It's that time of year again, where my Metho-nerdiness shines through: the 2008 Annual Conference Reports are up at umc.org. (Well, many of them are up anyway.)
I've skimmed through all the posted reports and noticed some common themes, and as always, I like to check out the statistics for membership, worship, and Sunday School.
What I noticed this year:
- Most conferences are ordaining and commissioning far fewer folks than they are retiring.
- Missions and outreach seem to be prominent areas of focus at most annual conferences. Most conference take multiple mission-oriented offerings. Many conferences seem to engage in days of service or hands-on times of action during the conference sessions. Nothing but Nets was mentioned in many conference reports.
- Relationships between US conferences and African Conferences were mentioned in many reports, and most US conferences are supporting giving to the Central Conference Pension Fund, a hugely important endeavor.
- My friend from seminary, Susan Ledbetter, apparently had a baby! Funny to read about that in an annual conference report! Her daughter, Sadie Joy Ledbetter, was baptized at the Arkansas Ordination Service - pretty cool! Congrats Susan and Justin!
- Mergers are happening in North/South Indiana, approved by 77-79% of the conference members, and (probably) in my area, where NCNY, Wyoming, Western NY, and Troy will probably merge into one conference, also sending part of Wyoming into Central PA and Vermont into New England. Our area's merger will actually impact the majority of conferences in our jurisdiction!
- Topics voted on in resolutions: Iraq, war, immigration, Israel and divestment, LGBT rights, etc.
- A focus in worship on themes raised at General Conference: the four vision pathways, Three Simple Rules, etc.
- Bishop Schnase observed in his area that sometimes conferences don't experience "measurable growth" but do experiences "observable change." What do you think of that statement?
Here's some highlights of where growth seems to be occurring:
New York - Sunday School attendance is up
Peninsula-Delaware - Sunday School attendance is up
Central Texas - Sunday School is up, Membership is up
Holston - Membership is up
North Alabama - Sunday School is up
North Carolina - Membership is up
North Georgia - Membership is up, Sunday School is up
Red Bird Mission - Membership is up
California-Pacific - Worship is up
Oregon-Idaho - Sunday School is up
What do you make of the fact that of those conferences reporting so far, only one is reporting an increase in worship - and that one is Cal-Pac in the Western Jurisdiction!? I bet not many would have guessed that. But it seems like a lot of numbers this year aren't from the places I'd expect them.
Overall, Sunday School attendance seems to be taking huge hits. Is that true in your local experience? What's notable to you in these reports?