United Methodist

The United Methodist Church: Is there Hope for Declining Denominations?

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Conflict in the United Methodist Church last week reminds us that all over the Western world, denominations that were once dynamic movements are in decline. Some have been on the slide for generations.

Demographic trends, secularism, prosperity, cultural shifts — they all play their part. Yet the answer is to blame external factors. The issue is much closer to home.

The great mistake that movements make is to lose touch with who they are.

Every living thing needs to adapt to its environment or it will die. As it does so, it continually refers back to its unique identity. It changes and it stays the same.

How do the United Methodists do that? It’s as simple as asking what did John Wesley do? What did Francis Asbury do? What does that look like today?

Know who you are. That’s the conservative side of renewal. Express that Identity in a fresh and innovative way. That’s the radical side of renewal.

Think about the movement pioneer who inspired Wesley and Asbury. What was his Identity? Between his life as Jesus of Nazareth, and the launch of his missionary movement, stand two events — Jesus’ baptism and wilderness testing. They reveal and test the Identity of Jesus and by implication, the movement he will found. Three essentials stand out:

1. He obeys his Father’s living Word.

When the Father speaks to the Son, he echoes the words of Scripture. When Jesus confronts Satan, his only weapon is to quote the written Word of God — “It is written!”

2. He is dependent on the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit comes upon him at his baptism, the Spirit drives him into the wilderness, the Spirit returns him to Galilee in power to launch the movement.

3. Jesus is faithful to his Mission.

He will give his life as a ransom for many and starts a movement that will go to the ends of the earth multiplying disciples and churches.

These are the three essentials that drive the rise and fall of movements. A church that is willing to obey God’s Word, depend on his Spirit and pursue multiplying disciples and churches throughout the world will be renewed. It must, because God is faithful and he is our only hope.

Southern Baptists vs United Methodists

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Mark Tooley challenges the conventional wisdom that evangelicalism should become more progressive to prevent its decline.

The popular conventional narrative asserts that young people in droves are quitting evangelical Christianity because it’s too socially and politically conservative. Of course, the implication is that if only Evangelicalism would liberalize, especially on sexuality, then it might become more appealing.

But all the available evidence as to what happens to liberalizing churches strongly indicates the opposite. Mainline Protestantism is in many ways what critics of Evangelicalism wish it would become. And yet the Mainline, comprised primarily of the “Seven Sister” historic denominations, has been in continuous free-fall since the early to mid-1960s. Its implosion accelerated after most of these denominations specifically liberalized their sexuality teachings over the last 20 years.

  • Episcopal Church peaked in 1966 at 3.4 million, now 1.7 million (50% loss).

  • Presbyterian Church (USA) peaked 1965 at 4.4 million, now 1.4 million (68% loss).

  • United Church of Christ peaked 1965 at 2.1 million, now 850,000 (60% loss)

  • ELCA (Lutheran) peaked 1968 at 5.9 million, now 3.5 million (41% loss)

  • Christian Church (Disciples) peaked 1964 at 1.9 million, now 400,000 (80% loss).

  • United Methodists peaked 1965 at 11 million, now 6.9 million (40% loss).

  • American Baptist peaked 1.5 million, now 1.2 million (25% loss).

What unites these denominations in decline? The undermining of Biblical authority. Tooley points out that the two Mainline denominations that have not officially liberalized on sexuality, United Methodism and American Baptists, have declined the least.

In contrast, All growing denominations in America are conservative, including the Assemblies of God, which in 1965 had 572,123 and now has 3.2 million (460% increase), the Church of God in Cleveland, which in 1964 had 220,405 and now has 1.2 million (445% increase), the Christian Missionary Alliance, which in 1965 had 64,586 and now has 440,000 (576% increase), and the Church of the Nazarene 1965, which in 343,380 and now has 626,811 (82% increase).

What about the Southern Baptists, America’s largest evangelical denomination? They have been in decline for the last 18 years from 16.4 million to 15 million. That’s a loss of 8% compared to the average Mainline loss of 50%. While SBC membership figures are down, its worship attendance was up by 120,000 in 2017.

Meanwhile the Southern Baptists have been planting churches with a 20% increase in the number of churches over the last twenty years. There’s been a strong focus on planting black and hispanic churches. Something the liberal/progressive Mainline denominations find impossible to do.

I’ll have more to say on this topic soon. Over January I’m working on my next book which is on the Lifecycle of Movements — how they rise and fall.

If this is the future of the United Methodists....

If this is the future of the United Methodists, they have no future.

The right has the prosperity gospel. The left has the green gospel.

When will we learn that there is no “other gospel”. There is no other foundation.

50 years of predictable decline for the United Methodists

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Mark Tooley reports that it’s 50 years since membership in the United Methodist church grew in the US.

The Methodist Church had 10,331,574 in 1965, an increase of about 27,000 over 1964. Then it lost 21,000 in 1966, a trend never reversed and in fact accelerated after the 1968 merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. Although becoming an 11 million member church, losses increased initially to sometimes over 150,000 annually. Today United Methodism in the U.S. stands at 7.3 million, an over one third decline.

Meanwhile how were the more evangelical Wesleyan denominations going?

The Church of God increased by two thirds. The Wesleyan Church increased by 75 percent. The Church of the Nazarene nearly doubled. The Free Methodist Church increased by 25 percent. The Assemblies of God have increased a whopping 500 percent. Growth for most of these churches over the last several years has leveled off, except for the still fast growing Assemblies. But none are experiencing United Methodism’s ongoing exodus.

Until 1967 Methodism was America’s largest Protestant denomination. That year the Southern Baptists caught up and today outnumber the United Methodists two to one.

What led to the decline?

Methodism’s official seminaries were all captured by liberalism by the 1920s. Most clergy weren’t seminary trained until mid century, but the course of study materials for non-seminary trained clergy closely followed seminary curricula. By the 1960s nearly all of the clergy would have been trained in theological modernism, denying or minimizing the supernatural and personal salvation in favor of Social Gospel and therapeutic themes. A 1967 survey found 60 percent of Methodist clergy disbelieving the Virgin Birth and 50 percent disbelieving the Resurrection.

The tragedy is that despite the lessons of history, a new generation of progressive evangelicals are treading the same path. You can get away with it for a while but sooner or later the outcome will be the same.

UPDATE: Evangelicals Dominate Fastest-Growing Large United Methodist Churches