Happy New Year!

The world is struggling as we begin this new year. Just like our denomination. And, perhaps, just like you. There is division, terror, fear, pain, injustice, anxiety and seemingly very little hope. But while it’s tough to be optimistic, there is every reason in the world to be filled with hope. That’s because hope is a gift from God that is possible because God is at work in our world making God’s will just as real on earth as it already is in heaven.

It is in the midst of this struggling yet hope-filled world that God is calling the United Methodist people of Arkansas to create vital congregations that will bring the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who need it more than they will ever know.

Vital congregations passionately seek spiritual revival, intentionally grow disciples, engage people in their neighborhood and experience the fruit of increased professions of faith, worship attendance, and transformed lives and communities.

Vital congregations make disciples of Jesus Christ, are filled with disciples who make disciples, equip those disciples for the work of transformation and have the joy of seeing lives, communities and the world actually transformed as the fruit of their faithfulness.

Of course, as much as we might wish otherwise, there is no magical four-step checklist to follow in order to create vital congregations. But there are some specific things we can do throughout 2017 to help our congregations become more vital.

We can begin where we always need to begin—by seeking spiritual revival. I hope you will join me in a renewed prayer emphasis for spiritual revival during the month of February. You will be invited to pray daily, invite others to pray with you weekly and perhaps even fast as we seek spiritual revival for our churches, our annual conference and ourselves.

The 2017 Annual Conference will have four outstanding teaching times that focus on four key areas that lead to vitality. Kay Kotan will teach us how to share faith. Kevin Watson will help us learn how to use Wesleyan small groups to grow deeper in discipleship. Clif Christopher will talk about the power of personal stewardship. And leaders from our own 200,000 Reasons children’s hunger initiative will help us discover how we can end childhood hunger.

Since vitality is only vitality when disciples and churches are vital, your church can utilize one, two, three or all four of the recommended studies on sharing faith, small discipleship groups, stewardship and upping your game in ending childhood hunger during the 2017-2018 school year.

There’s one more thing. The Center for Technology is developing a platform for sharing “stories of vitality” that happen in your church and mission field. This means you will have the opportunity to tell stories, post pictures or share videos about the vitality being experienced through disciples in your congregation.

Once upon a time, I might have wondered, “Isn’t this just another top-down conference program in which I have to participate?” Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. You see, what truly matters is what’s going on in churches. That’s where disciples are made. That’s where disciples grow. That’s where lives are transformed. Which means this is about your church.

I want to be clear. This is not a mandatory conference program your church has to do. It is an invitation to be involved in one of the most meaningful and exciting journeys imaginable. For me the “why” behind all of this is very simple and very personal. Jesus has embraced me in grace, forgiven me, healed me and helped me experience the most blessed life imaginable. And I long for others to experience it. Just like you do, too.

I am grateful beyond words for the privilege I have of standing alongside you as we create vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.

May we become more vital than we ever imagined possible—for Jesus’ sake!

Grace and peace,

Gary E. Mueller