In most churches in the CTC one of the biggest changes in the last 20 years (and there have been many) has been competition. I don’t like the idea that churches “Compete” but there doesn’t seem to be a better word to use. When we add a tremendous decline in denominational loyalty, people attending church less and less often, and the passing of older Methodists, the Methodist Church too often is left out of the growing churches list.
First, we often can’t compete on most playing fields. Many churches we compete against today (again for lack of a better word) are non-denominational (Baptist, Assembly of God, and Independent). They are often very similar to each other, and if they are growing, they do a few things really well; worship, small groups, communication, children’s ministries, and evangelism (for many, reaching new people is the center of everything they do). One of the key things is, they involve their members in reaching new people. It is part of their culture.
They often have less baggage (most or newer) than our churches. We are often loaded down with programs, staff, budgets, and a full calendar that is typically designed to maintain what was and is. It is hard to change, sometimes impossible, unless we have a plan and do it slow. The reason most of the people are in our churches is because of what we are doing. We are often so into mission, outreach, and caring for our members we don’t have margin to reach new people (and I believe in mission, outreach, and pastoral care). Sometimes people are suspicious of the name Methodist and not so of an unattached name (the opposite of 50 years ago).
We just often can’t compete head to head with many non-denominational churches and new churches, meaning trying to do what they do as well or better. We might have two or three churches in our conference, maybe, who can hack at this.
What can we do?
Tim Keller one of the great church leaders and pastors of our time has said, “For some reason God has designed churches of different denominations to reach a city.” I am paraphrasing, but believe he means that each church can reach a different group of people in an area and should. We must learn better to believe in ourselves. Who in your area is your church reaching, and who in your area should your church be reaching that you are not?
We do it by emphasizing our core value and backing them up by money, prayer, preaching, and staffing.
- How important are Professions of Faith in Jesus Christ to you?
- Is baptizing infants a key part of the culture of your Church?
- Is baptizing adults for the first time important in the culture of your Church?
- What place does Confirmation have in the culture of your Church?
- Is the Sacrament of Communion not only shared, but explained into the culture and DNA of your people?
- Is Wesleyan theology presented in a distinct enough way that it separates you from the competition?
- Is Jesus personal, not just what He taught, but the person of a risen savior who taught the best way to live?
- Are there clear, focused, consistent, and communicated reasons why people would attend your church, raise their families in your church, give to your church, and invite people to your church?
I think many of our churches need to discover and rediscover their identity, not the one we used to have, and often not the one we have, but the identity where God is leading us. The Wesleyan core is always a good place to start, a core that is about the soul and hearts of people, the community and the church. We need to focus on what only a Methodist Church can do.
People aren’t looking for Wesleyan traditions, but they are looking for the Wesleyan heart, Wesleyan faith, the Wesleyan experience, beliefs that are solid and biblically applied to their lives and that can change their lives. We have all this. It's our story if we can reconnect to it.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth