Monday, May 28, 2007

How much trouble are we really in?

I've come across a blog posting that discusses the proposed merger in Indiana of 2 current Annual Conferences into a single Indiana Conference. One of the questions that the bloggers listed was about the budget which is being planned. It appears that it is underfunded (they plan on spending more than is projected to come in) by $940,000, and in looking at the offerings collected so far this year they're behind current needs by more than $200,000. This doesn't speak well of the state of the church.

In the Virginia Annual Conference the 2006 attendance statistics are in. Only 100 people are in worship, and the Conference lost attendees through the year at a rate that would equal 26 churches. What would have been 26 congregations just ceased to exist. We cannot assume that it was the result of natural (death, etc.) attrition. We are losing people to either other denominations, non-denominations, or worse they're just leaving the church altogether. And Virginia is one of those conferences that has always been vibrant and thriving. This information doesn't speak well of the state of the church.

I believe either last year, or perhaps it's this year, that there was a merger of 2 Michigan conferences into a single entity. I understand that this was because the number of congregations had diminished to the point where they could no longer sustain both. So in order to maintain the conference political structure they merged. I don't know how successful they've been thus far, but the very fact that they'd shrunk to this point where a merger was needed... this doesn't speak well of the state of the church.

The Western and the Northeastern Jurisdictions are blatantly liberal in their politics and their theology. The Western Jurisdiction has fewer members than the Virginia Conference alone. That's a lot of space to not have a large number of UMC members. This doesn't speak well of the state of the church.

What have we lost? Why do we seem to have forgotten the message we've been very successful in promoting for the last 200 years? The UMC is flourishing in other countries, especially Korea. What is being done in those places that we need to bring back here to the Americas?

For myself I believe that our "social gospel" has overtaken the Gospel message itself. And because of this the people are not finding what they're all searching for- the Truth. Those congregations that are growing and reaching the masses have been willing to break the mold of business as usual, and this is another area where we have to abandon the status quo and move into the 21st century. We need to be innovators in outreach and worship styles. To be open and inviting to the post-modern generation. How many of our congregations have more persons in their membership under the age of 35 than over 35? It's time for a change, and thinking that the younger generation is actually looking for traditional models of churches and worship is a mis-placed hope for a return to the 1950's.

Those days are gone forever, and the sooner we acknowledge that the quicker we can get back to the business of the Kingdom.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

What a Wonderful Three Days!

Got back into town late Saturday afternoon after an eventful 3 day stretch in Northern Virginia. I, along with our youth minister and one of the office staff, attended the LeadNow conference that was being hosted by McLean Bible Church. Three glorious days of speakers like Mark Batterson, Dan Kimball, and Donald Miller, great praise music by the Frontline Band, awesome worship, meaningful breakout sessions, and Caedmon's Call. Boy, am I pumped!

The reality of everything is slowly taking effect, and I'm wondering how to successfully communicate what we experienced to rest of the church staff and pastors. It ain't gonna be easy.

There's some wonderful things about to happen with God's kingdom, and I want this church... no, this congregation, to be a part of that. Pray for me as I try to impart the information to people who don't understand that doing "church" is more than an hour on Sunday morning.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Day Off

Yes, that's what I actually got to have on Sunday morning. How'd it happen? The simple explanation is as follows: My wife and I were at the All Virginia Chorus from Thursday through Saturday, and it being a fifth Sunday our home church holds only one service. So we were able to take the day off.

My wife decided to attend another UMC in the area, but I knew exactly where I needed to go. Wave Church.

Wave is a congregation that is multi-generational, but their worship style is distinctly "contemporary." As I entered the building I noticed how much it didn't look like a church. More like a cafe or theatre lobby. To the left of the main entrance was a coffee bar, with tables and chairs scattered around the lobby to provide seating for the customers. I entered the worship space and noticed that the front of the space was basically a stage, with folding chairs (very comfortable I might add!) all around it's front and sides. Looking at how it was set up they could probably seat about 1,000. The folks that were there for the 11:30 service numbered more than the church I serve if you were to count the total number of all 3 services we do. Very impressive.

The service started as the band took the stage and launched into music with seamless transitions between the musical numbers. Well rehearsed, yet worshipful. The ideal for any group that presents worship music. But the really amazing thing was the response they got from the congregation. There were times I couldn't hear the band because of their singing. When was the last time you attended a worship service and the congregational singing drowned out the music leader(s)? Like I said, amazing.

The pace of the service was energetic, and the pastor made sure that the congregation was engaged throughout. They had a guest preacher (the pastor of Hillsong Kiev) and his message was inspiring as he told us about his church in Russia. The emphasis was missions, and he announced what his people in Russia were doing in that regard. Made me rather ashamed to hear it. The pastor of Wave told his folks that they had given more than $540,000 towards missions last year, and that they were expecting an even better response to the request this year. Wow.

I can see why this body of believers attracts young adults, but it's obvious that what they're doing is of God. The number of more "seasoned citizens" in the congregation was proof to me that what they have is authentic Christianity. What a shame that we seem to have lost that in many of our Methodist congregations. And that is evident to me as I watch our young people leave and not return. They're looking for the real deal. We used to have it. We need to get it again.