The United Methodist Church has lost members every year since the merger of 1968.
The average age of worshippers are on the rise throughout the nation, however, the United Methodist Church is “already gray.” The congregational life survey,” “Who Attends United Methodist Churches?,” conducted by the Office of Research and Planning makes the following observations:
For every young adult under twenty-five years old, there are six senior citizens. In fact, there are almost twice as many senior citizens occupying United Methodist pews than there are adults aged twenty-five to forty-four. In typical congregations, those aged forty-five to sixty-four make up the largest group.18
The survey concludes, “If a denomination’s future rests upon the shoulder’s of the young, then The United Methodist Church must intensify its efforts to attract and involve young adults who currently make up the smallest portion of its population.”19
A significant warning sign to note is that in United Methodist congregations across the country, only four in ten United Methodist worshippers have children living at home. This is a full 25% below the national average. The people filling United Methodist pews are most likely to be women, well educated, and aged forty-five years or older.20
These words do not paint a picture of a vital denomination. They do not speak of a flourishing church.
At the same time, many congregations are growing. The church I serve, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, has experienced a complete transformation in the last five years. We have gone from a congregation with an average age of 82 to a congregation that is known for attracting young adults and their families. Just five years ago, our chair of SPRC was 97 years old, our Finance Chair was 93 and our lay leader was 90. We now have in place an entirely new leadership team composed of people who have come in the last three to four years. What's changed? A whole lot. But one of the things that has changed is that we flung open our doors. We intentionally decided to be open to all people. We discerned a call to become part of the Reconciling Ministries Network. And one of our five-year goals is to work towards a transformed United Methodist Church.
Starting now, bodies across our country known as Annual Conferences are starting to look at pieces of legislation that will come before them this summer. At least three pieces of legislation that will come before the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference deal with sexuality. We'll debate again throughout the summer about who is welcome in our churches and who is not. We'll decide via votes about whose lives are incompatible with Christian teaching, ignoring all the while that most of our lives are incompatible as many of us are considered rather wealthy and are not sharing near what Jesus calls us to share. I'm what is described a goat in Matthew 25 more days than I would ever be considered a sheep.
Meanwhile, we are getting our butts kicked. We are losing members. We are growing older. We are becoming irrelevant.
What would it mean for us to take one for the team - for us to take one for Christ's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven? What would it mean for us to put the energy we use on bullying people - on telling people that they are less than us because of the way they love - and put it into what is really important?
I pray for a transformed church. I pray for a church that is known for what we stand for - Christ's love, mercy, and grace; our love of God and neighbor; our commitment to justice; the impact we have on the communities of which we are a part; our ministries for and with the least of these. I pray for a championship win - the kind in which more people are being won over to Christ because the door was opened to them instead of being shut out.
What will it take for us to come together? What will it take for us to sing our hearts out - together as one - dancing in delight?