The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2004 states that the “mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ,” and that “local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” The North Carolina Conference has taken seriously this charge, leading most conferences in professions of faith, new membership, and worship attendance growth.
It is the function of the Commission on Congregational Development, and the associated Office of Congregational Development, to aid congregations and their lay and clergy leaders in creating strong and effective churches. Annually, new churches, and older churches of all sizes, are assisted with vision and mission planning, staff development, lay and clergy leadership development, building committee organization, and evangelism and outreach instruction. Each year about 100 churches are assisted, most of them small membership in size, and this was again the case in 2004.
In the past decade, 35 new churches have been started within the bounds of the North Carolina Conference. These churches have been started in city settings, growing suburban communities, and rural communities. Membership in these new churches includes persons who are affluent, middle class, and poor, Anglo, Hispanic, African-American, Korean, Native American, and Asian. Although not all of the new church projects initiated have been successful, the newest churches in the North Carolina Conference continue to lead the way in membership growth.
The Office of Congregational Development continues to provide through its annual contract with Percept Group, Inc., up-to-date community demographic data, accessible on-line and without cost, to all local churches (www.link2lead.com). In 2003-04, the Congregational Development Fund, Inc., with the support of Bishops Edwards and Gwinn, and an outstanding team of laity and clergy, launched A Time to Grow funding initiative. This quiet effort is aimed at identifying laity whose generosity with their wealth, combined with their belief in the value of strong churches and effective church leaders, will advance and strengthen local church ministry and new church planting ministry in the North Carolina Conference. To date, about $1 million has been committed by members of the initiative’s steering committee members. Initially, available funding will be used to create an outstanding new church leadership academy, and to purchase land for new churches.
The Ten Dollar Club, now in its 52nd year, is administered by the Office of Congregational Development. The Club’s loyal members continue to provide funding to underwrite grants to new churches for land purchase and first building construction. Each year, one grant is made to assist in the establishment of a new church outside of the U.S. In 2004, a grant was made to a new church in Moscow, Russia, and in 2005, a new church will be aided in Zimbabwe, in cooperation with ZOE Ministry.
Allen Bingham, Chairperson