By United Methodist News Service - Heather Hahn
Here is some encouraging news to start the year.
For the first time in 11 years, United Methodist annual (regional) conferences in the United States reported an increase in total professions of faith in 2012.
Preliminary figures for professions of faith show a gain from 123,986 in 2011 to 124,635 in 2012 — less than 1 percent but still an upward trajectory.
Many of the leaders at this fall’s Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C., applauded the news as a welcome development after decades of declining U.S. membership and worship attendance.
“Clearly this is the beginning of everything that we’ve been working toward for the past couple of years as we strengthen congregations to make disciples who engage in the world in justice and mercy ministries,” said New Jersey Area Bishop John R. Schol, who has led the denomination’s Vital Congregations Initiative.
“What this really says is we’re starting to move in the right direction. Certainly, it’s not a trend. … But it’s a hopeful sign for the journey ahead.”
For professions of faith, churches count youth completing confirmation and adult new church members who make a profession to follow Christ. The number does not include people who transfer from one church to another.
Twenty-eight of 59 U.S. conferences reported gains in their professions of faith to the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denominational agency that tracks conference statistics. The count includes conferences in each of the five U.S. jurisdictions.
The growth was just one change the Council of Bishops cheered during a status report on the denomination’s efforts to foster more highly vital congregations.
U.S. churches also reported overall increases in small groups, mission engagement and giving to mission.
“We’re not seeing (an increase) yet in worship attendance,” Schol told United Methodist News Service. “But that’s generally the last one to come.”