What Isn’t Said At Every Dying Methodist Church

What Isn't Said At Every Dying Methodist Church

Was reading this article earlier today about a 142 year old United Methodist Church that is dying a typical slow death in the UMC. Nothing really out of the ordinary with a UMC falling in membership. We’ve had these before, one such instance I could find with a quick search. What was most interesting to me with this article was the responses of ‘why’ this is happening and their total blindness to their own control over it.

The size of the congregation whittles down each year as older members pass away and younger generations choose to attend what Strauch refers to as mega churches. Main Street United claims just 35 members and averages between 15 to 20 for its services.

The future of the church is in peril, considering the average age of the congregation is 82 and the youngest families in the church are in their 60s.

“A lot of it has been due to deceased members,” says Robert Hunt, who is nearing his 15th year as the church pastor. “We’ve had a lot of walk-in traffic from the neighborhood, but they don’t stay.”

First off if you want to be a church that is growing you need to stop worrying about, and playing the victim of, the mega-church. Faith population wise the mega-church only covers a small percentage of people. If trends pan out there will be continued movement back towards a close, relational, faith community by generations to come. The mega-church will continue to be around, but this relationship will be a both/and not an either/or.

If you are a church that has ‘a lot of walk-in traffic from the neighborhood’ (which is awesome) but they do not stay then you need to be asking yourself as a congregation, “WHY?” Why are they not staying? Reading on we might have some idea.

The Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church owns Main Street United, and Hunt says conference officials advised him and the trustees to merge with another or modernize by putting in a projection screen and musical instruments for worship.

The congregation opposes installing new technology and prefers praise and worship as traditional as the three-floor structure the church operates out of on the corner of East Main Street and Pershing Drive in the Emily Kimbrough Historic District.

What does this tell whomever visits? This congregation is just fine dying. They do not care to revive the health of their church. To anyone who visits, they will sense this. No, projection and contemporary music are not the cure-alls for a dying church. Changing the culture of the church, which changing up worship and technologies is a step, gives people something to look forward to in the future.

What I found crazy with this church historically was this nugget in describing the church architecture (which sounds pretty impressive in places).

There is a wood accordion door that cuts the sanctuary ground floor down in size by about a third. Strauch says an orchestra played there in the days when hundreds attended services.

Pretty sure the insertion of an orchestra was a pretty contemporary thing do some 100-80 years ago. It’s in this church’s DNA to be innovative in worship, but they’ve totally stalled at one point in this aging congregations life as ‘the sweet spot’ and they are happy to take their ship/church down with them.

This ends how we all know it will. They know it as well.

For Strauch and the rest of the shrinking but unwavering congregation, the idea of shutting the doors on the church is incomprehensible. The Main Street United members have no intention of being another statistic.

“Most of us will hold out because we don’t want to go to the big churches,” Strauch says. “There’s some people that want us to close it down, but we’re going to keep it open.”

These doors will close and it is a shame. This church could have had a lasting life if the people who claim to love it would actually live into the culture the church had when they probably started going to it.

Photo from the Star Press photo gallery of this church

the beginnings of the Methodist Mission in America?

A number of years ago when the Episcopal church has elected Bishop Gene Robinson and had gone through the turmoil of theological, ethical, and cultural debates of gay clergy and affirming those positions there were many from the Episcopal church. Not just because of that reason, there were a few localized reasons, my friend Thomas left his position within the Episcopal church and started an Anglican church under the direction of a Rwandan Bishop and the Anglican Mission in America. So essentially he started a new church a few miles from his prior church and was ordained as a missionary to America.

Yes, this is a very short history to some really complex decisions and people. But this is a blog posting, not a book.

With that short history in mind, I am curious to see if something similar would be at play within the United Methodist Church as they approach General Conference 2012 and American United Methodist Pastors have become more vocal in their intentions and support of a full inclusion into the church.

Africa is our fastest (and maybe only) growing region of the church and they are extremely influenced by a conservative methodist framework. Again, more sweeping generalizations.

So I was reading this article on a “Splinter Group” of Methodist leaders who have resigned their credentials and started a “Methodist Revival” group.

five former United Methodist Church pastors who recently hogged the limelight when they resigned from their church at the same time, will today launch their church, the Methodist Revival Church (MRF) at Harare Gardens today.

Former UMC pastor and MRF leader Philip Mupindu, will be the main speaker at the event that is expected to run from 8am to 2pm. MRF marketing officer Francis Chitambira said various gospel musicians including Agatha Murudzwa were lined up for the event.

Also expected to perform at the event are various choral groups including Methodist groups Marimba aJehovha Gospel Singers and Nyevero Dzedenga. “Many people from various parts of the country confirmed they will attend,” Chitambira said.

