In 2018, the combined efforts of the Alexandria District churches produced an increase in average worship attendance but saw a decrease in the number of professions of faith. In 2015, we had an increase in professions of faith, but not in average worship attendance. In 2016, we had an increase in average worship attendance but not in professions of faith. In 2017, we had an increase in both average worship attendance and professions of faith. In 2018, we continued a three-year trend upward in average worship attendance, with the growing use of online worship participation. Without the inclusion of online worship participants, we would not have increased in worship attendance, but with twelve churches reporting online worship participants this year our net gain in worship attendance was +3325, a 31% increase! (Last year we counted only two of those twelve churches in this report.) At the same time, our professions of faith declined by 118, a 22% decrease! There is a disconnect between increasing online participation and gaining professions of faith. This is something we will need to learn how to do moving forward.
In 2018, our average worship attendance across the district grew from 10,520 in 2017, to 13,845 in 2018, an increase of 3325. Without the inclusion of the additional online participation this year, that number would have been a decrease of 313. The churches with the largest average worship attendance were: Aldersgate (3287, including 2731 online participants); Christ (976, including 328 in their online campus); Annandale (801, including 473 online); Gainesville (628), Messiah (497, including 36 online), St. Thomas (479 at two campuses, including 3 online); Grace (447), and St. Stephen’s (437). Those with the largest increases from 2017 to 2018 were Aldersgate (+2703), Annandale (+485), Bethel—Woodbridge (+124, including 133 online), St. Thomas (+82, including 3 online), Dumfries (+58, including 70 online), Gainesville (+46, including 53 online), Christ (+42, including 328 online), Trinity (+35, including 50 online), Beverley Hills (+30, including 30 online), Woodlawn-Faith (+19). Of the 53 churches, 26 had an increase in worship attendance in 2018, up from 18 in 2017.
Professions of faith across the district in 2018 dropped from 544 in 2017 to 426 in 2018, a decrease of 118. The churches with the largest number of persons making their first-time public profession of faith in Jesus Christ were: Ghana Wesley (52, fourth year in a row as the highest), Christ (41), Aldersgate (35), Burke (21), St. Matthew’s (21), St. Stephen’s (21) and St. Thomas (21). Those with the largest increases from 2017 to 2018 were Washington Farm (+12), Annandale (+10), Woodlawn-Faith (+9), Good Shepherd (+7). Across the 53 Alexandria District churches (including 5 multi-sites), 18 had an increase in professions of faith in 2018, down from 29 in 2017.
For 2019, our goal continues to be to make more disciples of Jesus Christ next year than we did last year. These two indicators (worship attendance and professions of faith) are among the best we have to measure how well we are doing. I encourage us to continue to seek new ways to make more disciples, as well as to find new ways to measure how we are doing it. For now, we are showing increasing numbers by including online worship participation; how can we help to leverage that increase into professions of faith? It will not be the same way we already know! We will need to experiment, risk, learn from one another. There will be other innovations ahead as we continue on our mission. Will we find ways to make disciples in places outside of our church buildings, but not online, like in a community setting where we gather regularly? (We are already doing this at the home church network counted in Gainesville’s report.)
Eleven churches increased in both professions of faith and in average worship attendance in 2018, down from 12 in 2017. They are: Aldersgate, Annandale, Bethel—Fauquier, Bethel—Woodbridge, Christ (also did this in 2015 and 2017), Mt. Vernon, Old Bridge, St. James, Silverbrook, Sydenstricker (also did this in 2017), and Woodlawn-Faith (also did this in 2016). Both Christ and Sydenstricker deserve special recognition for increasing in both areas for two consecutive years. (We are still waiting for the first church in the district to increase in both areas in three consecutive years.)
Another seven churches increased in professions of faith, but not in average worship attendance (Buckhall, Franconia, Good Shepherd, Rising Hope, Springfield, Sudley, and Washington Farm). Fifteen other churches increased in average worship attendance, but not in professions of faith (Asbury, Beverley Hills, Burke, Dumfries, Gainesville, Ghana Wesley, Lincolnia, Messiah, Nokesville, Orlean, St. George’s, St. Thomas, Trinity, Washington Street, and Wesley). A total of 33 churches had an increase in one or both areas. Five declined in one area, both held even in the other. Fifteen churches declined in both areas.
Financially, the Alexandria District churches fell off significantly for our connectional ministry apportionment support in 2018, due to decreased giving in a few churches. In both 2015 and 2016, we contributed 89.7% of what we were apportioned. In 2017, we contributed 92.5%. In 2018, we gave 82.0%. Across the entire Virginia Conference, apportionment support decreased from 89.9% in 2017, to 88.0% in 2018, a 1.9% decrease. Thank you to all of the churches who faithfully supported the connection-wide missions and ministries through the payment of apportionments.
We are planning our third annual Celebrate the Increase banquet for Sunday, April 7, at Christ United Methodist Church. All churches will be invited to send representatives to join in our district-wide celebration. Each of the churches that had an increase in 2018 will be recognized during the banquet.
I am so glad to serve as the district superintendent of this district, which has refused to succumb to the pessimism of decline and has focused instead of doing what we can do to reverse the decline and live into a hopeful future for Christ’s Kingdom and for the United Methodist Church. We are trying new ways and reaching new people, people whom we would never reach with our familiar ways. Making disciples of Jesus Christ is becoming more of a challenge in our culture, though I believe more disciples of Jesus is exactly what would help to heal our culture’s sickness. Keep trying! Keep innovating! Above all, keep praying!
Grace and Peace,