United Methodism has a D3 problem: We are dying; defecting; and drifting.
At an average age of 64, nearly double the US national average of 37, we are dying. The good news is that the average lifespan is 78, the bad news is that means we are fourteen years away from fading into the history books. Lovett Weems calls this the "coming death tsunami of The United Methodist Church." By the time your grandchildren become adults the UMC could be a footnote on the religious landscape of American Christianity, that is the truth.
United Methodists are defecting. In greater and greater numbers as theology becomes less important, quite possibly due to our lack of engagement in the spiritual formation of our members, UM’s are headed in two directions. They are moving toward either non-denominational, highly experiential expressions of faith, or toward more liturgically informed and catechistically demaanding expressions like Roman Catholic and Anglican. They are seeking both powerful spiritual experience and depth of scriptural liturgy as well as a strong sense of accountability that seems to be missing from our spectator based understanding of church. We lowered the bar of spiritual expectations and they stepped over it on the way out the door. United Methodists are defecting, that is the truth.
United Methodists are drifting. My feeling is that more than either dying or defecting, United Methodists are drifting into a complete disengagement with their spiritual life. It is not that they are abandoning their faith, as a matter of fact just try to remove them from your rolls, they will staunchly object (of course for some of you that’s because they want to keep their funeral plot, but that’s back to dying). They have succumbed to being nominally religious and practically agnostic. Our Easter and Christmas Eve members whose disengagement is evident by the continuing decline in worship attendance across the connection. United Methodists are drifting, that is the truth.
One last piece of truth, there is no magic bullet. There is no miracle set of materials that will allow us to buy and bargain our way out of dying, defecting, and drifting into non-existence. We are not here today to try to promote a book, sell a curriculum, or to tell you it is going to be easy for you to help bring renewal to your local church. We are here to say that God is not done with the United Methodist Church and you can be part of restoring the movement that changed both England and shaped the United States if you are willing to do the hard work of ministry our foremothers and fathers were committed to doing.
You see the Methodist movement was not a movement of bishops and clergy, it was a movement of common people with an uncommon passion for Jesus. Unlike us they did not need a “Call to Action,” you couldn’t hold them back from sharing their faith and transforming their world (BTW, I’m pro-Call to Action as long as its grounded in Wesleyan theology and empowered by spiritual renewal). They believed that resurrection was a life-transforming fact, that the Bible was God’s word, and that the world needed Jesus. They met in brush arbors outside of town, held camp meetings with fiery preaching, and, perhaps most importantly, set up systems of spiritual formation that called people into relationships that helped them live at a higher level, held them together when their life fell apart, and held them accountable to be the people of God that God had called them to be. Somewhere along the line we have domesticated our faith and forgotten that we are called to help people become disciples and not just make decisions. We have reduced our spiritual commitment to a one and done spirituality when what it needs is a system that reinforces a daily walk with Jesus. This is what I know, disciple making is scriptural, historical, and practical and demands that we reclaim our focus upon spiritual formation as a driving force to empower the renewal of our local churches.
Consumed by the Call,
Consumed by the Call,
Lovett Weems' address about the coming "death tsunami" of The United Methodist Church:
Lovett H. Weems, Jr. - UMC Realities from Lewis Center on Vimeo.
Christine Dodson's report about the state of NC Conference Churches
Christine Dodson - Financial Overview Introduction from NCCUMC.org on Vimeo.