May 11, 2011

Growing Pains: Part I

Church growth is exciting as well as challenging. How members of the congregation deal with the addition of new people can be just as varied, especially if the church was smaller to begin with. Growing Pains will be a 2-part blog post discussing some of things around church growth as it specifically relates to smaller churches.

Members Only
Right or wrong, good or bad, one of the things that happens in smaller churches is the creation of a membership level system. Think of it as different levels of membership such as platinum, gold, and silver members each with its own responsibilities and privileges. Your platinum members are the ones who have been a part of the congregation from the beginning, or near it. They have seen it through the "ups" and stayed with it during its more recent "downs." The level of ownership with platinum members is extremely high, mostly because if they didn't make it happen, it didn't happen. Along with this comes a sense of entitlement which includes privileges such as having a set of church keys, knowledge of "how things work," etc.

Gold and silver members are similar but with less time invested in the congregation and as a result, their responsibilities or privileges are not as large. Some work hard to achieve platinum level while others work just hard enough to maintain whichever level they have reached. These members recognize the different levels and respect those "above" them.

Church growth messes with this membership structure. New people are excited to find ways to get involved in the life of the church and grow in their faith but find themselves running into different levels of membership they didn't know were present. They ask to serve in a particular area without realizing one needs to be a gold member, at least, to volunteer be continued.

Have you witnessed anything like these different levels of membership within the Church? Your church? What was that like?

May 5, 2011

The Disease of the UMC

In a recent blog post, Dr. Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, discussed the decline of "mainline," "evangelical" churches in the U.S. He writes:

Mainline churches are in decline because these movements reached a critical mass such that sufficient numbers of bishops, pastors, elders, deacons and laypeople lost, forsake or otherwise failed to remember the true marks of the church. The church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. When the church becomes divided, unholy, parochial and forsakes historic orthodoxy, then it will decline.
As I was reading his post, I was especially struck by his words concerning the UMC:
The United Methodist Church has spent tens of thousands of dollars promoting the smart marketing byline: “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” But all this “smart marketing” does is underscore the United Methodist disease. This marketing line says nothing about Jesus Christ or the apostolic faith. It actually communicates the very blandness which is the problem when a denomination loses its center.
Could it be that the decline of the UMC is related to the "blandness" of our message as Dr. Tennent suggests? That by saying "Open hearts, open minds, open doors" we aren't saying much of anything and the very message we thought would attract individuals, especially younger ones, is lacking the substance so many are desperately looking for.

Individuals want to know what the United Methodist Church stands for and stands on. I believe we will continue to struggle as a denomination if we lose our connection to the Gospel and fail to "market" that connection to the world around us.

What do you think? Does the UMC (or your church) have a disease? How would you label it?