I read an article this last week that says our Council of Bishops approved a plan to make The United Methodist Church ten-year’s younger in a decade. I thought, “That can’t be right.” Just doing the math, we would need 70% of our existing over-50 membership to die or go to another denomination. Then I realized we were talking about the even less-likely scenario of attracting approximately 3 million 20/30-somethings to become United Methodist. There is always a lot of merit in wanting to introduce new people to a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope we do this well. But as I look at what it will take to reach our goal, I have a few suggestions:
- Make sure the bishops working on this are all 40 and under (I’m being ironic or sarcastic here, I can’t remember which…) — we know for a fact that Boomers and older Busters can’t do ministry for younger people. This is a no-brainer. The church for the young needs to be the church of the young. Oh, no — not either/or, but both/and. We need the church we have to welcome in baby brothers and sisters. Older children need to learn to share their toys with younger children — and even let younger children have toys of their own — or nothing much good happens.
- Make sure the consultant to the process is 20/30-something — I just love all the old guard (my age) telling all the other people my age how important it is to reach young people. Give me a break. I was at the District Superintendent/Director of Connectional Ministries training. I know what it looks like when Baby Boomers try to dance and sing and clap to alternative rock music. It isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s skeevy. And every under-40 person knows and acknowledges this. It is the older generations who are in denial. For us Boomers, the ship has passed. Time to let a new generation take the tiller.
- Make sure the 12-person steering committee has all its own teeth and hair (and some piercings and tattoos as well) — on the metaphorical ship I was talking about above, another name for a 50-something team member is “anchor.” Let younger people seek counsel when they need it. Let’s not just assume they cannot possibly function without the wisdom of our years. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. If we want to kill a youth movement fast, let’s let old people play.
- Let’s NOT do another online survey — let’s allow younger church leaders to create an online community for discussion and networking. Let’s not turn it over to an institutional agency. Let’s not let Baby Boomers anywhere near the design of it. Let’s trust young leaders to lead. The let’s listen to what they say. Then let’s not bring up words like “budget implications” and “disciplinary restrictions” to kill the passion and enthusiasm.
- Let’s not worry about the median age of United Methodists — age is a terrible measure of our impact in the world. We should be seeking meaningful ways to be in ministry to all people. Americans are living longer, and by God’s grace they will go to church longer. If we are a healthy nation, the median age will go up. Our great commission is to make disciples not make the church younger. By all means, let’s do a better job reaching young families and singles, children and youth, and let us be faithful evangelists that promote a healthy relationship with God in Jesus Christ — whether they join our church or not.
You may have noticed that I put on my “rant robe” for this one. We talk so much about this, but we seem to refuse to make the changes that will actually change anything. We love change that we can step back from and say, “Oops, well that didn’t work.” But the kind of true transformation we keep saying we want requires fundamental bridge-burning. Current leaders MUST share power. Young leaders MUST be allowed into the decision-making, direction-setting ranks of leadership in our denomination. Existing structures MUST make room for radically different systems and processes. And the older MUST get out of the way of the younger — if we truly value and honor those we say we want to reach. No more time to waffle, no more time to study, no more time for task forces, and no more time for saying we want something, then maintaining the status quo.
I hope The United Methodist Church does become the church of choice for young people in these United States — but because we deserve it, not because we merely want to preserve the institution.
I appreciate what the Council of Bishops is trying to do.
How will they motivate the people who have a death-grip on the local church and who won’t turn over any leadership to younger folks? Or, do we just let that “death-grip” become a reality?
I could go on my rant here, but I’ll leave it at that.
“Let’s not worry about the median age of United Methodists — age is a terrible measure of our impact in the world.”
I love this. I’m 22 and I love this.
My friends and used to go to this old music place in downtown Benton Harbor called the Livery. On monday nights a bunch of old folk musicians get together and play their folky blues. I’m not much of a blues guy myself, but I fell in love with it after watching these guys play. Some of them are 70 years old and still keep their chops up. It gets better though. They cultivate younger musicians and invite them to play. All sorts of music happens at these events in all sorts of age ranges. I wonder if the Church (capital “C”) could ever look like this: Each generation having the humility to accept their passing. Each generation growing in appreciation for their heritage. Each generation finding a Love for Jesus Christ and expressing it in their own way without any hindrance from another believer.
