Who is growing?

In dialogue in his comments thread, Ben Witherington III made the following observation about where United Methodism is growing.

In any given year Asbury trains more MDivs than the seven smallest UM seminaries put together, or the 3 largest ones. In the past 20 years since I’ve been at Asbury, this has produced a large sea change in many conferences. For example, the bishop of North Alabama told me last year that all the church plants except one were being done by Asbury grads, and many of them are thriving. In fact, the only places we have noticable church growth are in Evangelical or Moderate UM churches, almost without exception. These are just facts. So no, it is unlikely there will be a mass exodus from all over church, especially when the financial ramifications of doing so become clear.

His claim makes me wish we had a way of identifying congregations by theological focus.

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7 thoughts on “Who is growing?

  1. I think his data may be off regarding Asbury training as many as the top three official UM seminaries, but he’s right that it trains more than the bottom seven. I researched it for a post that I never published. :p

  2. But, John–remember how the consultants report for the bishop’s CTA discovered that theology DOESN’T MATTER much at all in considering church vitality. I don’t believe that for a minute. Do you?

  3. Theology doesn’t matter? Not where I come from. And I’m not from Asbury (though I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Witherington), I’m a recent Duke Divinity graduate. And after seeing what all is going on with pastors from a number of other seminaries, I’m honestly grateful for what Duke has taught me.
    I hope I don’t see the UMC go the way of the dodo in my lifetime, but at this point, I’m not sure it won’t happen in the next decade.

    1. Holly, you’d think they’d have better things to spend their money on. And, for what it’s worth, theologically conservative (and moderate to a certain extent) congregations seem to be keeping their doors open. Liberal UMC congregations? Not so much. And that’s said as someone who originally comes from the Pacific Northwest. 10% of the UMC, if I recall what I just read on Dr. Witherington’s blog? No surprise here.

  4. What I admire about Ben Witherington is his plain speaking on controversial matters. He doesn’t speak in such a way that his posts become deceitful crotchets. He does not conceal or use flackery. We know his meaning. We need conservative scholars to speak forthrightly NOW, not mince words, not tip-toe through the tulips as though we won’t notice, or play hide-and-seek in their posts. Yes, theology matters. EVERYTHING MATTERS.

  5. In Virginia we do church profiles. Updated annually. One of the questions is “What is the theological stance of the church?”

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