There is an unnecessary tragedy associated with our current obsessive-compulsive fixation on death, decay and decline. The tragedy is that we are living a lie. We are walking by sight, not by faith. We are choosing to accept darkness as truth, and in so doing we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. We embrace secular values, slap a coat of piety-paint on them, and pretend that we haven’t sold out. We buy a billboard, put a cute phrase on it and call it “witness.” We create a smaltzy ad to manipulate the emotions and call it “evangelism.” We develop a bumper-sticker slogan and call it “vision.” We look and act less and less like the Christ and call it “The United Methodist Church.” It is time to look in the mirror (and wipe off all the grease paint that make us look clownish and foolish). Time to turn on the lights and take a good look at ourselves. You know what? If we will do this we will find a huge surprise. We don’t look nearly as bad as we think we might.
This opinion is based on what exactly? Well, some “big picture” thinking, basically. Here are some facts. People are joining our churches, they are getting involved, they are growing in their faith, they are giving generously, they care about their neighbors and their world, they are all ages, races, cultures and backgrounds. You might react, saying, “Not my church,” and that is undoubtedly true. It isn’t happening everywhere — but it IS happening. And yes, people are leaving and dying and staying but not engaging (or staying and being selfish, or staying and causing conflict, or staying and griping about everything, or staying and going through the motions, or…) and that makes things harder, but this is not our whole story. In the past month I have been on the receiving end of 116 positive stories about how The United Methodist Church is succeeding and making a positive impact on lives. From Japan, Malawi, Haiti, Cambodia, Senegal, Costa Rica, and Korea — stories of help and grace and healing and hope. From a young woman,
We (this person and two friends) read your blog and find great hope. We started attending a church together – me for the first time since I was confirmed — that you mentioned and I just wanted to thank you. I thought “organized religion” was only for hypocrites and losers. And I was right! I just didn’t realize I was the hypocrite and I was the loser. I was so turned off by all the churches with banners and praise bands that I missed the fact that there are some amazing churches that aren’t wasting time and money trying to get members. We found a church that is trying to help people live meaningful and spiritual lives. I am proud to call myself and Christian and invite other people to church for the first time in my life.
Yes, she’s talking about a United Methodist Church. And she mentions a critically important factor in getting people to come to church — ask them. Here’s another snippet from a different email:
I am going to St. Luke’s (Indianapolis) because you told me it would be worth checking out. I thought it was weird that you would ask me to go to someone else’s church, but I figured if you recommended it, it was worth checking out. There are lots of things different about St. Luke’s and there are a lot of things that are just like every other church, but the one thing I noticed right away is how much the people there love their church. I know that everyone says they love their church, but you can tell at St. Luke’s because they talk about it all the time with everybody. I have never been with a group of Christians that are so excited about their church that they actually invite friends and neighbors to check it out. I don’t think I ever in my life invited someone to church before I came here, but then I never have been part of a church that made me want to invite them. I have told at least twenty people, “I go to a amazing church. You should check it out. Our church is growing because people ask their friends to come.
I visited a church where the youth group decided on their own to stop having meetings in the church. Instead, they volunteer at a community project — soup kitchen, shelter, clean-up, nursing home, etc. — every Sunday. Afterwards, they go back to the church for prayer, Bible study, conversation and to decide where to go next. Last year, the youth group dwindled to five members. Since committing to the service projects they have increased the youth group to 27 members, with average attendance of 22 each week.
The Crossings ministry at University of Wisconsin, Madison, is changing young lives through their Quest mission trips. Young adults are making career decisions based on the experiences they have providing Christian service to those in need. This is Christian leadership development at its finest.
Lives are being not only touched, but saved because of The United Methodist Church. People are coming to faith, and our best evangelism doesn’t create new church members, but new Christian disciples — some of whom pursue their spiritual journey with other denominations or Christian affiliations. Perhaps we are not growing numerically and getting more money to build more buildings and fund more marketing campaigns, but that isn’t why we exist in the first place. It is time for us to stop whining about what isn’t all that important. We might find that we are more attractive when we are joyful and positive. Jesus called us the light of the world. It’s time to shine.