Where is the United Methodist Church going in the next 25 to 30 years?

This is a question which I received from a member of the congregation earlier this year.

This is a great question, which I am not sure that I am equipped to answer fully with all of its implications. I will answer where I hope the United Methodist Church is going in the next 25 to 30 years, which may not be where it actually goes. My hope first of all is that the UMC continues to be faithful to God’s call. I believe that the particular way of understanding faith as United Methodists is a way that will continue to produce fruit in God’s kingdom. Every day when I am at church, I pray for renewal within the United Methodist Church, spiritual revival in the state and for Resurrection to be faithful to her vision, mission and journey. My hope is that the United Methodist Church will continue to rediscover and renew the practices of John Wesley and the early Methodists – meeting in small groups, a fervor for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, and a flexibility in using whatever means are necessary to make disciples of Jesus Christ and “spread scriptural holiness across the land” (John Wesley).

What do you think?

12 thoughts on “Where is the United Methodist Church going in the next 25 to 30 years?

  1. I think it’s going South and East – as in Africa, Korea, etc. This seems to be the trend currently, and if you believe the most recent projections it seems to be the place where our denomination will experiencing the most growth and spiritual vitality over the decades ahead.

    The future of United Methodists just might be inextricably linked to the way we respond to this shift. Are we going to be a truly global church or are we going to minimize the contributions of our sisters and brothers outside of the West?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think there are difficult questions behind these observations. However, this will be an incredibly important issue in the years ahead – I would argue far more important than the current controversies that find their way to the center of the discussion, even as they are connected in ways that have become apparent in the Anglican communion.

  2. Matt – Nice. I appreciate your response and think that you are correct. My hope is that there will be a move toward an global denomination where there is open dialogue between beleivers around the globe. I think that Methodism, at its best, is excellent at allowing different voices to coexist within the same community. However, in all conversations, there needs to be a willingness for each side to be able to say with integrity – “But, I might be wrong.”

  3. I regularly spend time working with churches in Russia. The United Methodists have joined with Baptists and Pentecostals to start a seminary and plan 100 churches in the next ten years. But the United Methodist church in Russia is MUCH different than what I see in the U.S. (see my blog about a Massachusetts United Methodist church).

    Russian churches believe God’s word is the ultimate authority. What I’ve observed in the U.S. is that the UMC puts culture in autrhority over God’s word. Huge, huge difference.

    What I see coming in the future is a split, with the UMC churches in the rest of the world leading the way.

    I loved to hear your desire to return to the ways of John Wesley. Take Hebrews 4:12 for example:

    ” For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit,… .”

    John Wesley said the following about this verse: “It is the ordinary method of the Spirit of God to convict sinners by the law. ”

    In other words God’s law is important. A few other quotes from John Wesley:

    John Wesley, in writing to a young evangelist instructed, “Preach 90 percent law and 10 percent grace.”

    John Wesley wrote: “While he cries out, O what love have I to thy Law! all the day long is my study in it. He sees daily, in that divine mirror, more and more of his own sinfulness. He sees more and more clearly, that he is fullness a sinner in all things — that neither his heart nor his ways are right before God, and that every moment sends him to Christ. Therefore I cannot spare the Law one moment, no more than I can spare Christ, seeing I now want it as much to keep me to Christ, as I ever wanted it to bring me to Him. Otherwise this ‘evil heart of unbelief’ would immediately ‘depart from the living God.’ Indeed each is continually sending me to the other–the Law to Christ, and Christ to the Law.”

  4. BrickBalloon – Thank you for your comment. I have been to Russia, visited the United Methodist seminary in Moscow and also visited several local congregations. I agree that there are differences between the way that faithful United Methodists live together in the US and in Russia.

    I disagree with your assertion that the UMC in the United States places the authority of culture over the authority of scripture. You will find different congregations that will place varying strength of emphasis on scripture, tradition, reason and experience in living a faithful life. As I previously commented, I believe that a beautiful thing about being United Methodist is that differences of opinion can exist within the community. I think that both questions are needed at different times – “How can these things exist in tension?” and also “Which is right and which is wrong?” I hope to more often ask the former question rather than the latter.

    Certainly, in regard to scripture the Book of Discipline has comments on scripture in the doctrinal standards, indicating that scripture contains and / or reveals all things necessary for salvation.

  5. Andrew,

    I couldn’t agree with you more that a future for United Methodism as such relies on our capacity to reclaim our Wesleyan past– including an unswerving commitment to the formation and propagation of contagious accountable discipleship groups that do whatever they need to do to accomplish their mission.