I’m not sure there is real value in making an age restriction. You would be fantastic working with younger people. You get it. I would love to have someone your age speak out on my behalf. In fact, I don’t think things will change unless older people make it happen. You hold the power, and you decide who gets to come to the table and who doesn’t. I don’t want to run the church – I just want to be respected and included. I think we need visionary and prophetic voices like yours leading the church, no matter what age a person is. I would gladly include you in any group working to strengthen the church for young adults.
“Working with” is what I am all about, and while I am very sensitive to the disenfranchistment of so many younger leaders, I can’t be one of you (any more). This doesn’t mean I can’t support and advocate, but were I to assume any power in a group of young adults I would be part of the problem rather than the solution. I am delighted to know that you and others recognize a friend and ally in me, but it’s not enough to have people in power who think young adults are great — young adults need to share in the power and decision-making themselves.
Just reading my last UM newspaper in this state, I read about the Bishop’s team to re-think church. The people involved with re-thinking it, including the consultant, are mostly all cradle Methodist middle-aged white men and women. It’s hard to re-think something you were born into and have thought for a lifetime.
And in another article, I read about the value of market research. An example of not doing it right was given. A church built a daycare facility when what they should’ve built was a gym.
If we would sell every building in the UM and spend the money on “the least of these” our membership would double.
I’m grateful that the Bishops are thinking about and planning for the future, but this is dead in the water. Evidence that it’s an old way of thinking is referencing membership at all. Younger people are less likely to join a church even if they are faithful Christians. You join an institution, you participate in a movement, and people want a movement not an instiution. I thought most of us had already acknowledged that membership is an almost meaningless category.
Like all meaningful change, what will ultimately save the UMC (or not save it) is grassroots change rather than a ruling from on high.
Thanks, Dan! At 70+ I wondered what denomination I should transfer to in order to help the Bishops achieve their goal! I’m not ready to die yet! I remember years ago when all the white-haired members of AC boards would complain because there were no younger folks — to what point?
I agree with you — those of us of advanced and advancing years need to accept who we are, do the ministries we are called to do (whatever those are), and be available to younger folks if they ask for our help. I am a retired permanent Deacon currently serving as a part-time pastor (for the first time in my life). The average age of the congregation would be elderly, unless the one 20-something couple skews the stats significantly.
I admire the young clergy couples who are doing new church starts in urban centers. They have my encouragement and support. My focus must be on what the calling, mission, and ministry of my small congregation of folks can be.
I just read the research on the sacraments at your website https://doroteos2.wordpress.com/research-focus/
Now I’m totally, totally convinced. What’s causing the mainline decline has little to do with generation gaps, race, or even liberal / conservative politics.
The big kahuna is the lack of knowledge, understanding, and even of the faith of what we even believe as Methodists and Christians. The pastors HAVE failed the members with a lack of teaching and development of generational continuity of spiritual values of historic Christianity. How very, very sad it is to see how few pastors and congregants see any sense or holiness in the sacraments. To me, Holy Communion and Baptism are the very seal of God on our hearts. The sacraments represent who we are and what we believe as part of the church universal through all generations. It’s Christ’s experience shared in death and reborn in eternal life with us! Many of us (and sadly, even some pastors) see it as an inconvenience? Oh my gosh!
Your comment on what young people seek in church with regard to interest in “conversation and exploration [over] worship” points to their lack of reverence and understanding of the importance of sacramental Christian living. “Conversing” our way to Christ is just talk, and “exploring” our way to Christ sounds more like a Magellinic adventure around the tip of South America. God wants to be worshiped, and it is a heart/soul-healthy thing to do, in community with believers, in love, in sacrament, in Christ. Our young people are seeking God away from the sanctuary of the family of believers because no one has taught them where to find Christ in their own lives. Even the believers of the church do not believe! Young people are abandoning Christianity because it is not identifiable to them what it is all about. They can easily see the practice of faith when performing good deeds and works, but not the eternal seal of faith by belief and sharing of bread, wine, and water.
Search no further, UMC. Firm up your beliefs among your own, and God will become present in your lives and to generations to follow. The ball has been dropped, and the grassroots needs to pick it up and start running with it.
I need to go pray about all of this. I’m in shock about the core beliefs (or lack thereof) among United Methodist pastors and congregants. Pray for me tonight. I need to make some decisions about connecting with a solid community of Christian faith.