By Gary E. Mueller

The trajectory of the Arkansas Annual Conference is to create vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world. It’s not just a statement. Rather, it articulates what United Methodists of Arkansas understand about our purpose, vision of the future, what we are going to invest in and what shapes our life together.

Bishop Gary E. Mueller

Whenever I hear the phrase “vital congregation,” I think of a church that is vibrant, passionate, energetic, excited, enthusiastic, hopeful and fruitful. I imagine a congregation that is alive and making a real difference. I picture a church fueled by the Holy Spirit, and dream of a church that really does keep the main thing—Jesus—the main thing in all it does.    

I am focused on the critical importance of vital congregations because bishops, annual conferences, district superintendents and conference staff do not make disciples of Jesus Christ who in turn make disciples involved in God’s work of transformation. Congregations do. And that’s why I long to see more congregations become more vital.

So what are the marks of a vital congregation?

• A vital congregation seeks spiritual revival, because no congregation can be vital without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit unleashing it to do what it otherwise cannot do on its own.

• A vital congregation puts into place those things that bring about vitality through a discipleship formation process, ways of getting to know and reach out to the community, growth in stewardship and equipping laity. Vitality doesn’t just happen. It takes prayer, intentionality and work. 

• A vital congregation experiences increases in numbers in worship attendance, professions of faith, number of first-time visitors, people involved in discipleship formation groups, baptisms, participation of young adults and those involved in mission in the community. Remember, however, that numbers are always in comparison to the recent past, and not the “glory days” of long ago; they must be read in context of the current reality of the community.

• A vital congregation discovers stories of transformation involving real people and real life. These accounts range from how an individual’s life has dramatically changed to how a church has reduced childhood hunger in its neighborhood, because what ultimately matters to God is how real lives have been transformed in real ways through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I hope it’s obvious how passionate I am about there being more vital congregations that are more vital in Arkansas. Here’s why: Jesus loves us enough to save us through the cross. Jesus has given us the mission of making disciples who have had a life-transforming relationship with him. And Jesus longs for all people to experience the abundant and eternal life he offers. 

I believe from the bottom of my heart that United Methodists in Arkansas want more congregations to be more vital. I hope you believe it, too. Even more importantly, I look forward to joining hands to do it together!

Come, Holy Spirit! 

Grace and peace,

Gary E. Mueller