Annual Conference theme to extend throughout 2017

By Amy Forbus

It’s the second word of the Arkansas Conference’s stated trajectory: “Creating vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.”

And in 2017, “Vital!” promises to be the word that calls United Methodists to transformation—not just during Annual Conference gathering June 18-21, but all year long.

Prayer emphasis

In addition to the denomination-wide “Praying Our Way Forward” initiative beginning Jan. 1 (information available at, the United Methodists of Arkansas will once again be invited to pray for spiritual revival as they did during Lent of 2016.

For the month of February, Bishop Gary Mueller invites any and all United Methodists to pray daily for spiritual revival—personally, on a congregational level and throughout the Arkansas Conference. This season of dedicated prayer may be customized by individuals and groups to include times of corporate prayer and fasting.

Look for more details and resources later this month on

Annual Conference teaching

In keeping with the theme “Vital!,” the 2017 Annual Conference will include teaching in four areas that contribute to spiritual vitality in individuals and congregations. All are welcome to attend these sessions; participants need not attend the entire Annual Conference session or be a member of the Annual Conference.

Kay Kotan

Faith sharing: Kay Kotan, who hundreds of United Methodists in Arkansas will remember as the keynote speaker for last April’s Grow By One Summit sponsored by the Arkansas Conference Center for Vitality, will return to Arkansas to teach more United Methodists about sharing their faith with others. A layperson from Missouri, Kotan has co-authored a number of books, including Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships. Her latest book, Gear Up!: Nine Essential Processes for the Optimized Church, will be available in March.

Kevin Watson

Small groups: The Rev. Dr. Kevin Watson will help Annual Conference attendees learn how to use Wesleyan small groups to grow deeper in discipleship. An ordained elder in the Oklahoma Conference, Watson currently serves as assistant professor of Wesleyan and Methodist studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. His books include Pursuing Social Holiness: The Band Meeting in Wesley’s Thought and Popular Methodist Practice; The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience; and A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living. To get a preview of some of his favorite topics, visit his blog,

Clif Christopher

Stewardship: The Rev. Dr. Clif Christopher, an Arkansas Conference retired elder who is recognized across the denomination for his work in Christian stewardship, will talk about the power of personal stewardship for disciples of Jesus Christ. Christopher is president and founder of Horizons Stewardship, and has written multiple books dealing with generosity and giving, including Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship; The Church Money Manual: Best Practices for Finance and Stewardship; and Rich Church, Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry.

Fighting childhood hunger: To continue our emphasis on 200,000 Reasons to Fight Childhood Hunger, an initiative that was renewed for another three years by the 2016 Annual Conference, leaders from within our Conference will teach about ways individuals and churches can take action toward ending childhood hunger in Arkansas. They will provide a theological foundation for the work of combating hunger, as well as instruction on steps to take to get the work done. The mission of the 200,000 Reasons initiative is to engage 100 percent of United Methodist churches in Arkansas in the initiative to significantly reduce childhood hunger through feeding ministries, public witness and education for long-term stability. The Rev. J.J. Whitney serves as project convener for 200,000 Reasons, and Mary Lewis Dassinger works as project coordinator. For details or contact information, visit

In addition to a focus on each of these areas at Annual Conference, local churches will be encouraged to focus throughout the 2017-18 school year on creating vital disciples. In the fall, resources will be provided for studies in all four of these vital ministry areas. Local churches will be invited to choose which and how many of the studies to use, based on what they believe will work most effectively for ministry and discipleship in their own context.

Story sharing

As a crucial extension of the “Vital!” theme for 2017, the Arkansas Conference Center for Technology (CFT) is preparing to hear from local churches in new ways. When a church or individual experiences vital ministry that grows disciples, engages the neighborhood surrounding the church, yields professions of faith and transforms lives, the CFT wants to know about it to help share it with others.

If you have a story you think would inspire others, contact the CFT at and include “Story of Vitality” in the subject line. It can be a brief written piece, photography or a video. Most importantly, it should provide an example of vital ministry—the kind that reaches out and transforms lives, communities and the world.