In the last thirteen years, we have gotten two churches to full recognition as a “church.”  Two. 
We celebrate the chartering of Elizabeth UMC this year.  It is our first chartering in a decade. 
Does anyone believe our current rate of establishing new churches is an indicator of long-term sustainability for Methodism in the Rocky Mountain Conference? 
Let me now move to …
Worship Attendance
Since the early 1980s, in spite of pretty steady declines in membership, our conference attendance held reasonably steady for many years in the 35,000 on an average Sunday.  Everyone … our attendance dropped below 30,000 in 2013 and in fact has declined by 13% over the last ten years. 
Does anyone believe our steady loss in worship attendance is an indicator of long-term sustainability for Methodism in the Rocky Mountain Conference? 
Our decline in attendance is modest compared to our decline in …
Making Disciples
Our mission statement is about the making disciples.  We are not doing well here.  Lets look at three indicators:  New Christians, Confirmations, and Baptisms. 
As I just said, we have lost 13% in our average Sunday attendance over the last ten years.  If our decline in disciple creation were comparable with that decline it would be in the range of 13% or so.  It is not.  It is in fact, much worse. 
New Christians joining our churches -- Confirmation classes -- Baptisms are all down about 35% or nearly twice what we would have expected given our attendance change.
Does anyone believe our sharp decline in overall disciple making is an indicator of long-term sustainability for Methodism in the Rocky Mountain Conference? 
Allow me to make an invitation for a movement to bottom up thinking
We need to try something new (pause).  We need to try something different (second longer pause). 
Our Discipline reminds us that it is at the local level where the church is the church.  Bishop Robert Schanse notes that we also have in our current Book of Discipline over four thousand “shall” statements. 
Does anyone believe that top down directives will lead to long-term sustainability …?  Or will it be bottom up? 
Doubtlessly, we are, scripturally and theologically, people of hope.  And there are in our numbers, glimmers of vitality that move us emotionally to see hope. 
Vitality is being displayed in many shapes, sizes and forms …. 
If we look for churches in the Rocky Mountain Conference that –
      Increased in attendance,
      Baptized someone,
      Brought in a New Christian, and
      Conducted a Confirmation Class.
We show here in your conference booklet (hold it up) the names of 25 churches with the smallest being Chugwater, Wyoming.  A worship attendance of 25, and Chugwater is in this report. In addition – Chugwater increased in membership and they paid 100% of their tithe plus!  Can we have a shout out for Chugwater? 
Vitality is not dependent on size. 
If we relax the Confirmation Class requirement and look only at positive attendance change, a baptism, and a new Christian, we add 32 more churches.  Thirty-two more churches on the edge of disciple making vitality. 
Vitality can be displayed in other transformational ways, but might we offer, it will be difficult -- if not impossible to transform the world -- without disciples. 
For those rare souls who want to reflect on the important, and prayerfully be emotionally moved, a more extended analysis is in this report (here) … but I invite you know that good people are working on this, people who love the church as much as you do are working on this.  Pray for us.
We are working in the belief that the people of the Rocky Mountain Conference values transformation, mission, competency, and inclusion. 

We believe that we here -- here now and in our local churches now -- have the capacity to lead us, in community, back to long-term sustainability.  Do you believe that?  If not, we ask:  If not you, who?  If not now, when? What is your part in this transformational work?  What is God's part?   Doug Palmer is going to talk about how we might work together to bring transformation into our local communities and the world.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

2013 Statistics Report

Rocky Mountain Conference of The United Methodist Church
2013 Statistician’s Report
Rev. Dr. C. Dennis Shaw, Conference Statistician[1]

The Challenge: Worship Attendance Continues Decline
The number of people who worship with us in the Rocky Mountain Conference has been on a steady, consistent decline over the past ten years, and this trend showed no sign of improvement during 2013. Worship attendance fell by over 800, which was the second-largest annual loss in a decade. Over that time the Conference has seen more than 4,000 leave our pews.  While indeed many churches in our Conference are stronger this year than last, overall this single most important measurement of church vitality makes it clear that we are not reaching people in our communities with the aim of “making disciples.”
In 2013 we showed larger losses in membership and a larger decline in attendance than in 2012. 

From 2011 Reports
2011 to 2012 -- Losses
2012 to 2013 -- Losses
Where we ended 2013
Table 1:  Membership Loss and Attendance Decline over Last Two Years
The above table shows a two-year loss totaling 5.6% of our 2011 membership and 4.4% of our 2011 average attendance.  In fact, our attendance dropped below 30,000 for 2013 and is the lowest reported since Sunday attendance became a statistical measurement in 1968. 
For the past several years, much of the decline has flowed from a few of our larger churches.  In fact, in 2013, twelve churches alone lost 600 worshippers, which was more than 70 percent of our decline. 
A good way to measure changes in worship attendance among different sized churches is by comparing overall attendance to the median attendance. This is shown in Chart 1 on the next page. The median (the line) represents the “middle of the conference” worshipping congregation, with an equal number of churches larger as smaller. Therefore, of 253 churches examined, the midpoint is church number 127 in attendance.  I have plotted this median church number for the past ten years.  Looking at Chart 1, you will notice that the median drops to 68.5 in 2006 and has hovered in that region for eight years, with a median change of only about four people.  This supports the observation that much of the attendance change over the last few years has been centered in our larger churches.

