Churches of Excellence come in all sizes in North Georgia


      It sounds too simple. Perhaps it is.
      Growing, vibrant, dynamic, healthy churches have some common characteristics, the experts point out. Vital churches are typically outward focused, involved in missions and ministries that reach beyond the narthex doors. Conversely, struggling congregations are often stubbornly focused inward.
      “I look on all the world as my parish,” said John Wesley, who had a history of building healthy congregations and helping expand the kingdom.
        “Jesus was pretty clear in the words he used in the 28th chapter of Matthew,” said Jeff Jernigan, who serves as leader of the North Georgia Conference Missions/Global Ministries team. “He sends us out. It is not a suggestion. It is not optional. It is a command. We are to go and spread the Gospel.”
      Jernigan, a lay delegate to General Conference and member of McEachern Memorial UMC, has served on numerous foreign mission teams as well as on local missions.
     “When we have a kingdom world view, God seems to honor that,” Jernigan said. “And it does not matter if you are part of a small membership church or a large membership church. Everyone can be active in missions.”
         In helping to identify and recognize local churches that are vital and mission-minded, Jernigan, Alice Smith, and Terry Raymond are responsible for overseeing “Church of Excellence in Outreach.”
       Most recently, 10 churches in the North Georgia Conference earned the distinction for 2011: Chamblee FUMC, Cleveland FUMC, East Cobb FUMC, Forsyth UMC, FUMC Union Point, New Hope UMC, North Decatur UMC, Rome FUMC, Smyrna FUMC and University Heights UMC. 
         It is the largest group yet in North Georgia to earn the distinction.
        “It is our goal to celebrate churches that are making an effort to be more missional,” Jernigan said. “Some of the best examples we have are small membership churches. We have come up with a list of criteria for churches to measure their effectiveness. We have worked to create a healthy balance between foreign mission efforts and local efforts.”
      The full list of criteria, as well as application, can be found on the conference website:
       Churches that want to apply to be considered as a “Church of Excellence in Outreach” for 2012 must apply by Jan. 31, 2013.
       “We want to make sure more churches know about this,” Jernigan said. “We want to recognize the exceptional efforts of churches that are already involved in outreach efforts and we want to encourage more churches to be mission minded. We know this is at the heart of having vital congregataions.”