I had the opportunity to briefly attend a feedback session that Path1, the board/organization in The United Methodist Church working to plant churches, had with our conference (The Peninsula-Delaware Conference). When I say briefly, I had to leave midway through the meeting for the launch of our Men’s Ministry that same night. But I came away with a few thoughts- especially as I currently pastor a 7 year old church plant in the heart of our conference.
The presenter provided some compelling statistics (and being a baseball fan- I like statistics!) Just two to share with you.
- The United Methodist Church is losing 1200 members a week.
- 67% of new attenders in our churches were invited by laity rather than clergy
First, about membership…I’m not sold on tracking membership. There’s nothing in the Bible about membership…but we are to be making disciples…bringing people to a place in their life where they confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and growing in their faith so to be mature. A “New Members Class” looks alot different if we are concerned about membership instead of professions of faith and people starting their discipleship journey. Being a members speaks to knowing the organizational code, benefits, and belonging to the “club.” Being a disciple means we’ve encountered the transforming love of God and are being called out of our “holy huddle” in order to invite others to participate in this God-life.
The second statistic about new attenders responding to the invitation of laity rather than clergy says a couple of things. First, laity need to catch the vision of bringing people to faith in Christ and growing as disciples. They must understand the priesthood of all believers. Laity must grasp the joyous opportunity to invite people to participate in God’s Kingdom and God’s Kingdom community- the Church.
What discouraged me about the brief part of the meeting that I attended was that the present talking about getting people into our pews. When I heard that statement, I felt that we were trying to revitalize old paradigms where we expect the unchurched to come to us, and come into our churches (hopefully, they will come and tithe as well!). If the UMC is going to plant new faith communities- we need to embrace new paradigms of what “church” is. Maybe it’s a home church, a cell church. Maybe it’s the pastor and/or laity discipling in the coffee shops, gyms, and community centers. Maybe it will take losing the emphasis on our buildings, our rituals, our liturgy, and our institutionalism in order to go to the people and compel/inspire/give witness that JESUS CHRIST has made a difference in our lives and wants to transform their lives as well!
Path1 is meeting with our Congregational Development group today. I pray that God’s wisdom and a passion for reaching the lost moves us to be open to embracing new paradigms of ministry that we have not even imagined yet!