Chart 1:  Average and Median Attendance for the last 10 years
However, over a ten year span, our decline in average attendance has impacted both larger and smaller churches.  From 2004 to 2006 this decline was more focused in smaller churches but they appear to have stabilized.  Since 2006 the decline appears to be more focused within a few, larger churches that have experienced significant losses in attendance. As I said earlier, twelve churches accounted for more than 70 percent of our attendance decline in 2013.
Disciple Making
The United Methodist Church intends to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Our mission statement compels us to make disciples. Are we succeeding? Lets look at three measures of disciple making:  New Christians, Baptisms, and Confirmations. Then we’ll compare these indicators to our decline in attendance.
Over the past ten years, we have lost 13% in our average Sunday attendance.  If our decline in disciple making were comparable with that decline it would be in the range of 13%.  It is not.  It is in fact, much worse.  Our decline in attendance is modest compared to our decline in the making of new disciples, as the following table shows:
Average attendance at all weekly worship services
Down 13%
New Christians (Professions of Faith and Restored)
Down 35%
Number of persons baptized
Down 37%
Total enrolled in confirmation classes
Down 36%
Table 2:  A Comparison of 2013 from 2004 in Four Indicators of Vitality
Using 2004 as the baseline, this data looks at how we are doing making disciples through our local church ministries. While our attendance is at 87% of where we were ten years ago, we are actually much less effective (or about 65% of the 2004 number) in making disciples. This is about two times the decline we would expect, given our attendance losses over the same period. So, what hope is there that these trends can be reversed?  Hope is indeed present. 
There is vitality among some of our churches, both large and small. Looking at all the churches in the conference, 87 showed an increase in 2013 in worship attendance.  Of those showing greater attendance, these 25 reported increases in all three of the other vitality categories, (New Christian, Baptism, and Confirmation):

Boulder St Paul’s
Canon City First
Cedaredge Community
Cheyenne First
Cheyenne Grace
Colorado Springs Central
Colorado Springs St Paul’s
Durango First
Fort Lupton First
Greenwood Village Hope
Loveland Trinity
Ogden Community
Pueblo Adriance
Rock Springs First
Salt Lake City Christ
Salt Lake City First
Sandy Hilltop
Washington Park

Healthy Churches Begin New Congregations
From 1945 to 2001, more than 60 churches were started in what is now the Rocky Mountain Conference.  On average, we started more than one new church a year.
In the last thirteen years, we have started only two churches. As we celebrate the chartering of Elizabeth UMC in 2014, we should remember that it’s our first chartering in over a decade. 
There was a time when the “People Called Methodists” started other churches in their communities.  They shared people, time, talents, and treasure, to give birth to new congregations. At the same time, they experienced growth.  Our recent history includes:

Colorado Springs First starting four churches in Colorado Springs from 1957 to 1987, 
and in 2013, they were the highest attendance church in the Rocky Mountain Conference. 
 St. Andrew (sacrificially), Littleton and Park Hill contributing to the start of St. Luke’s. 
 Hope contributing to the start of Smoky Hill. 
 Salt Lake City Christ contributing to the start of Mountain Vista. 
 The sale of Pueblo Faith leading directly to the establishment of Pueblo West SonRise.
 Most recently, Elizabeth being born with Parker as the parent.
With the exception of Pueblo Faith intentionally acting as an Elijah, passing the mantle to the Elisha that is Pueblo West SonRise, all of these churches that gave of their precious treasure, talent and time are still vital, still alive, still beacons of hope.  We know how to do this.
Deaths haven’t caused our decline

                                                        Chart 2:  Comparing “New Christians” with Deaths
I provide Chart 2 to demonstrate that our decline in membership is not accounted for by the unavoidable loss of members through death.  We are more than replacing those who have died with New Christians although at a lower rate than in earlier years.  Our challenge is to keep the disciples we have created, who are leaving for other churches or no church at all.
An Example of Missional Good News: Increased Measures of Outreach, Justice and Mercy
There are other bright spots that create hopefulness among the measurements of church vitality. For example, in 2009 we began to document the number of people touched by the local church through ministries of outreach, justice and mercy.  Many of our churches have reported increases in the number of souls touched by this missional outreach.  The increase in four years from 150,000 to nearly 380,000 (in 2013) may be a reflection of increased awareness by reporting churches. But it’s a positive trend, nonetheless.  I encourage churches to continue measuring their outreach, as an opportunity to celebrate serving as the hands of Christ in the world around us. If you have thoughts that we can use to celebrate missional activity not captured in our statistical measures, please do send me a note at
Vitality takes a variety of forms
Paul writes in Romans 5 about suffering, endurance, character, sequentially leading to hope, “and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  From that hope, God calls us to action! 
Vitality leading to hope can be displayed in a variety of transformational ways that are not measured by numbers but are best understood by narrative. In many areas of our lives, data transformed into information often leads us to call for action.  Here, I believe the unsustainability of our current course requires a new narrative leading to a new and hopeful direction because it will be difficult, if not impossible, to transform the world without disciples.

[1] Chris Frasier, Co-Chair of the RMC Board of Stewards and Noreen Keleshian, Conference Treasurer, substantially edited this Report.  Rev. Dr. Melanie Rosa, DS for the Mile High/Pikes Peak District and Kristi Kinnison, Executive Director, Rocky Mountain United Methodist Foundation, provided additional assistance.  Dr. Rob Gordon, President of the Council of Finance and Administration provided, insight into elements of this analysis.  I am grateful for the team effort this project represents.