Ken Willard: ‘Our mission is to make disciples’

By Kerry Bart

Ken Willard, the conference’s director of discipleship, leadership and congregational vitality, shared with the conference on Saturday that he’s directionally challenged: he uses a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system that tells him where he is and shows him where he’s going.

So is it with the church’s mission and vision, he said.

The mission of the West Virginia United Methodist Church – that is, what we do – is make disciples. “Not hamburgers, airplanes, or automobiles,” Willard said. “We make disciples.” Every church’s mission statement must trace back to the commission of Jesus in Matthew 28, he said. Jesus said to his disciples and says to us today, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations…”

The conference’s mission is “to discover, develop, and deploy passionate, spiritual leaders who make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

How do we take steps towards that mission? Ken reminded us of the GPS, which tells us where to go. “Vision in the church world is where God is calling us to go,” he said. “Vision always has an element of the future.”

The vision of the conference is “to be a Christ-led spiritual breath of fresh air that changes the world.” That’s where we’re going. That guides us in all we do.

In order to get there, Ken said, we need to know where we are. Our conference has resources for you to learn some of the statistics of your community:, and

Our conference mission field includes 1.67 million people, 61.7 percent of whom have no church affiliation. There are a million people in our West Virginia area that don’t participate in the life of a congregation. These are people in your community. “It is not about taking somebody else’s sheep,” Ken said. “Jesus never said, ‘Go steal their sheep.’” Remember Jesus’ words: “The harvest is ready. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.”

Ken provided some numbers about the people in our conference mission field: 12 percent live below the poverty level; 59 percent have white-collar jobs; the average age is 42; 34 percent are single parents; 94 percent are white, 3 percent are African-American, 1 percent are Hispanic, 0.7 percent are Asian, and 1.6 percent are Pacific Islander/American Indian/Other.

“Every church says they’re a friendly church,” Ken said. But those outside the church “are not looking for a friendly church,” he instructed us. “They’re looking for a church where they can make friends.”

Ken invited us to be fruit-bearing disciple-makers in our communities. He suggested six things and asked that we consider starting by doing one:

1. Do a prayer walk. What do you see in your community? Where is God nudging you to serve?

2. Always expect guests. Take a cue from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”

3. Website. Most people decide what church they’re going to visit by going to a website first. Our conference has the goal that every church has a website that at least provides the church’s address, worship time, and a picture or two. Our Communications Team can help your church set up and maintain a website.

4. ICNU (“I see in you…”) Get to know the people who attend your church. Get to know their spiritual gifts. “Stop recruiting people – it doesn’t work,” Ken said. “Start inviting people into their calling in ministry. Every single one of us has a calling. Say, “I see in you the spiritual gift of …”

5. Reach (your community) event. Have an event for your community. This is the beginning of reaching people. (Ken said when there’s a donation bucket, church people call it a “love offering” but others see it as a fundraiser. Ken said a fundraiser is not the same thing as a reach event).

6. One-on-one conversations. This is where the magic happens. Don’t worry about reaching all people — have a conversation with one, Ken said.

It’s impossible to distill Ken’s presentation into a short article. His presentation will be available on the conference website, (look for “Developing Disciples”).

“Our churches need hope, and it’s up to us to provide that hope,” Ken said. “The harvest is ready. Therefore go!”

Ken joined our conference staff in July 2018. Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball said, “I think we have a great gift in our new team member, don’t you? It’s a joy to work with Ken, and it’s been a joy as he’s helped the Cabinet really dig into where we’re starting from.”