I spent a few nights together with 100 or so United Methodist pastors from the Dakotas at this conference: “Is There Life in the Dakotas?: From Titantic to Project Hope” We looked at the worship attendance and membership statistics for United Methodist churches over the last 40 years and it is not good to say the least. We spent most of the time looking at the Titantic piece and didn’t really get into specifics on what Project Hope would look like. Awareness isn’t bad but I would have loved to discuss what to do now.
I found this slide very illuminating. This is the entire scope of Methodism in the US from the 1700s to today with the percentage of Americans who are Methodist in the line graph and the total number of Methodists in the bar graph. Notice anything about the beginning of Methodism?
We had explosive growth, followed by a fairly sustained period, and are now in a period of significant decline. What was different in the beginning as opposed to now? One factor I can see is that we were a movement in the beginning and people of any time period seem to get excited about movements. But once we become an institution, our growth slows and then declines. We now live in a period when people don’t want to be a part of “organized religion” or institutions because they are seen as corrupt, unreliable, and unhelpful.
How can we get back to the movement spirit and yet keep the good parts of an institution? Organization does help us respond to needs efficiently and effectively. How do we become an organized movement again with the Holy Spirit pushes us forward and in us?
Towards the end of the conference I got this sinking feeling that most of the room didn’t see it, was in denial, or didn’t care. I really hope that feeling was pizza backing up on me and not the Holy Spirit saying things are going to get much worse than better.
I care what happens to the United Methodist Church because I believe we can access our movement roots, meet people’s needs, and literally change the world through Jesus Christ.