“We also invited members of other churches, including our former church’s bishop (Eben Nhiwatiwa) and pastors. although I am not sure whether the bishop will be able to accommodate our event in his schedule, some pastors confirmed.”

Chitambira said the aim of the launch was to explain the new church, its origins and mission, which will serve as apostles seek to bring more people to God through working with other churches to spread the word. The new church maintains the red colour being used by UMC, but dropped the colour blue for green.

“The red on our church logo symbolises the Holy Ghost fire coming from heaven towards the church and also the blood of Jesus who died for all humankind,” Chitambira said. “Green symbolises life. We also have the Bible, showing that we are bound by the word of God, which is a living word.”

The new church will also use hymns, from both the UMC and the Methodist in Zimbabwe, together with other praise and worship songs. Although UMC and the Mupindu group maintained that the UMC as a church did not split, but that just five people withdrew their services from the church, the fact that some congregants left the UMC to fellowship with them means there was a split.

Call me alarmist if you like. History does repeat itself and I am sure that this idea could be a real possibility at play if/when all things go crazy in the United Methodist Church.

Delegation Grudge Match! #umc #umclead #tnac2011

While at Annual Conference we found ourselves in some deadlocks of General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegate voting. Talk was made of suspending the rules in order to implement a more stream lined and exciting approach to choosing delegates for GC & JC. Have an all out Grudge Match!


Headline Match! Delegation Grudge Match! Not sure who or how to vote for candidates? Not sure how to get someone from making amendments to the amendments that wasn’t even ratified or was taken out of the order of discussion for or against. Not sure who gets voted as a delegate for the big league conferences?

Undercard Match! Probationary Candidates vs the Board of Ordained Ministry!! Who is good enough to get ordained but then those who are to be passed for another year or two?.. Well, Let’s settle this once and for all with a United Methodist Holy Conferencing Grudge Match (you are welcome to market it as a Death Match if you like).

So in this Wesleyan Battle Royal we came up with some of the fighters on this Holy Conferencing Royal Rumble (feel free to create your own.

  • “Pastor of Disaster”
  • “The Pastor of Pain”
  • “The Vicar of Vexation”
  • “The Reverend of Rough”
  • “The Clergy Killer”
  • “Minister of Mayhem”
  • “The Church Terminator”
  • “The Fundamentalist”
  • “The Libanator”
  • “The Protester”
  • “Blessed Peacemaker” (special guest referee)
  • “Honky Tonk Pastor”
  • “Rev Riot”
  • “Means of Grapple”
  • “The Bishop of Bullying”
  • “The Witness”
  • “Superintendant of Smashing”
  • “Undercover Baptist”

Feel free to create any fighters story lines.. I’m personally looking forward to the battle between “the Minister of Mayhem” v “the Bishop of Bullying.”

The Book of Discipline The Musical #umc #umclead #tnac2011

With the success of “The Book of Mormon”  & our United Methodist Church Annual Conferences happening around the UMC over the past month and half. Some friends & I had running imaginations that “The Book of Discipline” is just as confusing as the Book of Mormon so why not create a equally compelling broadway play that can debut right before General Conference in 2012.

“The Book of Discipline” a musical based on the doctrinal works of the United Methodist Church. Musical numbers would include:

  • “Prevenient Grace, How Sweet the Realization”
  • “Where As, Hence, Be It”
  • “Christ, from whom All Committees Flow”
  • “Take My Life and Let it SPRC”
  • “I am a Methodist…and Methodists just whatever…”
  • “Depth of Resolutions”
  • “Jesus, Lover of my Social Principles”
  • “Lo He comes with Consensus Descending”
  • “Where As, Hence, Be It Therefore”
  • “Oh Come and Dwell in, this huge book we Created”
  • “Oh for a Thousand ‘Vital Congregations’ To Sing”

Creators & Contributors to “The Book of Discipline” the musical Heather Bennett, Russell Hale, Brad Smith, & you who leave ideas in the comments.


Does the UMC really want us to disengage? #umclead

In pondering the whole “Call to Action” and my thoughts yesterday on “Poking the Church” it had me wondering. Why don’t more people get involved and take on their communities and their faith.. What is the one thing? Are we all just to lazy? or maybe we claim to be to ‘busy?’

Maybe, as Dave Meslin puts in this short talk, its more a web of things that compound. He’s talking up a civic cultural apathy. But this in many ways translates into our church cultures. Especially found his framework of intentional exclusion very insightful.

Poke the Church! #umclead

Last week I spent a good part of a day listening and communicating with a number of folks during my UMC’s global Leadership Summit webcast. It was a good time to be a twitter native. Our community of folks were not intentionally courted for the webcast, but we sure did have our own little conference. Jeremy has a great run down of all that fun.

