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Communicators urge collaboration to boost attendance

 


Communicators urge collaboration to boost attendance

Sept. 28, 2004

By Linda Green*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry

The Rev. Larry Hollon, with the help of sign-language interpreter Vee Blanton, welcomes commission members.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)-United Methodist Communications is poised to help the denomination focus on increasing attendance, participation, giving and visibility during the next four years.

That was the message the Rev. Larry Hollon provided to the Commission on Communications, the agency’s governing body, during its Sept. 23-26 organizing meeting.

The church’s constituencies must work together to respond to the needs of individuals in the church as well as the congregations themselves, said Hollon, the agency’s top staff executive.

"To meet the great human needs of the people of the world, and to bring light-giving messages into the darkness, we must focus the leadership and energy of the whole church toward our shared ministry," he said.

The communications commission embraced a number of strategies that build on the recognition created by the denomination’s 4-year-old Igniting Ministry campaign, a national television advertising and local church hospitality ministry.

The commission agreed to offer leadership in helping the church increase first-time worship attendance by 10 percent during the quadrennium. The agency plans to do that through Igniting Ministry, which it manages.

General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, authorized $25 million for television advertising during the next four years. The commission directed United Methodist Communications staff to work with other church boards and agencies to ensure that local congregations have affordable, effective evangelism tools through the campaign.

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A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry

Sherri Thiel, Joseph Ha (center) and the Rev. Gary Henderson discuss the work of United Methodist Communications.
Increasing attendance should result in increased participation in the life of local churches, the commission said. The group committed to work with local church leaders, church agencies, bishops and annual conferences on creating new ways of being in ministry together.

"We must build upon the outreach of the church," Hollon said. "We must seek to create communities of deep support that understand themselves as part of the fabric of the global community."

"The promise of open hearts, open minds, open doors, leads us to collaborate and to outward focus to carry out shared mission to the world," Hollon said.

The commission also affirmed the communications agency partnering with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship to support a church start in each of the denomination’s five U.S. jurisdictions. The agencies would combine services in advertising, promotion and interpretation, training in welcoming and hospitality, and leadership development and giving.

The commission said it would work with local churches, bishops and general agencies to help the denomination overcome its financial problems. By using strategic education, training and marketing research, the agency aims to help increase giving by individual members by 1 percent in 10 annual conferences during the next four years.

For example, if the average family in an annual conference contributes 5 percent of its income to the church, the goal would be to increase that giving to 6 percent.

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A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry

Bishop Thomas Bickerton (left), Harry Leake and Pam Price discuss video production at United Methodist Communications.
Hollon said churchwide agencies in collaboration "embody inclusiveness in a meaningful way that demonstrates that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love, and no one is beyond the concern of the Christian community."

As the church moves to increase attendance, participation and giving, it will create opportunities to be visible in the world, commission members said.

One way in which the church could become more visible is through a possible initiative focusing on the health and wholeness of individuals, families, local churches and clergy. Hollon told commission members the focus is a natural outcome of concerns raised by the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

"Compared to the general population, we know that our clergy are not healthy. The increased cost of health care is one of the biggest problems local churches and annual conferences face," Hollon said. "We need to reframe the discussion about health care to identify wholeness of body, spirit, mind and community."

A possible step would involve identifying United Methodist congregations that are already engaged in health ministries and work toward a goal of having 5,000 churches in the United States and other countries conduct health clinics and health fairs.

"What would it be like if every United Methodist health care clinic and practitioner offered a free clinic visit on one day during the quadrennium?" Hollon asked. "We would be opening doors, with the church leading people to getting the health care they need."

Hollon said executive staff from the Board of Pension and Health Benefits, Board of Discipleship, Board of Global Ministries, Board of Church and Society, and United Methodist Communications are engaged in conversations on a denomination-wide focus on health and wholeness. Those discussions, he said, are focusing on the United States and other countries where the church is in ministry.

The commission’s president, Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton of Pittsburgh, said the proposed concepts reflect the call for unity and collaboration voiced by the 2004 General Conference, which met last spring in Pittsburgh.

"We are called by Christ to be trailblazers," Bickerton said. "To serve God, we must work together at all levels of the church. We must take bold steps to serve the poor and give voice to the voiceless. As we do that, the people of the United Methodist Church are showing their hearts, their minds and their doors are open to the world."

The commission also elected officers: Bickerton, president; Rebecca L. Kohler, a development and marketing consultant from Oneida, N.Y., vice president.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn. UMNS is a unit of United Methodist Communications.

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

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