Dear St. Matthew’s Church Family,
On Sunday morning (April 29), we will have three special worship services. At the 8:15 and 11:15 services, St. Matthew’s children’s choirs will present their musical, “Down By The Creek Bank.” We will join the children at the “ole” fishing hole where they will be fishing, eating lunch, and playing games. We’ll hear the children singing about Jesus feeding the multitude, friendship, our “five senses,” and where we each fit in God’s puzzle. You won’t want to miss it. At the 9:45 service, the Modern Worship Team will lead a new-fashioned hymn sing: familiar songs set to new music. This is one of the Sundays in the year that we encourage you to attend more than one worship service on Sunday morning. I hope you’ll attend one of the children’s musical services and the hymn sing too. It is going to be a great Sunday at St. Matthew’s.
Last Sunday evening, at the Alexandria District’s Celebrate the Increase Banquet, St. Matthew’s was recognized for having increased the number of professions of faith between 2016 and 2017. In 2017, twenty-five people publicly professed their faith for the very first time at St. Matthew’s. This was a 67 percent increase! A majority of these individuals were members of our confirmation class, but the total also includes seven adults who joined the church and the Body of Christ by profession of faith. Other churches were recognized for increasing their average worship attendance. You may be interested in knowing that, even though St. Matthew’s did not experience an increase in average Sunday morning worship attendance in 2017, the church did not experience a decline. Average worship attendance remained constant between 2016 and 2017 at 394 per Sunday morning.
Worship attendance and professions of faith are two of five metrics that St. Matthew’s reports to the Virginia Annual Conference every week. The church also sends the total number of small groups (these are groups that meet for the primary purpose of growing in discipleship), the total number of people who participate in a hands-on mission projects (everything from Food for Others to a church-wide service day), and the total amount of money given to benevolent or charitable causes. These metrics serve as vital signs that indicate congregational health. As you know, numbers cannot tell the whole story of a congregation’s ministry and its impact on individuals, families, and communities, but through extensive study, The United Methodist Church has discovered that the healthiest churches are intentional about offering meaningful and relevant worship every week and making worship accessible to all ages. Healthy churches have a large percentage of people participating on a regular basis in some form of discipleship class or small group (e.g. Sunday School class, youth group, Bible study, or life group) and churches that are effectively making disciples offer a wide-variety of discipleship programs. Healthy churches are focused on their community – through hands-on mission projects and financial support of community programs and ministries.
These vital signs help congregations envision, plan, offer, and evaluate ministry programs and priorities. St. Matthew’s Church Council gets an update from me every month regarding our vital signs. The ultimate outcome of Next-Level Innovations will be to increase the impact, alignment, and effectiveness of St. Matthew’s ministry, which will result in more people having life-changing encounters with God’s grace in worship; more people growing in faith and growing closer to Jesus (and becoming more and more like Jesus) through personal devotions and small group ministry; and the transformation of the world through hands-on service and generous stewardship.
But the vital signs are not just for congregations, they – in their own way – point us, as individual followers of Jesus, toward the ways that we can grow closer to Jesus in our own lives. They point us to God’s means of grace and the practices that allow God to transform our lives. These are the basics of our faith; they are Biblical; and go back to the very beginning of God’s people: They are: worshipping God every week, encountering the living Christ in the gathering of God’s people; spending time in private devotion (Bible reading, prayer, reflection, silence); participating in a study or class for deeper learning about how to follow Jesus in the 21st century; regularly serving Christ in and through the ministry of the church; intentionally blessing and serving the least, last, and the lost – hurting people in the world; giving a percentage of financial resources for God’s work in the church and in the world (growing toward a tithe [10%] and beyond.) These are the basics of Christian discipleship. When we make and keep these commitments, we experience spiritual health and vitality. God transforms our lives and we become more and more like Jesus. This, I think, is how we become faithful disciples of Jesus, and how the church carries out Jesus’ great commission to go into the world and make disciples. This is why St. Matthew’s is participating in Next Level Innovations, so that the church can be a more effective means of God’s grace so that lives are transformed, and the world is transformed.
Finally, I am very excited about the new series of sermons that will start on May 6. It’s entitled This Thing Called Church. Through our participation in Next Level Innovations, we have been thinking a lot about what it means to be the Church. And it is easy for us to get caught up in our own visions for church, our own dreams, and our own preferences. It’s important that we remember that the Church belongs to God. To that end, this series is designed to help us (as individuals and as a church family) be clear about what the Bible says about the Church: what the Bible says about why the Church exists; what the Bible says about the purpose of the Church; and what it means to be a member of the Church. I believe it will help St. Matthew’s Church understand what is important to God as the Church envisions its future. So, I want to encourage you to make worship a priority this spring and participate in this conversation about God’s Church. I believe it is important and I believe it will be meaningful for you.
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.