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I’m comparing the United Methodist Church (UMC) to Peter—one of the great disciples of Jesus. In some ways that’s good, and in other ways that is not-so-good. In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 16, Peter is the one who confesses that Jesus is the Messiah—the Christ—that’s good! Just a few sentences later when Peter objects to Jesus speaking about the cross, Peter is chastised by Jesus because he “has his mind on things of man and not things of God,”—that’s not-so-good….
In this respect, I think the UMC as a denomination is a lot like Peter. We know who Jesus is, but we prefer the glory of following Jesus to the cross that is on the path where Jesus is leading us. I think we have set our minds on human things, and not the things of God. I think having our minds on the wrong things is causing anxiety in our beloved denomination today. Sometimes our anxiety is subtle, and at other times it paralyzes us. I think we can learn from Peter’s experiences.
Today in the UMC (like several other denominations) we are wringing our hands and there is frenzied activity because we see our numbers shrinking. It seems that we long to retrieve/preserve a golden age of church, when “everyone went to church.” Back then, the way to get the biggest market-share of people was to have excellent facilities and great programs. These facilities and programs were more effective than the competency of ministers and the commitment of congregations. But, retrieving or even preserving this golden age is proving difficult. It seems a great shift has occurred, and “everyone” no longer goes to church. Many things are different now—too many to list—and it doesn’t really matter what is changing. What matters is what we are doing….
What are we doing? It seems that the UMC is doing all the right things—from a human perspective. If you are reading this blog, and you attend a United Methodist church, see if you recognize any of these in your church:
- We seek efficiency—we reorganize, streamline, and do more (or at least as much as we’ve always done) with less.
- We look for information—we study trends and demographics; we attend workshops to learn about generational characteristics/differences.
- We value experts—we hire consultants to tell us how to market our churches to religious consumers.
- We target our audience—we “think young” and we pin our hopes on younger clergy who can relate to our target demographic.
- We market ourselves—we have our successes made into commercials and publish them so that others see our glory.