As the perfect storm buffets our foundations, there is still much shaking ahead.
As we have already stated in Part 1 and Part 2, the perfect storm is multi-faceted. In this post, we cite how the slow fade of casual Christianity in North America, and its relationship to the economic reset of United Methodism, will ultimately work for our good.
As early as 2011, Dr. Lovett Weems was sounding the alarm in regard to the coming death tsunami in the United Methodist Church. Several articles were published around that time regarding his sobering predictions of the future.
In the midst of the perfect storm, Dr. Weems predictions are beginning to come to pass. Within the last six months, the United Methodist Church announced an eighteen percent cut in its denominational budget, with an awareness of possible additional cuts looming in the future.
Today, the average age of a United Methodist across North America is 57 years old. We face the endemic challenge of missing generations as a denomination. As the prevailing winds of the perfect storm blow, take the following facts into consideration:
“Only 45 percent of those raised in the Mainline Protestant tradition remain in Mainline churches. Those whose parents and grandparents were mainline Protestants aren’t carrying on the family tradition like those who align with other Protestant denominations. Since members of these churches are not gaining new members from the culture at-large, nor growing by birth rates, they continue to decline precipitously.”
As mainline Christianity declines precipitously, the decline is related to an additional reality buffeting our foundations: The decline of casual Christianity.
Statistically, casual Christianity is a dying expression in North America. In describing the erosion of the Christian middle, one researcher states:
“We are not seeing the death of Christianity in America, but we are seeing remarkable changes. Culture is shifting and the religious landscape is evolving. But, instead of the funeral of a religion, at least in part we are witnessing the demise of casual and cultural Christianity. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Casual Christianity, or the Christian middle, is often a pseudonym for acculturated Christianity. There was a day in western culture when the general values of the mainline church were the general values of the surrounding culture. This is sometimes referred to as acculturation. The United Methodist Church, along with other mainline expressions of Christianity, had been able to thrive in the atmosphere of the Christian middle for decades. That day is fading. There are now other factors buffeting our shores that undercut previous assumptions and paradigms. We are not in Kansas anymore.
Much of our United Methodist bureaucracy is designed for a by-gone era. This bureaucracy is not designed to equip and support the church for effectiveness in reaching a post-Christian culture. With the impending economic crises before us, characterized by declining mainline Methodism, and the coming mitosis of the United Methodist Church, an economic recalibration is inevitable.
This economic crisis of the perfect storm will force us to think much leaner fiscally, and with a greater critical eye toward what is essential and effective. As a future Methodism navigates the changing landscape of post-Christian America, embracing more of what is essential and effective will ultimately work for our good.
Many of the tenets which North American United Methodism was built upon in the past 50 years will not be what she can be built upon in the coming years. We are in the early stages of systemic change brought on by the perfect storm. And the perfect storm will work for our good, because without true systemic change, we will remain paralyzed by an inability to adapt for what’s needed for a new day.
Our next post will focus the fourth expression of the perfect storm: The Grossly Underestimated Influence of the African Church and the Global South on North America and its Effects on the Future of Methodism.
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman, Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, New Water Farms, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.