By Rev. Bill McAlilly
It is no secret that the United Methodist Church is losing members. Some lay the blame at the feet of our United Methodist bishops and their lack of accountability. Some lay the blame on our failure to deal effectively with the issue of homosexuality in our denomination.
Others lament our failure to maintain Wesleyan roots and our willingness to bend to cultural trends in worship as a part of our downfall. These are legitimate concerns within the United Methodist Church. But ultimately, we will be judged by how effectively we are able to gather our forces and act, not by our ability to diagnose our failures.
If we are going to reach the un-churched and the de-churched population in our midst, we need leaders, both lay and clergy, who believe God is not finished with the United Methodist Church. It will take a wholesale commitment of our entire denomination, from bishops down to the local church level, deciding that the future is more important than the past. There is a new generation of bishops who have been elected in the last four to eight years who have a passion for Christ and who are leading our denomination in a new direction. Clearly the bishops of the United Methodist Church are holding before us the mission of the church: To make disciples for the transformation of the world.
John Wesley taught that the Great Commandment, loving God and loving neighbor, was the key to disciple making and transformation. The DNA of the United Methodist Church is rooted in the call to a loving heart, a loving mind and a loving spirit. When our theology and our practice have been rooted here, we have been effective in reaching the un-churched and de-churched.
Over time, one of the most effective means of reaching the un-churched and the de-churched has been planting new faith communities. Indeed, one of the ways this new group of United Methodist bishops is leading the church is toward congregational development. That is, transforming existing churches and birthing new congregations in places where the need is present.
A grassroots group of folks within our denomination who have a passion for reaching people for Christ has organized. This group is proposing that we begin 350 new churches a year nationwide that would average 250 in worship in five years. Legislation will emerge at General Conference to reallocate denominational resources to this end.
In Mississippi, the tools have been created to begin taking seriously the call to disciple making. The first step is taking seriously the Healthy Church Assessment, A2, which offers a tool to assess the strengths of each congregation. Through Bible study and engaging in healthy conversation around the 12 A2 Indicators, each congregation can assess its strengths and its weaknesses. The second step is discovering where God is moving and engaging your congregation in mission. The third step is to give birth to new congregations across Mississippi.
In the place where I have been planted, where there is so much destruction, God is doing amazing things. May we use this particular season to discover our way forward as those who love God and love neighbor and desire to see the transformation of the world.
McAlilly is superintendent of the Seashore District. This article originally appeared in "Waves," the newsletter of the Seashore District.