Numbers – Bright Spot

In their (totally awesome) book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath explain how to bring about organizational change. One of the key principles is to “identify bright spots.” That is, find things that work and learn from them and celebrate them.

Even in the generally dismal state of affairs as the mainline church shrinks into insignificance, there are bright spots. The Methodist Church, in its otherwise disheartening statistical report, noted that the Greater New Jersey and the Kentucky conferences both grew this year: New Jersey for the first time in 45 years.

Here’s the bright spot:

Leaders in both New Jersey and Kentucky have embraced an adage from church-planting circles that it’s easier to make babies than to raise the dead.

“You don’t grow an annual conference by trying to revitalize existing churches,” Davis said. “I think some can be revitalized. But I don’t think we’ll ever revitalize enough churches to reverse the attendance and membership trends that we’ve seen over the last several decades.”

That’s triage at work, and it sounds harsh. But it holds out the possibility that existing churches can look to their younger, more vital sister congregations, and copy the things that work.

(Aside: what is it about denominational web sites that makes them pick link-unfriendly CMSes? The article itself is hidden behind a Flash(!) “headline,” so it took me three tries to figure out how to link to the article. It’s almost as bad as the PC(USA) web site.)

Connectionalism When It Suits Us

I confess I’m puzzled about the “Statement of Gospel Obedience” recently issued by the UMC’s Western Jurisdiction (basically the mountain time zone and parts west).

From the news report, the statement emphasizes that the UMC is in error on the subject of “homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.” I think I understand that. I probably disagree. I mean, I probably agree with the UMC as a whole and not with the Western Jurisdiction. Probably. I need to become more familiar with the UMC’s doctrine to see what they mean by “incompatible.” (Jesus demonstrated how being paralyzed or blind and even robbery and adultery are compatible with Christian teaching.)

What I don’t understand is this part:

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was asked to oversee a Western Jurisdiction grassroots movement that challenges bishops, clergy, laity and local churches and ministry settings to operate as if the statement printed in the denomination’s law book—Paragraph 161F—“does not exist.”

That’s the part I don’t get. I understand freedom of conscience. But that freedom should mean the freedom to disagree and leave. Or to disagree but advocate for change and only leave when you despair of succeeding — but obeying in the meantime.

The problem with connectionalism is that too many people use it as a club to tell churches how to behave, but they aren’t willing to let the same club be used on them. Sauce for the goose.

Sigh. It’s probably for the best. I think post-Christendom means post-denominational as well.

(Notice the response of the Western Jurisdiction is to come out in favor of “Extravagant Hospitality.” It’s outmoded thinking: all about getting people to come (back) to church. It would be a lot more effective to think about the problem missionally: how to get the church to go out where the people are.)

Anyway, as denominations wind down in North America, the only “connectionalism” will be looser associations of truly like-minded churches in flexible networks. (And no, I don’t have a clue how churches with an episcopal ecclesiology will survive that.)

Complete Works of Charles Wesley Available

I was interested to see in the Aurora (the electronic newsletter of the Alaska UMC) that Duke University has completed the publication of the manuscript (the handwritten, which is to say, the unpublished) works of Charles Wesley. Together with another collection of the published works of both Charles and John Wesley, the combined archive represents the equivalent of a 15-volume printed edition.

And the price is right. Access the (new) manuscript archive here, or the (older) published-works archive here.

Willimon Quote from General Convention

I’m trying to learn more about Methodism by following the General Convention. Here’s a tweet of something Will Willimon observed there:

Wow. The goal is to make one disciple per year, and half of UMC congregations aren’t doing it.

Methodists Retain Existing Language on Homosexuality

I’m still figuring out the Methodist side of things at Jewel Lake Parish. But there’s a Methodist conference going on, and I’m trying to learn things as I go. I saw in the news that the Methodists are sticking with their existing teaching about homosexuality. They retained, by a 61% majority, the current wording of their Book of Discipline:

The Social Principles section of United Methodist teachings on sexuality in the Book of Discipline states: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching;” and “Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

An amendment to these statements would have added the sentence: “As a denomination, we are conflicted regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality.”

One Future for the Church

I admit I haven’t followed the UMC Conference as closely as I probably ought to have. I’m still learning, well, pretty much everything about the United Methodist side of Jewel Lake Parish, and denominational activities aren’t at the top of my list. Still, it’s something I have some interest in, so I tried to pay at least a little attention to news about the conference.

Here is a video that was shown as part of the GC2012 Connectional Table Presentation:

(The program is about three quarters of an hour, so unless you’re really interested, I’d recommend you scrub forward and watch the two minutes that begin at 40:15. Or you can go directly there by clicking this link.)

The video is concerned especially with the future of the UMC, or one possible future for the UMC, but it could be about the PC(USA) just as well.

That doesn’t have to be the future of the church, but for two many congregations, it will be. God is doing amazing things in the world—not just overseas, but in our country as well. But God won’t force it on us. If we refuse to be part of it, God will use other churches. So the question for us, and really every church, is whether or not we are willing to move forward into God’s great adventure.