While a Commission on a Way Forward, Council of Bishops, Judicial Councils and others spent hundreds of hours in time and millions of dollars in resources, the perfect storm never ceased her howling at Mainline Methodism.
While “kicking the can down the road” was intended by some to allow the United Methodist Church to acculturate to new perspectives on human sexuality, the ticking of the clock has only served to strengthen the tempest at our door. Lost time has now allowed this tempest to ferment into the unstoppable force she has become. There is now no turning back. Whether preferred or not, waves of combined velocity are lashing out and resetting our foundations. We are in the
perfect storm; and in the aftermath, the United Methodist Church will never be the same.
While much shaking still lies ahead, the perfect storm will inevitably work for our good. And the good that’s emerging is what these seven posts seek to illustrate.
The expression of the perfect storm is multi-faceted, with tentacles reaching into our core and redefining our identity. While the storm’s characteristics sound overly dramatic to many, it only serves to enhance the power of the subtlety of her creep and her ongoing influence. What are the tentacles of this perfect storm?
Here are seven expressions of her velocity already reshaping us:
- The Downward Trend Line of Mainline Methodism.
- The Inevitable Mitosis of United Methodism and the Coming Launch of New Expressions.
- The Slow Fade of Casual Christianity in North America and the Economic Reset of United Methodism.
- The Grossly Underestimated Influence of the African Church and the Global South in North America.
- The Increasing Influence of Pocket Fires of Renewal and the Future of Methodism.
- The Deception that Comes with Denial: The United Methodist Church, Her New Identity,and Why Most Will Not Acknowledge the New Reality.
- The Aftermath of the Storm: New Beginnings and the Next Methodism.
Perfect Storm Expression #1: The Downward Trend Line of Mainline Methodism and why it’s good.
For the most part, the mainline Christianity of North America over the last fifty years was liberalized Christianity; and mainline Christianity once thrived on the North American continent. Functioning in fields of fertile soil for a time, United Methodism thrived.
Obviously, we are no longer in that day. Illustrated by the shrinking congregations caught in the perfect storm, we are all too familiar with the downward trend lines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Disciples of Christ, the Episcopal and United Methodist Church. All of these would be described as old, established, liberal, mainline denominations.
What was once our identity and place within North American culture is now a dying share in a religious market that was ripe in another era. As this article illustrates, the mainline church is in severe decline, and the decline is projected to continue. Substantive article after article after article after article describe the plight of the mainline. Some descriptions are so sobering that one reputable researcher went on record and declared the mainline church has only 23 more Easters to celebrate before her death.
In the midst of this storm, other expressions of the Christian faith have sprung up and have been established. Independent churches, mega-churches and churches made up of savvy networks have all planted new expressions of church in both the suburbs and cities across the country.
Most of these newer church plants are classically orthodox in faith. There was a time in North America when the independent church was considered suspect; and the brand of the mainline was the “go to place” the populace trusted. The roles have reversed, and it is demonstrated by people voting with their feet.
While the above information sounds negative to many, maybe even tragic, it’s actually greatly beneficial for United Methodism. Why, one might ask?
Bear in mind, our foundations are being reset by the perfect storm. If mainline religion is dying in North America, why would we want to be an expression of the mainline? Remember the words of Dr. Billy Abraham following the 2016 General Conference: “The United Methodist Church is no longer a contemporary North American, mainline, liberal Protestant denomination like the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, and the like. It is a unique, global, orthodox Methodist denomination.”
As we hope to see in the upcoming posts, what is a tragedy for some represents a great opportunity for others. United Methodism, or whatever may spring from her in the midst of this storm, has a great opportunity for a rebirth as a unique, global, orthodox Methodist denomination. And because the mainline religion is a dying breed in North America, this bodes well for United Methodism’s future.
In part two of our seven series, we will explore The Inevitable Mitosis of United Methodism and the Coming Launch of New Expressions.
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.