This week and next, MethodistThinker.com is offering a retrospective on Bishop Lindsey Davis’ 12-year tenure as the leader of the United Methodist Church’s North Georgia Conference. (He will become the bishop of the Kentucky Conference on Sept. 1.)
Since being assigned to North Georgia in 1996, Bishop Davis has used his episcopal office to promote leadership development, church planting, and mission outreach, leading the North Georgia Conference to become the largest United Methodist Conference in the U.S.
In 2000, he presented a 20-year vision for North Georgia to delegates attending the Conference’s annual session. Below is an abbreviated transcript of his remarks, delivered on June 13, 2000 at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia.
When I came to North Georgia in 1996, I inherited leadership of what I consider to be the strongest Conference in all of Methodism.
Although we are far from all that God calls us to be, we enjoy a history of excellence in ministry, a wealth of clergy and lay leader talent, a deep commitment to Jesus Christ by over 950 congregations, and we have record of membership growth unsurpassed by any other area over the past 25 years….
Our local churches understand that making disciples for Jesus Christ is our primary task — but knowing it and doing it are not always the same thing.
While we rejoice in our membership growth of over 26,000 persons this past quadrennium, it grieves my heart that one-third of our churches in 1999 — one-third of our churches — did not have a single profession of faith last year. And it grieves my heart that 50 percent of our churches had “one profession of faith or less” last year.
So we rejoice in our blessings, but have no reason to be cocky or complacent. With the population growth in the 72 counties of North Georgia, this is truly harvest time for the kingdom of God in our area.
Working with over 80 key lay and clergy leaders for the past two-and-a-half years in the leadership forum, and in consultation with the staffing task force…we put before you today a vision for the future….
By the year 2020, every congregation will be making disciples for Jesus. Every congregation will be making disciples for Jesus — led by by effective and spiritually maturing laity and pastors.
How can we ensure this vision of 100 percent effectiveness?
Well, we believe that our human, financial, and spiritual resources must be focused over the next 20 years in three primary areas: leadership development, establishing new faith communities, and birthing a steady stream of transformational mission efforts.
The first one: leadership development.
Weak leaders produce weak churches.
Where we can appoint effective, spiritually mature pastors to churches and they have the opportunity to work in partnership with effective laity, our congregations always flourish.
Two: planting new churches.
The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches. All churches can lead the lost to Christ, but new churches organized around evangelism reach unchurched persons better than established worshiping communities. Much of our growth over the past 15 years has, in fact, come from the new churches which have been planted through church development.
The challenge, it seems to me, is to create 200 new, biblically-based, vision-driven, mission-minded, community-focused, culturally-relevant, ethically-grounded, cutting edge, well-equipped, spiritually healthy, Holy Spirit-vibrant United Methodist congregations in North Georgia by the year 2020.
If you looked at demographics and our growth patterns, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that almost 100 of our 950 congregations are teetering on the brink of collapse. Many of those congregations will not be with us 20 years from now.
If we’re going to plant churches, and if we’re going to evangelize the 72 counties of North Georgia, we have to not only replace those congregations, but we have to build 100 more….
Third: birthing new mission opportunities.
In some sense, we in North Georgia live of the generational equity of parents and our grandparents. What new United Methodist ministries will be started by our generation? What new United Methodist institutions of service, and compassion, and caring, and love will be built by our generation?
What needs is God calling us to meet in the 21st century here in North Georgia and around the world?…
Just as there is a need in our day for model teaching churches to lead the way into new and dynamic ministry, I believe that there is also within United Methodism, a need for a model teaching Annual Conference — an Annual Conference that is known far-and-wide for its commitment to excellence in ministry, not for the sake of pride, but for the sake of Christ.
A model teaching Annual Conference — breaking new ground for others.
Why should that Annual Conference not be us? What Annual Conference is better positioned to do that for the whole church than us?
I believe God is calling North Georgia to give such leadership to our denomination.