(UM Portal) Q&A with Sam Hodges: Why we don’t have much time to save the United Methodist Church

Posted by Kendall Harmon

What’s your biggest concern about things as they stand?
We should have a sense of urgency over the decline in our church in the US. The clock is ticking, and we will not be able to fund the general church structure, as we know it, much longer. And the only way in which we can avoid that is local church growth in the United States, because that’s where most funds originate to support the operations.

If you don’t find a way in which you can turn this around and spur local church growth, all of this debating about structure will become a side conversation that’s not terribly important.

Over the past 20 years, local church growth has not been our central focus. For a time, perhaps ten or 15 years, local church growth must be the central focus, even at the expense of other ministries. With sufficient growth, we can more fully attend to these other ministries that we so deeply care about. But unless we get this ship moving, and in the right direction, these other ministries will be going down through budget cuts—not from a lack of passion.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesMethodist

5 Comments
Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. TomRightmyer wrote:

I’d be grateful for more about a “set aside bishop.”  The proposal seems to reallocate ten per cent of the national budget for new churches and congregational renewal.

February 15, 9:45 pm | [comment link]
2. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

I’m sure this kind of appeal would make John Wesley glad.  But various UMC leaders have made similar calls before, with very mixed results.  I remember vividly the mournful line uttered by former UMC bishop (and evangelical leader, founder of the DISCIPLE program) Richard Wilke back in the 1980s or 1990s, after the UMC, like TEC, tried to hold a “Decade of Evangelism” that mostly flopped.  Wilke lamented:  “We though that we were just drifiting along, like a sailboat on a lazy summer day.  Instead we’ve been hemoragging away, like a leukemia victim after the blood transfusions no longer work.”  Ouch!  That really hurts.  Especially coming from the evangelistically minded guy who led the whole (almost futile) effort.

But I’m encouraged by the call to set aside at least 10% of national funds for church planting and church growth.  That’s essential.  The historical record is very clear.  New churches grow far faster and more predictably than long established ones.  So if you are serious about church growth and evangelism, you simply have to get serious about church planting.  And where your treasure is (or goes), there will your heart be also.

I wish them well.  I’d love to see the UMC return to health and vibrancy, and start growing again.  But I’m not holding my breath.

David Handy+

February 16, 10:17 am | [comment link]
3. Yebonoma wrote:

The UMC is following other mainline Protestant denominations over the zeitgeist cliff.  Watch out when they approve the “no guaranteed appointment for elders in full connection” change at the upcoming 2012 General Conference.  This, coupled with the 24 month unpaid transitional leave for clergy judged “ineffective” by a bishop and her cabinet should be very effective in getting rid of any remaining orthodox clergy.  The problem with the UMC is the bishops and the unaccountable heads of the agencies.  The UM Women and Board of Church and Society are two of the more egregious examples that come to mind.

The only successful new church plants in the UMC right now are the ones where you have a hard time figuring out that they are a UMC congregation.  The only hope for them to be left alone is to make sure they pay 100% of their apportionments and that the bishop doesn’t feel it’s time to send in one of her hit women as the pastor to make sure the congregation becomes more mainstream “Methodist.”  Been there, done that and it was brutal.  My successor as chair of Staff/Parish relations committee had a heart attack and died less than six months into his term.

February 16, 10:29 am | [comment link]
4. palagious wrote:

I am a Methodist.  Only a very small fraction of members understand anything about the institution of the UMC above the congregational.  The UMC itself has a recent study that calls into question the value of its General Boards.  There are people up there doing something with their time and making a livelihood but most don’t even know of their existence or what they are doing with the apportioned money.  The same could be said for the Jurisdictional, Conference and District-levels.  I’m not saying they have no value I am saying they better get busy justifying their existence to the folks that are paying the bills.

February 16, 9:49 pm | [comment link]
5. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Thanks to #3 and especially #4 for chiming in.

As an Anglican, I’m watching what happens to our Methodist cousins with some concern and even some cautious optimism, rather than with despair.  After all, the UMC is blessed with a larger conservative, evangelical wing than any of the other oldline (former mainline) denominations.  There are some hopeful signs, if you know where to look (e.g., the growing numbers of clergy being trained at Asbury, at least in some conferences).

I’m grateful to the UMC for giving us some of the most able and effective advocates of how to turn the declining oldline groups around.  Especially helpful are church consultants Lyle Schaller and Bill Easum.  It’s notable that Bishop William Willimon has been able to turn his conference around in Alabama.  But that is very definitely an exception to the general rule.

In any case, I will always be grateful to God for contributions that godly Methodists have made to my life and ministry, not least the incredible life and written legacy of John Wesley himself, who is a hero figure to me.  But I’m also particularly grateful for the witness of ex-liberal seminary prof Thomas Oden, who delights in callling himself “paleo-orthodox” (a term I love and with which I identify).  Last but no least, I am a huge fan of the marvelous DISCIPLE program developed by former bishop Richard Wilke (whom I mentioned above).  I find DISCIPLE to be the best comprehensive program of serious Bible study and discipleship that I’ve ever come across, or at least it’s the most useful for most parishes.  It has been used by God to renew and transform hundreds of oldline congregations, not only in the UMC, but also in TEC and the PCUSA.

David Handy+

February 17, 10:30 am | [comment link]
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