First United Methodist Church
Friday, May 22, 2015
You have undoubtedly heard it coming from someone’s lips “We need this church to grow!” Perhaps you have even spoken those words yourself. I know I have. The reality is that the Mainline Churches (those churches that are part of older, established denominations) are shrinking - in some cases almost as fast as they were growing in the last century. Someone estimated that, in our own United Methodist Church in New England, if current trends of decline continue, the denomination here will cease to exist in less than 20 years. That is frightening! The Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, and even the Catholics are all experiencing similar decline – though admittedly at different rates. The decline is most evident in three categories: membership, income, and the most “telling” category, worship attendance. First UMC has seen significant decline in all three.
There are multiple reasons for the declines we are all experiencing. Some of the reasons include:
-People aren’t “joiners” like they used to be
-Fear of commitment
-The belief that too much will be expected from a member
-No “reward” for becoming a member – no real or tangible benefit
-Lack of “disposable income”
-Increased debt load
-Poor stewardship education
-Some do not catch up giving for missed Sundays
-Too many other commitments on Sundays
-Children’s activities conflict with attending worship
-Individual/Family life overscheduled – need a day off
-1-2 Sundays a month is considered “regular attendance”
-Attending worship takes too long
-Worship can take place anywhere – no need to go to a church
Needless to say, this is not a comprehensive list. There are certainly many more reasons, but you get the idea. I could address each one of these excuses, which I will do in future articles, but not now. For purposes of this article, I simply want to let you know that we are all a part of the solution.
When the Methodist movement was growing by leaps and bounds; when Methodists gathered for camp meetings, hymn sings, and evangelistic services, the people took responsibility for the growth of the Christian community, for “pastoral” care, for education, and for spiritual growth. Today, with the advent of the more “settled” clergy, Methodist Christians have abdicated their responsibility by virtue of their baptism to be ministers. In other words, we don’t need to visit homebound people, provide care, lead study groups, go to hospitals and nursing homes, or do the work of evangelism because “that is what we pay the pastor to do.” Pastors can and should do all of those things, but not because they are ordained and paid. They are baptized Christians first, and thus should be doing those things with fellow Christians. United Methodist clergy are ordained to a ministry of “word, order, sacrament, and service.” As a result, what I am paid by you to do is to ensure that the Discipline is kept, the life of the church is ordered, the word of God is proclaimed, to administer the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism, and provide leadership and opportunity to do the ministry you are called to do.
With all this being said, if we want our church to grow, then our first concern should be living up to our calling as baptized followers of Jesus. Together our first aim should be, as our United Methodist movement so clearly states: “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” It cannot be about doing everything we can to put butts in our church’s pews. If we are faithful to our call to make disciples and build God’s kingdom, then the seats of our church, and every church, will be full of people excited to worship the God who “makes all things new.”
Stay tuned for more…
Peace and love,