Of my many experiences at the meeting of the Texas Annual Conference last week, perhaps that most striking was Bishop Huie’s mention that the West Ohio Annual Conference was losing 42 positions for Elders this year. She didn’t share anything of the context, so I don’t know how retirements, church closings, mergers, consolidations, etc., come into the picture. I know nothing how this compares with trends there over the past decade. But 42 – that’s huge!
When Bishop Huie arrived in our conference (about five years ago) she observed that fewer than 50% of our congregations showed a single profession of faith during the previous year. “Profession of Faith” is church-speak for “a person who was not a practicing Christian or a member of any church became one.” Yes, it’s hard to imagine, given Jesus’ attitude on the matter, that so many churches would not be winning a single person to faith in a year.
This year we learned that we have improved. Now something like 63% of our congregations have had at least one profession of faith. We cheered the good news. But it’s only a start. Nothing was said of the reality that so many of our churches are dominated by older generations. When over half of your active, dedicated members are over 70 years old, where does that put you in ten years – even if you manage to add a new person by profession of faith each year?
The Texas Conference is awesome! The Texas Conference is great! The Texas Conference is the largest in the country (not true, though I’ve heard it several times)! Bad things – like losing openings for Elders – might happen in places like Ohio, but never here. Or so we seem to believe. But demographics alone ought to lead us to action. I see three actions we need to take now.
First, we need to get on our faces before God and pray. We need to confess our apathy, complacency, our love for playing church games. We need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all our people, all our congregations.
Second, we need to regain evangelistic passion. This will be hard, because it will be easily confused – by us an others – as stemming from a fear of institutional survival. “Our ship is sinking – come join us as we bail!” Not veyr attractive is it? As Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola urge, this will mean dealing with our JDD – Jesus Deficit Disorder.
Third, we need to plant churches. Here in the TAC we’ve been better at that these past five years. We’re still not at the Bishop’s goal of 10 new plants a year. She identified the two major impediments as a lack of people equipped to plant and a lack of churches who will “mother” the plants. Our congregation gets to mother a plant beginning this year, and I’m excited to be able to contribute. The harder barrier of church planting will be beginning to plant churches where “new churches aren’t needed,” that is, in locales where we “already have a United Methodist Church.” Sure, that church may not be growing our reaching anyone – though they did have one profession of faith last year – but if we only pour more money into it they will turn around, they will become a powerhouse for evangelism. I wish.