Stats show vital ministry on the upswing in Arkansas

By Amy Forbus Editor Gains in baptisms, professions of faith, membership and attendance; apportionment payout steady at 90 percent thanks to extra mile giving A look at the numbers reveals that for United Methodism in Arkansas, 2013 was a good year. The statistical reports from local churches have been tabulated, and the news is encouraging. In the past year, the Arkansas Conference saw increases in four significant categories: •   Baptisms: 1,551 (up 4.9 percent from 1,479 in 2012) •   Professions of faith: 2,044 (up 1.8 percent from 2,008 in 2012) •   Average weekly worship attendance: 50,294 (up 1.2 percent from 49,704 in 2012) •   Membership: 132,771 (up 0.8 percent from 131,749 in 2012). “I give thanks and celebrate the ministries of our congregations that have resulted in this very positive report,” said Bishop Gary Mueller. “It confirms we are on our stated trajectory: creating vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.” The Rev. Mackey Yokem, executive director of mission and ministry for the Arkansas Conference, sees a number of factors that may have contributed to the upturn. “I don’t think it’s any one thing,” he said. “Part of it is that churches and pastors have a greater sense of direction.” He noted that last year was the first time pastors and staff-parish relations committees have received a written rationale for appointment changes. He also believes the 10 “next steps” of the Bishop’s Mission Plan, first announced at the 2013 Annual Conference by Bishop Mueller and Conference lay leader Karon Mann, are gaining momentum in churches. “We achieve what we measure,” says John Crawford, associate director of the Arkansas Conference Center for Clergy and Laity Excellence in Leadership. “The uptick that we’re seeing means that we have finally turned the corner and all the arrows are pointing in the correct direction. Now the challenge is to get them to continue upward.” He encourages churches to look to the parable of the talents Jesus told in Matthew 25. “The thought is that whether you’ve inherited one, two or three talents, you’re supposed to return more than what it was when you started,” he said. “There is a day of accountability for everybody, and we will want to hear ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ on that day. “We have begun to turn our focus from consuming—looking inward at our own needs—to reaching out, and that’s bearing fruit.” Shared ministries Arkansas’ collective apportionment payout, the share of dollars supporting ministries of the United Methodist Church around the Conference and the world, matched 2012’s total of 90 percent. For a number of years, the Arkansas Conference has been moving toward a tithe-based budgeting formula, in which 10 percent of a local church’s operating income supports ministry at the district, conference, jurisdictional and general church levels of the United Methodist Church. Approximately 90 percent of the offering a church receives stays with that local church for ministries of their choosing. Some churches participate in “extra mile giving”—paying more than is required of them by the apportioned giving formula. The plan originated as a proposal from the Rev. LaVon Post of First UMC Malvern. The Arkansas Conference Center for Administrative Services credits extra mile dollars toward the balance of churches that were unable to pay their apportioned giving in full. The breakdown of extra mile giving among the five districts is as follows: •   Central District: $1,211.88 •   Northeast District: $740.95 •   Northwest District: $7,684.84 •   Southeast District: $1,576.37 •   Southwest District: $3,510.86 A long extra mile One congregation that went the extra mile in 2013 surprised itself with its ability to contribute. When the Rev. James Harris arrived in July as the new pastor of First UMC Nashville, the church was behind on its apportionment giving, standing at only 3 percent for the year. They hadn’t paid apportionments in full since 2008, and in 2012 topped out at 44 percent. Though catching up seemed unlikely, Harris talked with church members about the significance of apportionments, and they developed a plan to do as much as possible to support United Methodists’ work beyond the local church. Starting in September, the church made available special “Christmas offering” collection envelopes, with the designation that any giving through that fund would go toward apportionments. The church set a goal of raising $22,015 for apportionments by year’s end. People began to think of changes they could make to ensure that First UMC Nashville was a full participant with the UMC’s worldwide ministries. Attendees of a small evening worship service discussed the goal and decided to designate that service’s offerings to the apportionment fund. By December, Harris and the church’s finance committee realized that a 100 percent payout was within their reach. With the momentum building, Harris asked the church if they would be willing to pay an extra percentage point to help another church reach 100 percent. “By this time, they were excited,” he said. No local ministry was diminished in any way. The church continues to offer Sunday school and Bible study opportunities, Mother’s Day Out twice a week and a Kids’ Club each Wednesday that reaches out to children who aren’t members of the church. They also maintained their ministry partnership with the local health center and a food pantry. “As a matter of fact, there was improvement in the regular giving,” Harris said. “Not only offerings, but attendance was up. It’s just been a real blessing.” ____________________ The following congregations paid more than 100 percent of apportionment giving in 2013: Central District Adona UMC First UMC England First UMC Greenbrier Mount Carmel UMC Benton Oakland UMC Holland Saint Andrew UMC Little Rock Trinity UMC North Little Rock Northeast District Farm Hill UMC Harrisburg First UMC Harrisburg Keiser UMC Melbourne UMC Mount Carmel UMC Jonesboro Pleasant Grove UMC Jonesboro Russell UMC Walnut Ridge UMC Warren’s Chapel UMC Paragould Northwest District Central UMC Rogers Everton UMC Faith UMC Fort Smith Hatfield UMC Paris UMC St. Paul UMC Gravel Hill Valley View UMC Harrison Southeast District Bethel UMC Sheridan Grand Avenue UMC Stuttgart Montrose UMC Moore’s Chapel UMC Leola Redfield UMC Sheridan UMC Southwest District De Ann UMC Hope Grand Avenue UMC Hot Springs Greer’s Chapel UMC Magnolia Harmony Grove UMC Camden First UMC Malvern Mount Zion UMC Arkadelphia First UMC Nashville Okolona UMC Richmond UMC Ashdown Sweet Home UMC Murfreesboro Lewisville UMC