The main focus of the summit was content that is held within this “Call to Action” a document created for the church that tells us stuff we’ve all pretty much known. The United Methodist Church is dying (at least in the USA) & there are some basic tenants of vibrant growing church communities to refract off of.

My problem engaging the Call to Action as I did with the ReThink Church campaign is simple. We are still doing a bunch of talking..

Recently read “Poke the Box” by Seth Godin. Like most Godin books he beats his themes like a roadkill on the interstate. Poke the Box is this.. Get out there, stop talking and do something..

Our church hierarchy needs to stop being a talking head and get out and do something if they expect to bring change to the denomination that has offered a living. Are our bishops actually helping to lead change hands on? Probably not, because that task might seem gigantic. But if you can do that for one or two and find some successes then the credibility and branding of that change agent carries greater than saying the right things.

Agency heads and employees need to stop seeing their work as some given a career but a passionate mission that takes immersion into where they need to be. It is my observation that agency work is about meetings after meetings to know what is the right thing.. Who needs right all the time when constantly worried about being right leads to an eventual death?

I don’t care about people who want to talk change. I want to see and know people who are doing change. That is exciting to me and worth a global conversation.

in my opinion..

Why YouthWorker Circuit?

In the past year I’ve been getting a number of questions asking, “What are you up to these days?” It has been a rather loaded question as I’ve been leading up to this point. I’ve been doing some side work, which has been fun and viable, but all the while wanting to put something like YouthWorker Circuit together. But why YouthWorker Circuit?


We believe that youth ministry is a calling.

We also believe that youth workers don’t have time to do it all and are probably distracted from the parts of youth ministry that they love by the parts that they don’t. And that good youthworkers walk away from their calling every day because they feel under-resourced, over-tasked, and alone.

So we thought..

What if there was a place where you could have instant access to quality Wesleyan curriculum and program ideas? What if there was a resource that prompted you with inventive organizational ideas, guiding you toward better, more personal ministry?

What if there was an opportunity to regularly share genuine, live conversation in community with likeminded youthworkers from across the country?

So we have done..

Surviving to Thriving in Youth Ministry #psym11

I’ve been at Perkins School of Youth Ministry this week teaching a number of topics. One of my classes is on the web, one of my ‘short shops’ was on “Brand YOUth Ministry.” The big one for me was teaching a class on moving from surviving in youth ministry to thriving in youth ministry.

At the core, there is a lot of self reflection, discernment and then team building to set the culture and vision before all the planning and implementations. Then it is a matter of “rinse & repeat” of the planning and communications.

Here’s the outline of our class that we worked through. If you haven’t used a Prezi for a presentation, do yourself a favor and play around with it. They are fun to create and are a nice break from a keynote or powerpoint.

methoApp : the methodist church into the 21st century mobile technology

4610420499_2985c7fd15_oyou might have seen my tweet about it, or maybe the article itself about the british methodist church's new iphone app. in the short time i've had it i really do like it. my quick thoughts:

it isn't over done: too often when we make stuff in the church it has to do everything for everyone and it ends up sucking at all things. like a 'one size fits all' life preserver, it doesn't actually fit anyone. so it has a daily prayer, a daily scripture meditation & news.

it has a simple news section that not only provides the usual suspect news on the methodist church, but also tweets mentioning 'methodist' (at least that seems to be the key search term, so you should see this posting show up at some point).

the formatting is really good. some of the stuff other churches put out is taken from some other medium and just put in through some cut & paste job. i appreciate that the content looks like it should be there.

it is free.. that is a nice part about any iphone app.

i know some of the other umc agencies and entities of the church are trying to put out their own application, i think they'd be wise to take a look at the first one on the scene

me speaking & talking : here & there for your amusement

Pcn10_speaker_300x250next week i'll be doing some of that speaking thing that i do.

wednesday thru friday i'll be in and around the dallas area for the united methodist reporters communicators conference. i'll be leading a churchy discussion based off the keynote speakers thoughts on new media strategy. the possibilities of that conversation could be amazing, so i'm excited to get to lead that. the next day i'll sit on a panel with a bunch of social media geek / church nerd friends on, what else, social media. that will be easily enjoyable. hope we can bring some stuff to the table that challenges everyone in the room. that's the task i'm giving myself.

flying back on friday and then on saturday is up early to volunteer with podcamp nashville and put on my session of 'sex, lies, and social media.' that's going to be interesting & a whole lot of fun. vegas is betting my awkward statement and subsequent blushing will be an over/under at 4 (its just 20 mins of talking otherwise it'd be much higher).

unfortunately, if you are not already signed up for the communicators conference then you'll have to miss me this go round, but you can still sign up for podcamp & check out me and some of the other fabulous minds of technology and what they are thinking about.