    But that is only one part of what Mr Wesley was actually doing– and indeed the Third General Rule makes that point explicit. As much as he was calling people to disciples on mission, he was also calling them to be deeply connected to the worship, spirituality, and form of life found in the church of his day (mostly the Church of England). There was a sort of both-andness to his work and his thinking at its best– BOTH the movement AND the institution, BOTH the small groups AND the tradition and worship of the C of E (or whatever form of congregational life persons were attached to as they entered a Methodist group).

    What happened in 1784, I think, represented a bit of a collapse of the BOTH-AND that Methodism had known and flourished under in England. The BOTH-AND there was accomplished through two different kinds of institutions, if you will, that were interacting– the Methodist class meetings/bands/societies AND the Church of England. It was the interaction of these differentiated but interrelated groups that, I think, gave Methodism its power– as persons involved in both could draw on the strengths of both at all times.

    When we became a church over here, though, suddenly what had been essentially an interrelationship of two different kinds of institutions was collapsed into only one institution– a society-church. We’ve struggled with the glomming of interests of these two sides ever since, with one trying to claim supremacy over the other, rather than providing institutional space for both to function fully in their own realms while remaining interdependent.

    Worship practices and expectations may be the place where the glomming is most evident. Methodist worship practices in the societies were more “contemporary” and “immediate”– focused on expressing and teaching the life of discipleship as it could be experienced in the lives of folks in the class meetings. Those same Methodists ALSO experienced and cherished the worship of the Church of England, and Methodists were the ones who pressed the C of E to move toward much more frequent celebration of Holy Communion. We were both revivalistic AND sacramental, both contemporary AND traditional, both evangelical AND liturgical. We expressed these different sides in different ways in different places. And we denied neither, nor did we claim, in those days, that one was superior to the other.

    I think that’s a large part of our struggles around worship and evangelism now. We’ve glommed the evangelical concerns ONTO worship, and expected one 60 minute service to carry the weight of both without the institutional supports to do either as well as each deserves. The worship concerns weren’t about evangelism, but rather about those who gathered offering the best sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God, exercising their priesthood if you will, as they possibly could. Evangelism as practiced by Methodists happened NOT primarily through worship, but primarily through the small groups– as people invited other people to “flee the wrath to come” and seek the way of Christ with them.

    So I hope, as we may be considering a more Wesleyan way going forward, that we will not limit that perspective to one side or the other, but will instead find creative ways to reclaim our original BOTH-AND heritage.

    Peace in Christ…

  6. Taylor – Thanks for your response. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and thoroughness. I particularly like the language of “contagious accountable discipleship groups” I think that this is right on. An important question looking forward is how does the flexibility and attraction of the first society meetings translate into the current situation. Is there a need for society meetings within the UMC? Within particular congregations? What does this mean for church structure? If someone is a part of a society or discipleship group, does this mean that they are a part of a United Methodist congregation? Does it matter? I am not sure if I have answers to all of these questions, but I believe that they are important. Thanks for continuing the conversation and your intriguing comment.

  7. BrickBalloon is exactly correct. The UMC definitely is putting the culture of “Methodism” over the authority of the scripture. The Wesleys were men of the Bible—not men of the denomination which now bears their name. The UMC’s motto “Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors.” does not fit the church here in the heartland at all. I was recently brought to task by a new minister, a district superintendent, and a UMC representative minister for having never joined the UMC. I spent 22 years in a wonderful congregation as the organist, youth choir director, Sunday School teacher, etc. It only took our new minister five months to tear the church in two. He wants to return to “ancient” Methodism. ??? His church is not open to people who are not Methodist—only to those who are Methodist due to a piece of paper with their name on it. I am baptised into the death, burial, and resurrection of my Lord Jesus Christ. I have never “joined” and earthly church just for this reason—that the denomination will always trump Jesus’ death, resurrection, and plan for our salvation. The UMC is headed in a very dangerous direction when bishops, superintendents, mediators, and lay leadership supports the exclusion of church family when certain secular requirements are not met. Unquestioning support of ministers with an agenda that only supports Methodism and not Christianity will eventually destroy the UMC. How can the church do God’s work effectively in the worldwide community with this developing and quickly-becoming pervasive attitude in our local churches? I am sad beyond belief at the abandonment by my former church family. You’ll never be able to expect positive change for the UMC in the next 25 years when some of its ministers are systematically tearing apart the provincial and local churches of our heartland.

  8. Christian Only – Wow, I read a lot of pain in your post. I am sorry to hear that you have had such a bad experience in your local church. I think that you are right – as a Christian one’s primary understanding of oneself should be as a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ. I also believe that the United Methodist Church and many other denominations offer value in a particular understanding or way of living out that faith. This is part of the richness of all the branches of Christianity.

    Whether or not you choose to continue to be a part of your local United Methodist congregation, I hope that you will be able to find a community of faith where you will be able to live in community with other disciples of Jesus Christ.

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