As most of you no doubt know, I’m not trained in business principals. My formal education has been in the humanities—an undergraduate degree in English Literature and, of course, a Master’s degree at the Seminary level. The training I’ve received since those days has been significant and helpful for my work as a pastor, but almost everything I’ve learned about business has been acquired by learning in casual settings, mostly from members of the churches I have served.
It was only a few years ago that I encountered the acronym, “ROI,” for the first time. If that’s a new one for you, as it was for me, the letters stand for “Return On Investment,” and it’s such a standard way of referring to the term that I often hear business people use the acronym in casual conversation.
The principle behind ROI—in my untrained words—is that you only invest in things when you understand there will be a return that is worth the investment.
Over the past several months, as our congregation has been struggling with a picture of what our future looks like, I’ve been thinking about how we can apply the principle of ROI. I have also been thinking of ways to respond to questions people have asked about the nature of our connection to the United Methodist Church and what the ROI is that we receive from our participation in this system.
In the most basic way, that question is formulated, “What do we get for our money?”
Personally, I think we get a great deal more than most people in our congregation realize, and I’m willing to take part of the blame for why more people don’t realize the value of our investment in the UMC. My perspective, of course, is informed by my participation in many more connectional activities than pretty much anyone else here, as well as my participation in more congregations that almost anyone here. And, to be perfectly honest, my perspective is biased somewhat because I rely on the church for my livelihood.
I have often answered these kinds of questions by citing common examples like: the mission activities of the Church like the network of missionaries who serve in the US and around the world and the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR); the network of fine UM-related colleges and universities, as well as campus ministries; the resources we have at our disposal that inform our worship life and help us with practical tasks like building a new website; and, most recently, I have grown to appreciate the way our connectional system guides people into ministry and qualifies people (or doesn’t qualify them) for ministry.
But I have recently experienced what I now know as the absolute BEST thing we get for our money—the true ROI—the Connection itself, the relationships we gain access to when we invest ourselves fully in the system.
You may know that I recently had the chance to travel with a dear friend of mine, Clay, on a trip around Texas to eat barbecue. During the trip, I had the opportunity to play music at venue in Austin, a dream of mine for at least the past five years. It was a wonderful evening with the best part being me counting the ways those who came to support me were connected through the UMC.
- Denis, the club owner, who I met through his mother, Debbie Faulkner, a member of our church;
- Clay, my clergy friend, with whom I worked on staff a couple of decades ago in Allen;
- My friend since Jr High, Jim, who lives in Georgetown who I met through youth group at my home church and who was a huge help to our family while Emma was at school there;
- Jim’s sister, Cheryl, who I know primarily through my home church in Richardson;
- Clay’s college friend, Jenny, who was a classmate of his at Southwestern, the UM college in Georgetown, but I have grown to be friends with on a completely separate path because she married someone from my home church;
- And, finally, the daughter of a close friend from my days in Henrietta, Kendall, whose wedding I performed and who is, for the first time in her life, embracing Christianity through a UMC in Austin—and who goes to church with Jenny, by the way.
I could never have created that network of friends on my own, nor brought those connections to bear in such a powerful way, without the United Methodist Church—and, of course, the grace of God that has been at work over the past 45 years or so to make that evening possible.
What do we get for our money? We get the Body of Christ, that’s what.
Grace and peace, Pastor John