Photo Courtesy of John Wesley Leek
Bishop William Willimon disputes the idea that many people (statistically mind you, not anecdotally) are leaving United Methodist churches because they find themselves in strong disagreement with their pastor or congregation. It happens, but truly rarely.
“That’s an old-fashioned Methodist alibi—‘We’re dying because we’re so prophetic and truthful,’” Willimon has often said. “The words you’re looking for there are actually ‘boring’ and ‘old.’”
I think he's onto something there. Why go to church, he proposes, if it's little more than an inconveniently timed Rotary meeting? I think that may be the second biggest reason young Methodists leave the UMC once they leave their home churches.
The biggest reason membership continues to decline in many annual conferences is that longtime Methodists are dying off and they haven't been replaced.
We clearly have a widespread failure of discipleship.
Consider this shocking statistic: The average United Methodist Church member invites only one person to worship every 38 years. I was first introduced to that statistic by Rev. Andy Stoddard and hoped he was wrong. He wasn't; it's our own leadership who is sharing that information with us.
Why don't we invite our neighbors to church + why do so many leave the UMC after high school?
I think it's a combination of two primary things.
1. Our churches often ARE boring and we don't think other people, especially young people, would like them.
2. We don't have a clue when it comes to discipleship. You have to be a disciple to make disciples and previous generations, the same people who helped nurture me into the faith, have largely not known how to disciple or cared to do it.
We have hope in Jesus and a God who seems to enjoy bringing things back from the dead. That said we have to acknowledge how we got where we are in order to become a faithful church again.