Lambrecht: We have seen the future

Tom Lambrecht, vice president of the United Methodist renewal group Good News, argues that the places where United Methodism is dying the fastest are precisely those places at the forefront in disobedience to church discipline and doctrine regarding sex. This, he writes, gives us a glimpse of the future that progressives would create for the denomination.

Since the Pacific Northwest (PNW) Annual Conference appears to be at the forefront of advocating new moral teachings by the church, according to the hypothesis that this represents the Methodism of the future, the conference should be showing remarkable growth and vitality.  Instead, we see a stunning drop in membership and worship attendance.

In 2003, the PNW reported 60,495 members.  Ten years later in 2013, they report 46,209, a decrease of over 23%.  The membership loss in 2013 was 2,465 alone, nearly double the yearly average over the last ten years.  So the membership loss is getting worse, not better, even in light of the church’s permissive stance regarding sexuality.

Worship attendance was even worse.  In 2003, the PNW reported 26,421 in average worship attendance.  Now that number is 18,505, a decline of 30%.  In 2013 alone, worship attendance declined 1,663, an 8.2% drop!  The decrease in worship attendance in 2013 alone was more than double the average annual decrease over the last ten years, so again, the loss is getting worse.

This kind of argument, of course, does not address the justice arguments made by United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the connection. Also, I think a fair reading of the progressive argument is that the denomination is doomed to lose younger generations if it maintains its historic doctrine, so it would be interesting to see if there is any evidence to support that claim. Eroding membership in progressive conferences and jurisdictions may be older generations, which while nothing to cheer does not directly address what I take to be the progressive argument.

Nonetheless, the numbers Lambrecht reports are sobering and certainly give us cause to wonder about the best road forward for a denomination that strives to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

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27 thoughts on “Lambrecht: We have seen the future

  1. John, this is not a matter of doctrine but of church order and sexual ethics. Do these relate to core doctrinal convictions? Of course. But our argument is not, at present, about doctrine. It would be great if anyone was actually interested in discussing doctrine, though…

    Side note, if it is a matter of doctrine, it is not a matter of “historic doctrine” since we Methodists have only had specific legislation about LGBT matters since 1972.

        1. But our doctrinal standards are not limited to the creeds. If the General Rules and Wesley’s sermons are doctrinal standards — which they are — then how can we limit doctrine to the Nicene Creed?

          Even the Articles and Confession reach much farther than topics raised in the creeds.

        2. That’s fine, but no one is threatening schism over defending the doctrinal standards. In fact, some of the 108 are openly against baptizing infants, which is a clear violation of our doctrinal standards.

  2. Taylor,

    Of course Lambrecht is not proposing a correlation here. You cannot have a correlation when one of the variables is nominal scale. If he wanted to argue for a correlation, he would have to construct an interval or ratio scale to represent ‘degree of endorsement of gay marriage’ or something else.

    What I hear him doing is pointing to two facts and offering his interpretation about how they are related. This does not require statistics, although a person might construct an argument using them. Lambrecht, however, does not. Suggesting he is making a statistical argument and then dinging him for not using statistics properly seems unfair to his argument.

    Of course, people can offer rival theories about the existence of the factual observations that Lambrecht is making, but I don’t see how bad math is a helpful critique in this particular case.

    You appear to offer a rival hypothesis about birth rates. It would be interesting to see if birth rates are higher in North Georgia than in PNW to test that hypothesis.

    At any rate, I do think the facts Lambrecht reports do raise questions about the argument that is made in the church that changing our Book of Discipline is needed or necessary to reverse our decline. It does seem valid in the face of that claim to look for churches and places where that change has been made an ask whether that change actually did have the predicted effect.

    As I wrote in the post, growth and decline issues do not speak to justice issues. There is lots of other ground on which to make this argument.

    Thanks to everyone for the comments.

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