Offer Them ChristPosted: February 23, 2013
These words, from Father John Wesley, came to mind last week as the Area Strategic Mapping Team continued its work with Gil Rendle, our consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation.
We have a rich heritage across the two conferences. For over 200 years now, the people called Methodist have been offering Christ to those who live among us. At times we have seen our churches soar and at other times we have struggled. Yet, God continues to give us opportunity to bear witness to the love of Christ in the world. When we remember our Story of who and whose we are, our faithfulness grows deeper.
What we know:
We are not sustainable – Since 1965 we have been losing members. It is my understanding that our era is the first time in history when we have substantial numbers of 5 different generations alive at the same time. A truly healthy church would have all five generations active in some way in its life, but in most of our churches we have only the oldest two or three generations involved. Reaching out to as many as three generations at one time is very challenging.
We are living on a changed mission field and deep change is our only choice.
The task that the Strategic Mapping Team is attempting to articulate and lead us toward is to a new Missional future. The question we are asking and ask of others is this:
Who is our client?
Our client is the mission field.
Our call is to offer Christ to those in our midst—which means coming to an understanding of both mission and evangelism, which are intricately bound together. We are called to Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Luke 10:27)
According to the Call to Action research that was conducted in 2011, there are 33,614 congregations in the United Methodist Church. Of those, 15% are vital (5,042). Applying that ratio to the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences, out of 1,100 congregations, only 165 would be vital. I believe that in our area the percentage is higher. Nonetheless, there is work to be done.
The harsh reality is this: If we do not come to understand in a very profound and deep way that the Mission Field is our client, and we fail to shift our focus, 300-350 congregations in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences will disappear.
In our work together last week, we affirmed two important truths:
- Nothing sacred but the mission itself.
2. Mission is not a program but a lifestyle – a way of life – a way of living.
The four days the Area Strategic Mapping Team worked together have been productive and clarifying. We raise these questions and ask for your prayerful reflection over the next few months.
1. What do you believe is the primary mission of church?
2. What does your congregation care deeply about?
3. If your congregation disappeared, who would notice?
As we near Annual Conference in June (Memphis, 6/3-5; TN UMC, 6/10-12), we will be inviting you to participate in the conversation. We anticipate that Gil Rendle will be with us for some time of teaching at Annual Conference with regard to the Mission of Church. We do not anticipate any action items to be approved from our Strategic Mapping Team. We do anticipate that we will hear a progress report at annual conference and be informed about next steps.
And may, in this Lenten season, we consider what it means to Offer Christ to a hurting world.