Last Summer Lyle Schaller spoke to a group at the meeting of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. His basic message is that that Conference, if they keep going in the same direction, will not be with us much longer. The reporting of the message is somewhat disjointed, but here some some of his main points:
â€œThe Methodist Church is an HMO with an offering basket,â€ the church growth consultant concluded. He pointed out that a 75 percent majority at the national conference in Pittsburgh said “we needed a bigger offering basketâ€ for larger employee pensions.
The national conference approved a 33 percent increase in church expenditures over the next four years.
â€œOld institutions choose between greater change and obsolescence,â€ he said. â€œAbout 1966-67, the decision (by Northern Illinois Methodists) was to vote weâ€™re not going to be competitive. It carried and has been implemented.â€
The churchâ€™s weekly attendance has nose-dived since then from 75,000+ to 46,000+. He noted that the number of new members is down 50 percent.
â€œIf you decrease the number of new customers by 50 percent,â€ he stated, â€œyou go out of business.â€
â€œAre we ready to concede that?â€ he asked.
â€œNoâ€ was his answer.
A large part of the problem, Schaller said, is that local congregations are now viewed as financial resources for the denominational hierarchy.
â€œWhen I was a pastor, denominations existed to resource congregations,â€ he remembered.
The role reversal â€œhasnâ€™t worked.”
Church size is important in recruiting members born since 1960, Schaller explained.
United Methodists are not competitive with other Protestant denominations, the speaker asserted. As evidence he compared statistics from 1965 with those of 2000. In 1965 there were 35 Methodist churches in the jurisdiction with 400 or more people going to church each week. In 2000, that had decreased to â€œonly 13.â€ Five congregations were on both lists.
In the book of Ezekiel God comments to Ezekiel, “The people really love hearing you speak. They say, “The man speaks like a bird sings. It’s so beautiful.” But they don’t do a thing you say.” After reading Lyle Schallers commentary on the church for a number of years I think Schaller must feel like Ezekiel. He’s popular, had dozens of hbooks published, always in demand as a speaker, yet when we don’t listen to him.
A few years ago he wrote Tatterted Trust about the breakdown of trust through the UMC. The pastors don’t trust the laity or the denominational hierarchy. The laity don’t trust the preachers. The hierarchy doesn’t trust the churches. This lack of trust is killing us. In my experience his analysis was completely accurate. As far as I can tell absolutely nothing was done about it.
This past summer he came out with The Ice Cube is Melting, about the continued decline of the UMC and its fragmentation into warring factions. As far as I can tell we’re so much in love with a sort of unity (mostly institutional) that we’re just as prepared to ignore him now as earlier.