Decline, Wagons, Ships, Methodist and the Gospel

I am a proud United Methodist.  However, United Methodism In America continues to lose members at an alarming rate.  We have lost some 3,000,000 members since the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church thus creating the United Methodist Church, in 1968.  If my arithmetic is correct this is 75,000 members per year which equals 206 members a day.  A lot of people smarter than me have made arguments as to why this has occurred.  We are not alone in our hemorrhaging of members as this has occurred in all of the mainline protestant denominations in America.    We cannot go back and try to turn these figures around.  However, there is a choice to be made as to how we  United Methodist move forward.

General Conference 2012 just ended  4 weeks ago.  Before General Conference a lot of touting was going on about how that this General Conference would be one of great change.  Guess what, that change that did not occur.  A plan to restructure the  United Methodist Church was approved, but it was ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council of the church.  I’m not sure as to why.  I wasn’t a delegate to General Conference.  

I receive an email daily that deals with church leadership.  This morning at around 5:00 I read an article that dealt with 20 Things that will Kill your Church.  At the top of the list was denial.  Congregations that are in denial are satisfied with the status quo.  They refuse to accept the fact that they are no longer driven by purpose and passion.  The vision that the congregation once had is not present.  This is the story of the majority of United Methodist Congregations in America.  However, knowing this and then not addressing the fact is to do nothing, and this is is not an option in the Kingdom of God.  

  The question that we must ask is: How do we turn this ship around?  We need to realize that it takes some time to turn a big ship around.  It is going to take some time to turn United Methodism around.  She did not get this way overnight. It’s taken 40 years.  I think most United Methodist would agree with this.  The rub comes in as to how we make changes that are essential to our survival.

United Methodism must take seriously the call to be an inclusive church.  What does this mean?  It simply means that we open our churches to all that will come.  It means that we are intentional in reaching the marginalized in our communities.  We reach out to the least and the lost.  I believe in my heart of heart’s that a lot of folk would like to be a part of a faith community, but because of how they dress or live their lives they just don’t think they would be accepted.  We must truly begin to live into our claim of, “Open hearts, Open minds and Open doors.”  The slogan sounded good, but a lot of congregations just never took it seriously.  We have got to begin to take the Scripture admonition to love neighbor literally.  

There is a tendency in churches that are facing decline to circle the wagons and gather together in the middle and merely sing the songs of Zion.  However, circling the wagons is strictly a defensive move.  We need to be on the offensive.  We need to be out offering Christ to all people.  We need to offer radical hospitality.  We get hung up on wanting people to conform to our preconceived notions of what conformity is, which as we all know means conforming and being like the one who wants you to do the conforming.  The only one that we need to conform to, is the image of Christ Jesus.  

There are a lot of people who are preaching hate.  Hate of neighbor.  Hate of those that hold different ideas, or values than they.  This is wrong.  The hope of United Methodism is to take the call seriously to reach out to the least, the hurting, those that have lost their way, those that are on the fringes of society.  If we do this, then God will help us to turn this old ship around.  However, if we circle the wagons she’ll go down just like the Titanic.  I for one am willing to venture out of the confines and safety of the church building and offer Christ.  I’m going to do my part in turning this ship around.  Are you?

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