|U.S. churches face
crisis, discipleship leaders say|
By Linda Green*
March 21, 2006 |
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
The fact that 43 percent of United Methodist churches
in America did not receive a member by profession of faith in 2004 is an
indicator that congregations are in trouble, say leaders of the denomination's
Both the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive of the United Methodist Board of
Discipleship, and Bishop Michael Coyner, board president, cited that statistic
during addresses at the March 14-18 board meeting.
Coyner, leader of the United Methodist Church's Indiana Area, made the
observation during a presentation on the seven vision pathways the Council of
Bishops, with the denomination's Connectional Table, is using to help the church
make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation the world. One of the
council's pathways is transforming existing congregations by helping them become
more effective and faithful in ministry.
"There is one number in our denomination which keeps going up," Coyner said. "It
is the percentage of churches that did not receive even one person as a new
member by profession of faith, a number that is now up to 43 percent.
"If there is any number in our denomination that is steadily growing, that is
it, and it is causing all kinds of other numbers to decline, including our
ability to stand before God and say we are doing a good job in making
Existing congregations need to be transformed in a variety of ways, but at the
heart of the transformation is "simply to have a passion that we are all about
making disciples for Jesus Christ," the bishop said.
The other pathways include developing new congregations; teaching the Wesleyan
model of forming disciples of Jesus Christ; strengthening clergy and lay
leadership; reaching and transforming the lives of new generations of children;
eliminating poverty in community with the poor; and expanding racial-ethnic
Greenwaldt said many of the denomination's U.S. churches "are in real trouble."
In addition to receiving no members by profession of faith, she said, membership
and church attendance are also in decline, as well as contributions to
She noted that the average age of people in the denomination's U.S. churches is
between 57 and 62, but millions of young people who live in the same towns,
cities and suburbs are attending house churches, marketplace ministries and
cyber-churches. "They continue to avoid going to our churches and to similar
denominations," she said.
'Consumer church' problem
Though the denomination emphasizes clergy and lay collaboration, Greenwaldt said
"the reality is that many churches continue practices that call for a passive
laity who wait for the direction of the clergy." She described this laity as
"passive churchgoers" or "lethargic consumers" who are addicted to a "consumer
The Rev. Tyrone Gordon, pastor of St. Luke "Community" United Methodist Church
in Dallas, agreed. He and the Rev. Kent Millard, pastor of St. Luke United
Methodist Church in Indianapolis, addressed openness, the need for being
passion-driven, evangelism and discipleship, and the impact of evangelism on the
"We are producing a generation of religious consumers who are always looking at
what the Lord can do for them, instead of committed disciples who ask what is it
that we can do for the Lord," Gordon said.
He attributed the continuous growth of his congregation and his understanding of
discipleship to a cycle of reaching, teaching, training and employing - a
cyclical view of the task of evangelism and discipleship.
"In order to make disciples ... we must capture the minds, hearts, trust and
respect of people," he said. "The task of evangelism and discipleship is to make
the liberating power of the gospel of Christ become real in word and deed."
Radical change needed
The time for an incremental quick fix has passed, Greenwaldt said. "We are
living in a world and in a church that need radical intervention. The status quo
will not overcome the inertia holding us in place."
She called on church leaders and members to return to the basic disciplines of
the Christian faith: prayer, Bible study, fasting, participating in worship and
the sacraments, doing good and doing no harm - the essential work of spiritual
"The church does not need more managers," she said. "Rather, the church needs
Instead of emphasizing what is wrong, the church's focus instead must be on
gifts and opportunities for ministry, she said. "We must throw away our belief
that command and control systems will change the church in order to impact the
world. Instead, we must learn our way into the future" and follow God's lead.
"Our task of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the
world is not a small task," she said. "It is a worldwide task, and it is needing
Making disciples means helping people understand the basic patterns and
practices of the faith and using the formula found in Micah 6:8, she said. "We
must do justice. We must love kindness, and we must walk humbly with God. This
work of being a disciple and making a difference in the world is not our work,
it is God's work through us."
Laity Sunday themes
meeting, board members also:
- Participated in an interactive panel
discussion moderated by Bishop Charlene Kammerer on making disciples.
- Became familiar with the agency's new
strategic directions document.
- Called for staff to continue work on a new
agency logo and slogan and to pursue a single brand identity for all the
work and content of the Board of Discipleship.
- Approved themes for Laity Sunday for
2009-2012. The themes for "Disciples Transforming the World" will be Through
Prayers, 2009; Through Presence, 2010; Through Gifts, 2011; and Through
- Received an update on "The Seeker Study," a
joint project with United Methodist Communications, to better understand the
needs, preferences, motivations, attitudes and behaviors of spiritual
seekers in two age groupings - 21-40 and 41-60.
- Began compiling legislation for the 2008
General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news
writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or