Francis Chan is not a United Methodist, but reading some of the marketing materials produced by our denomination make me think of a Bible study he once taught.
Chan was teaching about how he has a hard time reading in the Bible about the church of the New Testament and then looking at the church as it exists in contemporary America. He describes his experience as being like walking into an ice skating rink and seeing people throwing fish at hamsters that are running around on the ice. When he asks them what they are doing, they say, “We’re playing soccer.”
Chan said, “I don’t even know where to start.”
When I read through the #BeUMC website materials produced by United Methodist Communications, I’m not sure where to start. The points of emphasis in the messaging have that unique quality that marketing language often has. It appears to say something without actually saying anything.
Take, for instance, this statement: “We embrace the fundamentals of the Wesleyan tradition and dedicate ourselves to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
There are words here that sound specific, but they are empty containers that people can pour into whatever they desire. I have no idea what they mean by “the fundamentals of the Wesleyan tradition,” and I suspect that is the point. If we were to identify what those fundamentals were, we would start to draw lines and make distinctions that are not useful if your goal is to say “you can believe anything and be a United Methodist.”
What is most interesting to me in the overview materials is that they miss something that absolutely jumps out of some of the supporting research. I dug a little deeper — and it is hard to get too deep here — and found this nugget. In the research that supposedly supports the #BeUMC messaging they asked UMC laity what they thought should be the primary focus of the church — saving souls or advocating for social justice.
Go read the overview of the #BeUMC messaging again. Based on that page, what do you think the underlying research would say. Just take a guess. Based on what is written as a summary of their research, how important do you think UMC laity say saving souls should be?
Just as a reminder, John Wesley told the early Methodists we have no business in this world except the saving of souls.
What answer did you come up with?
Would you be surprised to learn that 70% of UMC laity said our main focus as a church should be saving souls for Jesus Christ?
Seven in ten.
And yet, in the materials about the #BeUMC message there is not a word about salvation.
Consider this for a moment. A website produced by the communications and marketing arm of a Christian church makes no reference to salvation, even though the supporting research behind the website notes that 70% of UMC members think the salvation of souls should be the main focus of the church.
As Francis Chan said, “I don’t even know where to start.”