Where to look for vitality in the UMC

Not really news. The United Methodist Church continues to shrink in the United States even as it grows in Africa and other places around the globe. At 12 million, we are but a drop in the Christian ocean, but if you looked on a world map for places where United Methodism is growing and vibrant, you would look outside the United States.

With the interest our denominational leaders have in boosting vitality and growth in the church, I wonder if we will study what is working in Africa to help guide our thinking about what has gone wrong in the United States.


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4 thoughts on “Where to look for vitality in the UMC

  1. My experience is that those who are intimately involved with the Methodist Church in Africa (both its growth and its life) find it an incredibly complex institution and context. The biggest issues I hear from my family and friends there has very little to do with church growth and a lot more to do with the complexity of the relationship with the church in the North and West and how to be really helpful in the midst of daily struggles for life and bread. Bringing it down to “Africa-growth” and “North America – decline” is, from my perspective, missing the point of what is happening in both of our contexts.

    This also reminded me, to a different point, of the rambunctious western iconoclast, Ed Abbey, who said something like this: “Growth is the ideology of the cancer cell, it’s only goal is the death of the host.” And while decline in numbers doesn’t seem like a good thing…it is not, by necessity, bad. It may be. It may very well be.

    1. I agree with you 100% on the cult of growth, Michael, although I do think sustained and persistent shrinkage is not a good sign of God’s favor. Sometimes it is necessary to be smaller to be more faithful.

      But, given the denomination’s concern about growth, I wonder if it is looking to Africa. Right now, in the US, the model seems to be looking to the megachurch precisely because it is growing. If growth is the barometer, then we need to look outside our borders.

      For all the reasons you mention, of course, it is not so simple. But I wanted to push a little at the underlying assumptions that seem to be driving conversations at the highest levels of the denomination these days.

    2. Growth for growth’s sake is problematical. However, if we believe that The UMC is a viable and worthwhile part of His Kingdom then we should try to help it grow.

      Nevertheless, people who don’t see a need for growth should forsake receiving any six-inch pieces of green paper from any part of the denomination because then they are simply taking from a shrinking pie.

  2. While I have never been to Africa to witness United Methodism on that continent, I have spoken with others who have; including African pastors and church leaders. In those conversations two practices seem to be common: extensive use of lay preachers/leaders and a system akin to the early class meeting and society structures.

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