by Rev. William Bills
The United Methodist Church doesn't have 100 years
A seminary professor once remarked that “Change happens very slowly and in the church about a hundred years later.” Change is often accompanied by loss, real or imagined. Loss results in grief. Change can be a very emotional process.
In May of 2016, at the United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon, delegates from all over the world debated changes to our rules around the ordination of non-heterosexual persons and the allowance of same sex weddings in our churches. These changes would affect United Methodists all over the world. The debate became quite emotional at times. Talk of schism was significant. Our bishops tabled all legislation on the topic until a special General Conference can be convened in February of 2019. Whether change comes in 2019 or the status quo is upheld church members and clergy will leave the United Methodist Church. Significant change will be occur regardless of the votes cast. Sometimes change just happens.
At a leadership event held at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas one presentation dealt with trying to hold our denomination together in spite of differences around human sexuality. One of the presenters offered data indicating that membership and attendance will drop below one million in the United States by 2050. We are currently at 5.6 million.
To say that lower church attendance is only the result of disagreements over human sexuality is disingenuous. There are many reasons for declining church attendance in America and they cut across all denominations. Church attendance in America has been declining for almost four decades. A 2015 study on growing churches indicates a correlation between growth and innovation. One might infer then that decline and resistance to change possibly go hand in hand.
I will have to live to be 90 to see the year 2050. If I am still around I will check to see if the United Methodist Church has indeed dipped to below one million members in the United States. That would be a decline of over 80% from today.
It wouldn’t appear that we can keep doing forever what we are doing today and expect to leave a viable church to those who come after us. Change can be emotionally trying. It often happens very slowly. The United Methodist Church doesn’t have a hundred years to wait.