At this year’s Annual Conference, Dale Cohen, our Director of Connectional Ministries, gave us a great look at the work of our Conference by focusing on some of our statistics, particularly in the light of his leadership in our Natural Church Development work.

“You only count what’s important and whatever you count becomes important,” is one of our guiding principles. We Wesleyans are inveterate collectors of numbers. In fact, the Annual Conference was invented by John Wesley, in great part, to focus upon numbers. Wesley didn’t call it “statistics.” He called it “fruit.” The numbers show how well (or how poorly) we are allowing God to use us to produce fruit for the Kingdom.

We ended the year of 2006 with a membership of 151,792. This represents a net decrease of 1,864 members; however, there’s more to the story!

3,067 people were removed by action of their charge conference, which means that most of those people have not been active in worship in three years or more. Another 766 withdrew their membership. 2,220 people were removed by death. These three areas total 6,053 persons removed from the membership of our Conference.

In 2006, we transferred out 3,423 with only 1,134 people transferred to another denomination–less than one third of the total transfers; two-thirds of the transfers out went to a United Methodist Church. This speaks to a sense of loyalty to the United Methodist Church.
Despite the net loss, the North Alabama Conference is growing! We received 2,341 members from other United Methodist Churches and 2,069 members from other denominations — a thousand more members from other denominations that we lost to other denominations. Another 581 people sought membership by restoring their previously withdrawn membership. This means we brought 4,991 existing Christians into the membership of the North Alabama Conference.

In 2006 the number of Professions of Faith rose to 2,621, which is 89 more than in 2005. These are NEW Christians brought into the work of Christ’s Kingdom. Our efforts to make MORE NEW disciples are having results!

A total of 7,612 people were added to the membership of the churches in North Alabama.[1]

There are two other statistics that demonstrate a positive trend. Some argue that worship attendance is a better indicator of growth than membership. If this is true, then we are growing because the average weekly worship attendance in the North Alabama Conference increased by 2,359 persons. A large portion of this increased attendance was in our newest congregations.[2]

Even more exciting is that we saw an increase of 10,500 people who were participating in Christian Formation opportunities in our local churches. More people are making themselves available for discipleship training and we should see the impact of this increase in three to five years.[3]

My joyful conclusions from the Numbers: Growth Is Happening. The Cabinet’s initiative to stress increased attendance, Dale’s work with NCD, Dick’s work with New Church Development is working. God is giving us fruit!

We Just Need to Step Up the Pace of Growth. We’ve got to have every pastor and every congregation moving in step with our priorities. Let’s make this coming year the best ever!

Will Willimon

P.S. Do you know what your congregation’s vital stats are? Click here to search for your congregation’s statistical table and get a picture of your fruitfulness.

[1] If you backed out the 3,067 people removed by charge conference action we would have shown an increase of 1,203 members. We need to keep paring down our rolls and even though this may lead to continued losses on our “books,” the statistics are promising in that we’re seeing growth in those areas that will lead to membership growth on down the line.

[2] Dick Freeman indicates that the number of people worshiping in our new congregations that are not yet constituted (and therefore not counted in membership totals) would more than compensate the 1,864 net membership loss.

[3] The numbers don’t just indicate more people but also more ministry. This year we had the highest amount contributed to the work of our Conference than in any year past. Mission is the fruit of fruitful efforts to make more disciples!

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