This post is by Richard Hunter, senior pastor of Snellville United Methodist Church (North Georgia Conference). He holds a doctorate in parish revitalization from McCormick Theological Seminary (Chicago) and teaches on the adjunct faculty at both Asbury Theological Seminary and the Candler School of Theology. — Ed.
I want to be a part of renewing our Methodist movement for faithfulness in the 21st century.
Renewal requires facing facts — namely that reversing our downward spiral of membership losses and evangelistic ineffectiveness calls for dramatic changes and creative innovations across the church.
I suggest four areas where we need to embrace a different way of doing things:
- We must bring an emphasis on church planting into every district and place it in the DNA of every church.
After 20 years of existence, the average United Methodist congregation brings one new believer to Christ for every 85 members (an 85-to-1 ratio)! In contrast, our new churches reach new believers at a 2-to-1 ratio. After five years, they are still reaching new people, 3-to-1.
The future of our denomination depends on starting new churches every week just as we did at the beginning of the 20th century, yet we put far more resources in serving ourselves rather than church planting.
We must welcome innovative and “out-of-the-box” church plants. To reach today’s culture, we must be starting churches in coffee houses, in warehouses, in homes and movie theaters. Not all church plants can succeed with the UM label. We need to insist on UM theology and accountability but not require these new starts to carry a label that is a huge hurdle for some people.
- We must recognize that growing churches of the future will be multicultural.
Thirty years ago I was taught that fast-growing churches were homogeneous. Not anymore! Many thriving churches are multicultural, especially in our cities.
Most of our conferences are behind the time on this trend. We need to educate, place, and promote pastors who are bilingual and effective in developing these churches.
- We must encourage and embrace innovative and contemporary worship.
This does not mean churches like mine should stop offering “traditional,” main-sanctuary worship services. Our traditional service is still relevant and growing. Yet the trends tell us that innovative worship is here to stay.
We must be wiling to use modern media to 1) reach the unchurched, 2) teach the Gospel to a visual culture, and 3) communicate with people through the modes of communication that they use daily. We must require our seminaries to respect this trend and teach how to be effective in using communication technology.
Virtual churches will be common in the next decade. Will the UMC be a part of this movement or leave it to non-denominational churches?
- We must offer sound doctrine and serious discipleship.
People may choose a church based on the style of worship, the preacher, and the programs. But they stay and commit to a church that disciples them to a cause and a movement that is changing the world. Therefore, we must embrace our Methodist roots and bring scriptural holiness to every community we serve.
People are drawn to high-commitment churches. So let us clearly state the membership expectations of prayer, worship, tithing, and servant living.
Thirty years in ministry have demonstrated to me that God’s Kingdom-design for a community will be served by faithful churches and visionary leaders.
The future of our movement depends on our willingness to be committed to change and innovation regardless of the hardships. May God find many United Methodist churches that will be faithful to His call.
To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!
A version of this column previously appeared in the newsletter of the Wesleyan Renewal Movement.
The WRM is a group of North Georgia clergy seeking “to promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of Wesley and the Bible.”
Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas Area) is scheduled to speak at next month’s WRM annual breakfast (June 18) in Athens, Ga., concurrent with the 2010 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference.