Last week, I presented a rundown of the most popular stories of the year 2016 on UM & Global. This week, I look beyond specific stories to identify what larger themes emerged on the blog this year. For those interested in comparison, UMNS has compiled its own listing of the most important larger United Methodist story arcs of 2016. Where applicable, I will offer my best guesses as to how these story lines will fare in 2017.
General Conference, the Sexuality Debate, and Global Ecclesiology
This was, without a doubt, the top story of 2016. This blog dedicated a large amount of coverage to a variety of issues and news stories surrounding General Conference. Looked at from one angle, the biggest of these issues was the debate surrounding the church's stance on homosexuality and LGBT persons. Looked at from another angle, the big issue was questions about polity, from the structure of conferences to the role of bishops. In the end, it was both, inextricably tied together. The Commission on a Way Forward must now strive to unravel that knot, and their work will keep this story fresh throughout 2017.
Other Important Themes
This theme was also among the top themes of 2015. With the increasing number of migrants around the world, the humanitarian, political, and social questions raised, and the earnest desire of the church to join in God's action in these situations, this story line will endure for quite some time to come.
2. Global Health
Perhaps this is a case of making my own prediction from last year come true, but the blog dedicated an increased amount of attention to this topic in the past year. One interesting aspect of this story is the transition from the very popular Imagine No Malaria program to Abundant Health and other global health programs. Health remains one of the denomination's Four Areas of Focus, but it remains to be seen whether the end of Imagine No Malaria will be a jumping off point for the denomination or the start of waning attention.
3. Environmental Mission
Like migration, this theme was important last year and is likely to continue to be important for many years to come because of the significance of environmental issues in multiple contexts, religious and secular, across the globe.
4. Church Growth and Decline
The decline of the UMC in the United States and its growth in Africa and elsewhere is not a new storyline, but UM & Global dedicated more attention to this story in 2016, analyzing reasons for the church's decline in the US and trying to get a better sense of the exact nature and extent of church growth around the world.
5. Culture and Church Structures
In good missiological fashion, Robert Hunt and others reminded readers to pay attention to culture when thinking about church structures. Culture stands at the root of questions about what it means to be a global church. Nevertheless, the continued relevance of this storyline is not guaranteed. While culture will continue to be relevant to important questions in the UMC, its role may go overlooked.