Sunday, April 29, 2012

Deep Change in the UMC

One of the biggest discussions at General Conference is about restructuring the church.  This matter needs our prayer and deep attention.  In a previous post, I outlined my review and summary of the Call to Action report that was distributed in the past year.  Here, I want to talk about why the comments I’ve heard at General Conference that lead me to support it still.  I am very aware that this is a radical change for our denomination.   The more I learn about change that sticks, the more I understand that transformation does not come through rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic or even a boat that hasn’t sunk yet!  Deep Change shaped my understanding about this, and I highly recommend the book to anyone in the midst of change.  When deep change is proposed, lots of people aren’t going to like it.  In fact, lots of people flee from it.  But for organizations on the decline, it is the option.  Incremental change is just a stepping stone to death.  Deep change is crucial.

One of our leading pastors, Adam Hamilton, shared about the need our church is in.

In the past five years, our membership has declined by 5.3%. However, attendance has declined by 8.6% (that’s 291, 600 people we’ve lost in five years)!
-       We would close the NW Texas, New England, Dakota, Pacific Northwest, Florida, Kansas West, and Redbird Conference to equal this number!
-       We will last less than 50 years at the current rate of decline
The key indicators for our future are baptisms of children/confirmation for teens
-       These have declined 21% in the past five years. 
-       At this rate, in 25 years we will no longer have children or youth in our churches
-       Back in the 70s, people left because they didn’t like us.  Today, they are graduating from this life to heaven.  Over half of our members are over the age of 60. 

The primacy goal of the Call to Action is to create a more effective way of doing connectional ministry.

Here is the heart of the plan:
1.     Create/sustain congregations
2.     Allow annual conferences to reorganize
3.     Form a more nimble structure to respond to challenges and act
4.     Raise up 2,000 next-generation clergy

In an earlier presentation, Bishop Goodpastor shared these thoughts with us.

Our council of bishops approved the general direction of this with only two dissenting votes.  This was an astounding statement to me.  While our bishops are a diverse group of people, they were able to see the need for radical change and came together in support of it.  This speaks volumes to me, and highlights the urgency of where we are as a denomination. 

The council asked “what will best increase the number of vital congregations worldwide?” and responded to that.

Here are some challenging questions he shared with us:

Do you long for the church to live on just as it is? Or do you long to see a revival of witness? 
What if we were moving forward?

One of our African bishops shared this thought about ministry in Africa with us, “In the heart of ministry, we put the mission of the church, making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  This is where we need to return.

I was warmed and challenged by these words that Adam Hamiltons shared:

What do you dream for the United Methodist Church – do you dream for her? Do you pray for her?

May we be a praying and dreaming church!  Please join me as we continue to hold on to hope for God’s bride, the church.

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