It is an oft-stated fact that since the merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church in America has had a decrease in membership every year. There is this sobering, yet hopeful video that probably many of you have seen that can share that information better than I can, and there are many reasons for our steady decline, but let me talk about one of them here: our failure to plant churches.
More Facts: In Oklahoma since 1968, 24 churches have been chartered and 3 more are in the process of being planted. So, less than 1 a year. The population in Oklahoma in 1970 was 2,559,463, while the population in Oklahoma in 2010 is 3,751,351. So for the 1.2 million new people in Oklahoma, we have 27 new United Methodist churches for them. These 22 charted churches (2 have since folded) include 7 of the 25 largest churches in the conference and represent an average worship attendance of 6300. Even the great success of our new church starts has not created a UM church planting movement in Oklahoma.
Church planting should not just be to places that have received population growth (though that is incredibly important and more on that later), but it should be about going to where unchurched people are and being a church for them. In my church setting, a church that averages about 100 located between 2 bedroom communities of Fort Smith, there are about 8000 people in a five mile radius, about 2000 of them are currently unchurched and about 1000 of those people identify themselves as Methodists. Is our church reaching these people? Yes, we are a growing church, and I believe we have a lot to offer them, but I look at a non-denominatonal church plant in one of the communities that is 3 years old and averages well over 300 people, and I wonder could a Methodist church plant have reached them as well? Since 1968 in Oklahoma, the Ardmore, Lawton, McAlester, Muskogee, and Stillwater districts have not had a new church successfully charter and continue existing. The Bartlesville, Clinton, Enid, Lawton, and Woodward districts have each had 1 church successfully charter. 9 of our 12 districts have basically been non-existent in planting churches in the last 43 years! Only the Tulsa District and the North and South Oklahoma City districts have planted multiple churches since 1968.
There are many towns in Oklahoma that are growing significantly. Here is the list of Oklahoma communities with more than 3000 people who have grown 20% or more since 2000 and the respective increase of the worship attendance at the United Methodist Church in their community in that time.
- Blanchard 172.4% town growth, 25% church increase
- Jenks 77.1% town growth, -46% church decrease
- Piedmont UMC 56.8% town growth, 57.38% church increase
- Bixby 56.6% town growth, 3% church decrease
- Owasso 56.3% town growth, 27.49% church increase
- Hinton 46.9% town growth, -50% church decrease
- Mannford 46.8% town growth, -46% church decrease
- Newcastle 41.4% town growth, -11.3% decrease
- Tuttle 40.2% town growth, -12% church decrease
- Coweta 39.3% town growth, -34% church decrease
- Hominy 38.0% town growth, -32% church decrease
- Collinsville 27.5% town growth, 12.75% church increase
- Skiatook 37.1% town growth, 8.33% church increase
- Moore 33.9% town growth, 9% church increase
- Glenpool 33.1% town growth, no Methodist Church,
- Mustang 32.2% town growth, 5% church increase
- Broken Arrow 32% town growth 15% church increase
- Catoosa 31.2% town growth 30% church increase
I am not trying to be critical of any particular church or pastor. Only trying to show that even in our fast growing communities, our United Methodist churches are for the most part not keeping up with the growth in our communities. Can churches do better to meet the needs of their growing communities? Sure they can. However, our connectional nature should help us see that each particular church is not called to reach every person or people group in a community. And if the existing church is not willing to do what is needed to reach the new people in their community, then they should partner with the Conference to help plant a church in their own community.
At the risk of boring you with more facts, here is another list I have compiled. These are the cities in Oklahoma with over 15,000 people and the number of Methodist churches for the people in the communities and the people per church number to help identify what communities could use a new United Methodist Church.
