Churches should be focusing on “bright spots,” two U.S. bishops told Filipino United Methodists during a workshop in Manila about using the concept to establish vital congregations.
Filipino United Methodists are the first outside the United States to use the "bright spots" approach.
Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Fort Worth Episcopal Area in Texas, talked about a congregation in Venus, Texas, which he said was the “crummiest" place for a church. However, he said a non-seminary trained preacher got the attention of the congregation there by asking, "Anybody, got a 'God-sighting' this week?"
Lowry said that inspired the church members to think about “what God had been doing in their lives."
Lowry and Bishop John Schol, New Jersey Episcopal Area, led the workshop at Knox United Methodist Church in September in Manila on behalf of the Council of Bishops and United Methodist Discipleship Ministries.
All three episcopal leaders from the Philippines attended the workshop: Bishop Rodolfo Juan, Manila Episcopal Area; Bishop Ciriaco Q. Franscico, Davao Episcopal Area; and Bishop Pedro Torio Jr., Baguio Episcopal Area. About 35 people attended the workshop on the first day, and more arrived for later sessions.
The bright spots approach applies positive deviance – the idea that in any community, certain groups or individuals will have uncommon behaviors and strategies that allow them to find better solutions to problems or challenges than their peers. The idea is to figure out actions that yield positive acceptance and consequences that grow congregations; then see if those actions can be adapted elsewhere.
Schol and Lowry said vital congregations in The United Methodist Church are making disciples. “That’s why we want to have more vital congregations,” Schol said.
He emphasized the need for participants to be in the driver’s seat as experts in making disciples and establishing vital congregations. He told workshop participants that the approach must be homegrown.
“It should be about the Philippines, something the churches here can own," Schol said.
He urged the participants from the Philippine conferences to be open to God's love. “God’s love,” Schol said, “is going to transform us in this room. God's love heals and transforms people's lives … brings faith, peace and justice.”
Examples of ‘bright spots’
The three Filipino bishops recounted examples of bright spots stories in their episcopal areas. Juan talked about the ministry of Jesus First United Methodist Church in Baliwag, Bulacan, where laity are involved with care groups.
Francisco said many local churches in the Davao Area struggle to be vital churches. He cited Cathedral United Methodist Church, formerly Central United Methodist Church, in Davao City, which has a growing ministry and has 100 percent paid commitments to its annual conference.
Schol told the group about a recovering alcoholic named Jerry who connected with a local church where he gained his sobriety. "Jerry is my bright spot,” Schol said.
Lowry said it was easy to have the view that the local church exists for the annual conferences. “But it's actually the opposite: the annual conference exists for empowering the local church where disciples are made and touch the world."
Teams of two will study and monitor up to 50 vital congregations to assess how they are meeting five parameters of a vital congregation: new professions of faith, attendance in worship, attendance at small groups, engagement in hands-on mission and giving to mission.
They will also document congregations that are doing something other than the distinctives of vital congregations or what they are doing in a lesser degree than how vital congregations do it.
The training focused on showing the need for appropriate skills at objective observation and procedures at monitoring progress and receiving data and analyzing data.
However, Schol insisted on learning what made a vital church in the Philippine churches, as well as how churches in the Philippines would use and develop this approach.
Canlas is a writer in the Philippines.
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