Palliation for Congregations

In an earlier post I pondered some questions concerning what lies ahead of the UMC (statistically) as a denomination in America. What might it look like to engage our larger, dying churches similarly to how we need to engage our tiny, dying churches?  What might that afford them? What might it do? I don’t know what would happen… but I’d like to think it would offer their members a meaningful path of discipleship and a more faithful way to be the church.

In the same post, I mentioned that congregations go through cycles of birth, growth, decline, death and resurrection. I think that this is both a beneficial and faithful way to see our local religious institutions. Unfortunately, I don’t know that such a view is commonplace. I can’t say I’ve ever heard the church life-cycle analogy outside of my evangelism class in seminary or all of the resources to be used by those churches that are on their last legs. That is, I’ve never seen this analogy used outside of academic or cathartic settings. Continue reading


Beginning the end before the end

Sometime ago I read an article in the Washington Post about a daughter’s experience of her own mother’s aging and decline. It’s a wonderful article that details a lot of the struggle many adults go through when caring for aging parents such as issues of independence and the shame of feeling like a burden. But there was one quote that stuck out to me as she reflected on her experience with her mother, “I would talk to her about a plan for her future long before either of us felt it was time. I now know that when everyone is ready to talk, it’s already too late to be proactive.”

It’s a powerful quote.

Having worked in a hospital around families and patients that needed to have these same conversations, I learned the same thing. It’s not easy to do. Not enjoyable. Incredibly painful. But also incredibly meaningful. Yet, when intentional about it, it can be beneficial to all parties involved by providing an opening for meaningfulness in life’s late stages. Continue reading

Launching: toward the Automobile

*This post is one of several entitled “Launching” which present the American world that I think the  United Methodist Church, and the church in general, lives in and must respond to.*

There’s a lot of cars in America.

Why? Based on some simple research I can’t say that the car has ever gotten more affordable in relation to income. I’m led to believe that the rise of the car comes from post-WW2 realities that led to a more stable job market enabling families to feel more comfortable assuming some debt to purchase one – which led to easy financing for more sales, which led to an expanded used car market. Plus, the Interstate system enabled the rise of white-flight suburbs and our now sprawling roadway infrastructure.
Yet, in Levar Burton’s words, you don’t have to take my word for it. This is mostly based on some simple web search perusing.

Even still, the car and our road network has changed the way people live. Continue reading


To Call a Church a Family

More often than not, I’ve heard people talk about their church as a family – 1,000 member churches to 30 member churches.  Knowing that people have found a place where they feel included, comfortable and accepted is wonderful. After all, churches should be doing this well, be it in cities, suburbs or small towns.

But I wonder how this language influences our behavior.  After all, the language we use influences how we think and possibly act. Can the use of familial language be detrimental to our congregations and the mission of our churches?

As I’ve said, to be able to find one’s church a family is a great thing, especially in our more transient, dislocated culture. I love my family… even if they drive me nuts! But as great as families are, they are also familiar, exclusive, insular and protective. Continue reading


The Connected Issues of Our UMC Connection

There is a lot at play in our UMC connection.  We not only have the local church and our local communities, but our grander polity and our grander society and in someway shape or form, they are all connected.

Drawing out those connections is what I have attempted to do here.
Continue reading


Why I’m a Methodist (or the UMC Identity that drew me back)

I grew up Methodist and then once in college I left.  I joined an evangelical campus ministry.

The campus ministry also led me to be involved in an evangelical church.   I think there was a Wesleyan group on campus.  But I don’t know what it did and I don’t know who was in it. My parents were never enthused about me being in either evangelical ministries and think they would have been happier had I hunted down the elusive Wesleyan group and figured out how to belong there.  

Instead, ministry and the church came to me, with open arms.  They offered a place to not only be passionate about my faith, but a way to understand the world through it and put it to work on campus.  I had never experienced any ministry doing that growing up.  It was nice to be wanted and it was nice to be given structure in which to view the world and work.

I took on the culture’s beliefs (theological and political) at first, but as I wrestled with them I grew to disagree with them. Yet, I didn’t know where else to turn. After all, I still didn’t know where the Wesleyan group was or what it did.  Further, I had a place in the community, but boundary markers being as they are with any tight knit culture, in order to belong you have to go along.  So I hid my disagreements. Continue reading


UMC: Identity Crisis and the Failure of Mission (especially to our children)

If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times… the UMC, and the Mainline, has a 20-30 something problem.  Sunday morning is an increasingly grayer affair.  The young people we had are entering their 50s and their children aren’t replacing them.

Evangelicals don’t have it as bad, they’ve had better retention.  But this shouldn’t gloss over the fact that more Millennials are “nones” than are Evangelical.  Nonetheless, Evangelicals seem to have a certain sway over their children that Mainline churches don’t – Baby Boomers and Gen X included.
This RNS article on the similarities between Orthodox Jews/Evangelicals offers a clue.  Both are restrictive in theology and social norms, defining clear in and out groups.  And both seem to have better member retention.

I’m won’t praise harsh in/out group distinctions; they have negative effects, but they do enable teens and young adults to navigate the world nonetheless.  Definite in/out group markers aids in identity and community formation.  This is why those age groups are cliquish more so than older adults; it’s developmentally appropriate.   This is also why the restrictiveness of Evangelicalism and Orthodox Judaism enables strong, if tribalistic, identities and higher rates of ingroup member retention and devotion.

I speak from experience when I say the UMC has poor identity markers. Continue reading