Vision for the UMC
Everything that I have read and studied over the past several years tells me that the United Methodist Church is a church in decline. To mix metaphors, we are hemorrhaging members like rats off a sinking ship. I can't speak for other conferences, but as far as West Ohio goes, though our area population continues growing, our numbers of UM church members declines. Greatly.
The answer is not to decrease membership requirements. It does not seem like decreasing membership requirements do anything to slow the decline. In fact, the churches I see growing have more stringent membership requirements.
I am not trying to bash the UMC, because I believe in this Church. I don't think John Wesley was perfect, but I admire him and think that we still have a lot to learn from him. In fact, the more I read, the more I'm convinced that Wesley had it right.
This is why the United Methodist Church must do something about the decline.
Andrew Conard wrote a blog post about vision for the UMC, and I am pondering that very subject right now. What should we strive for? What should we look like?
Part of my thoughts revolve around what I've been reading lately - and the absolute need for us to utilize the "means of grace." If it's all about the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God is all about God's sovereignty/rule, and the whole point of everything is to get us humans back in right relationship with God, then wouldn't it stand to reason that we should be doing everything possible to work on that relationship?
In his conclusion to Kingdom Triangle, J. P. Moreland quotes a George Barna survey, reporting that "80% of believers do not sense that they have entered into the presence of God during a typical worship service" and "half of all believers do not believe they have entered into God's presence or connected with him in an intimate way during the past year."
Having just stumbled upon this article from the Onion, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Its impact is how true it is.
I am convinced that this is the sticking point. We're tired of "playing church" and if we aren't entering into God's presence, we're just playing church. And if we, as a church, aren't ushering people into the presence of Almighty God, then we are missing our point completely.
Thus I believe that the vision of the United Methodist Church must include bringing people into God's presence in a way that they experience the Almighty. We should be practicing spiritual practices regularly - prayer, fasting, service, evangelism, giving, Bible study (and Bible meditation - we must learn to love the Word of God, to not just study it, but to allow it to penetrate and shape our hearts) encouraging.
I believe that John Wesley was absolutely onto something, and we would be well set to follow his example in the spiritual disciplines (as well as in his ideas about small group ministry). And the whole thing must be covered in prayer.