I love the United Methodist Church. There I said it, and I mean it. Now that doesn’t mean I love every aspect or decision of the church, but the capital-C Church is one area that God has given me a passion for. Now, while I don’t believe the UM Church is for everyone, I do believe in what the church stands for and also whom the church stands for. However, the Church is dying, or so we read. We have lost over 3 million members in 30 or so years. The sad news is that we are not just losing members, the leaders that we have are getting old. In just 20 years, our young clergy (under 35) has shrunk dramatically from 5047 to 1198. Many questions can be asked from just this previous paragraph. Why? How did this happen? Whose fault is it? But the most important question we can ask is: now, what can we do?
This question has already been asked and “The Connectional Table” of the church has proposed these four focus areas for the church.
- Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world. The church must recruit young people for ministry and provide them with the skills necessary to be effective in this new time of opportunity. That includes women and people of color the world over. Similarly, we must offer leadership training for lay people who are in ministry in countless ways.
- Creating new places for new people by starting new congregations and renewing existing ones. If we are to remain faithful to our commitment to transform the world, we will reach out with genuine hospitality to people wherever they are. We will make them feel welcome as we start new faith communities, seek to renew existing ones and inspire faithful discipleship.
- Engaging in ministry with the poor.As an expression of our discipleship, United Methodists seek to alleviate conditions that undermine quality of life and limit the opportunity to flourish as we believe God intends for all. As with John Wesley, we seek to change conditions that are unjust, alienating and disempowering. We engage in ministry with the poor, and in this, we especially want to reach out to and protect children.
- Stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally. Conditions of poverty cause illness and death. The lack of access to doctors, nurses, medications and appropriate facilities is deadly, especially among those who live in conditions of poverty. But the diseases of poverty are not inevitable. We believe the people of The United Methodist Church can play a significant role in educating others about diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, and treating and preventing their devastating effects.
This deserves a hearty Amen. It seems almost too easy, doesn’t it? I cannot imagine what would happen to our Church and our churches if we got serious and focused about these ideas. However, serious and focus is not a word people would use to define United Methodists, today. A sad reality. While only 4% of the US population views us negatively, how many view us seriously? How many view us relevant? Many churches are not relevant. 42% of UM churches did not receive any new members by profession of faith in 2004. That, my friends, is not sad. It is a tragedy. While most probably received some new members through transfers from other churches that is not making disciples that is trading disciples, hardly what Christ called us to do. In the next few weeks, I plan to continue to blog about the future of United Methodism. But for now let me leave you with this. In the midst of these heart-breaking numbers, we must remember the heart-healing Savior, Jesus Christ. We cannot save the Church or heal the Church, but we do not have to. Jesus says that he will build the Church, we just simply have to let Him.