- Oklahoma City-38 churches for 579,999 people= 1 church for 15,263 people
- Tulsa- 28 churches for 391,906= 1 church for every 13,996 people
- Norman-4 churches for 110,925= 1 church for every 27,732 people
- Broken Arrow 4 churches for 98,850= 1 church for every24,712 people
- Lawton-8 churches for 96,867= 1 church for every 12,108 people
- Edmond-6 churches for 81,405= 1 church for every 13,567 people
- Moore-3 churches for 55,081= 1 church for every 18,360 people
- Midwest City-3 churches for 54,371= 1 church for every 18123 people
- Enid-6 churches for 49,379= 1 church for every 8229 people
- Stillwater-3 churches for 45,688= 1 church for every 15,229 people
- Muskogee- 6 churches for 39,223= 1 church for every 6537 people
- Bartlesville- 4 churches for 35,750= 1 church for every 8937 people
- Shawnee- 5 churches for 29,857= 1 church for every 5871 people
- Owasso-1 church for 28,915
- Ponca City-4 churches for 25,387= 1 church for every 6346 people
- Ardmore-3 churches for 24,283= 1 church for every 8094 people
- Duncan-4 churches for 23,432= 1 church for every 5858 people
- Yukon- 2 churches for 22,709= 1 church for every 11354 people
- Del City-2 churches for 21,332= 1 church for every 10,666 people
- Bixby-1 church for 20,884
- Sapulpa-1 church for 20,544
- Altus-3 churches for 19,051= 1 church for every 6350 people
- Bethany-1 church for 19,051
- Sand Springs-1 church for 18,906
- Claremore-1 church for 18,581
- McAlester-2 churches for 18,383= 1 church for every 9191 people
- Mustang-1 church for 17,395
- Jenks-1 church for 16,924
- Ada-2 churches for 16,810= 1 church for every 8405 people
- El Reno-2 churches for 16,749= 1 church for every 8374 people
- Chickasha-1 church for 16,036
- Durant-1 church for 15,856
- Tahlequah-1 church for 15,753
Just by looking at this list, I see many, many places where the Methodist church could go to where the people are especially Norman, Broken Arrow, Moore, Midwest City, Owasso, Bixby, and Sapulpa whose Methodist churches have just 1 church for over 20,000 people. In addition, these are the largest communities with no United Methodist Church: Glenpool 10,808, Slaughterville 4137, and Park Hill 3909. So, there are 10 possible places where churches could be planted, but there are more.
What do I recommend? One, every D.S. should identify two potential communities in their district that could be best served by a new church start. Currently, we have the funding to plant one church a year in the conference that should be increased to at least two churches a year. We need to continue to identify potential church planters and train them to plant churches. In communities where we are not quite ready to plant a new church, congregations should look at starting a worship service that will reach a different demographic than what they are currently reaching. Most importantly, existing churches need to not fear the competition of a new church in their community, but instead embrace the enhancement of the Kingdom of God through new churches.
 While this includes the alternate language churches that have chartered, it does not include our redemption (uncharted churches that we have started 4 of them since 1999) or other alternate languages fellowships that are meeting, or mergers or renaming/re-locations.
 Of course, existing churches can and should reach new people as well, but the purpose of to speak of the need of new places, not to ignite fires in existing places. I especially am grateful to churches that our reaching new people through new worship services, which can often reach a new people group.
 There have been fellowships, relocations, unsuccessful starts, and mergers in those districts.
 Only Broken Arrow and Moore have more than one UM Church in this list. This list does not take into consideration how metro communities can blend together and folks may drive just a few miles out of “town” to worship in another nearby church.
 All information is found here at this census website: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/census/profile/OK
 Worship attendance is just an indicator of growth. Many of these churches, I’m sure, on active in discipleship and service and being the hands and feet of God in their community. Again my critique is not on existing churches, but on our failure to plant new churches.
 There are many, many other factors in where to plant a church, but this should at least be a starting place.
 The number of churches includes CrossTimbers, which has not officially chartered yet.
 Full disclosure, my dad is the Pastor of this church, and I know they are in the beginning of discussions about helping start a new church in the Owasso community.