Foreword

Acknowledgements

Julie

Visible Problem Indicators

Stewardship

Agents of Change - Issues

Institutional Dynamics

The Institutional and the Local Church

Operative Theology

Prognosis for the Future

Revival - What is Needed?

Closing Remarks

Chapter Two
Visible Problem Indicators

Just as in the situation with "Julie" - there are visible problems indicating that our United Methodist Church is in trouble.

One question we have heard on occasion is, "Why do you talk about our problems? Why don't you spend an equal amount of time talking about all the good that the church does?" First, there is an army of church employees and members who do exactly that; their efforts don't need to be reinforced by anyone else. Secondly, we can best explain this by the example of a doctor treating a patient with a malignant tumor. The actual number of cancerous cells is very small compared to the total number of healthy cells in the patient's body. But if the doctor were to spend a proportionate amount of time concentrating on the good cells as he did on the bad ones, his patient would die. Instead, he concentrates his full attention on the bad cells because he knows that if he doesn't, the bad cells will multiply, overwhelm the good cells, and ultimately destroy the body killing the patient.

It is for those same reasons that this book focuses on the problems in our denomination; if we cannot accurately diagnose the problems and implement an effective cure, the denomination may continue to shrink and ultimately die.

Membership Loss

The most visible problems indicating the decline of our United Methodist Church (UMC) is that of the continuing loss of members over the past twenty nine years - a total of 2,379,976. This is an average loss of 82,068 people per year, 6,839 per month, 1,579 per week, or 225.6 per day, for every one of those years. This is happening in a country with an increasing population and other, more evangelical denominations of a congregational nature that are also growing (Appendix A).

Closed Churches

In Danville, Virginia, the sign on the front of Calvary United Methodist Church a historical marker reads, "Founded by 47 people on November 14, 1879. First organized religious group in North Danville. On Nov. 14, 1887, a new sanctuary was dedicated and known as Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church South." In 1998, a sign was on the front read "For Sale". The irony is that across the road in this section of town is a Baptist church that has a thriving congregation.

During the past quarter of a century, a large number of our once large and vibrant urban congregations have either declined drastically or closed. A few examples will illustrate this trend: in 1960, the Barton Heights Church (Richmond, Virginia) had 1,031 members; Narden Park (Detroit, Michigan) had 2,401; and City Church (Gary, Indiana) had 1,687. Today none of these congregations exists.(1) Each physical structure that stands empty indicating a closed UM church is the accumulation of unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and - heartbreak.

This comes as no surprise when related to membership loss. From an unrelated study, we learned that the average size of a church in mainline denominations is 156 members. This means that we have had the equivalent of one United Methodist church closing its doors for every single day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, for the past twenty-nine years. We have a serious problem.

Note: 1. Rekindling the Flame, p. 19.


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