Friday, May 31, 2019

Amy Valdez Barker: In Relationship – Not Control

Today’s post is by Rev. Amy R. Valdez Barker, PhD. Rev. Valdez Barker is Executive Director of Global Mission Connections for Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

I am a recovering “control-freak. I am a Type A personality who wants things to be organized, strategized and implemented well. In some places, this has served me well. At other times, my need for control would get out of hand when it moved me away from people and towards the attitude of perfectionism.

I planned Conference-wide youth events, and because I worked with a team who planned every minute, every second of the gathering, I knew exactly what was supposed to happen. I wanted everything to go off perfectly! Whenever we deviated from the agenda, we would roll with the bump (though it drove me a bit crazy), but then do all that we could to get things back into order. That’s how I made sense of my world and even provided safety and security for parents and youth who wanted to be sure things would go according to plan.

Now, things never went 100% according to plan. There were always people or groups who would do something completely unplanned or unanticipated. They were youth after all, always wanting to see where they could push the boundaries, test their leaders and create new adventures.

Even so, I loved them! (And I still love them.) I’m a much better Christian, a much better mother and a much better human because of my ministries with youth then and today. Those experiences remind me of who I was and the type of person God continues to call me to be.

But, managing all those details and anticipating the limitless possibilities and surprises with plans “B” and “C” was exhausting. It didn’t allow me to be as present with the people and enjoy the moments as much as I could have. If I wanted to move closer to where God was leading me, I needed to let go of my controlling/perfectionist tendencies and move closer to where God was leading me and not where I was convinced I had to go. I needed to recover the balance of trusting God more and myself a good bit less. In other words, I had to let go of being a “control-freak.”

In my estimation, I think our denomination is at a point where we have to face our own failures as political “control-freaks.” General Conference 2019 has shown us that each part of our connection is trying to control the other by doubling-down on rules, regulations, policies and mandates in order to dictate how the Holy Spirit is moving in different parts of our world. But, this hasn’t been helping us grow the church and in many ways has been counter-productive to the strengthening of the kin-dom of God.

I used to think that if we all abided by the same set of rules and beliefs, (i.e., our ecclesiology) things would simply change and everybody would be clear about what it means to be a United Methodist Christian. And if we all agreed on that, there would be no ambiguity or differences. We would be nice, neat and uniform. In reality, I discovered how mis-guided and wrong I had become, worrying about protecting the idea of a united (single-thought/belief) institution that I thought I knew and loved.

As I look back at my experiences now, I realize it wasn’t the uniformity of the institution or the security of all believing and interpreting everything the same that I loved and held onto for our church.

No, it was the relationships. It was the incredible people I have met through a worldwide connection that has expanded my heart and my mind to a multitude of perceptions, cultures, experiences and contexts that are a part of the wideness of who God is and what God does in the world.

I’ve fallen in love with all of God’s people in their wisdom and expertise and in their failures and their challenges. I have fallen in love with God’s people who are put together and completely broken. I’ve fallen in love with God’s people from the east and from the west. I’ve fallen in love with God’s people from the tips of Alaska to the southernmost places in Cape Town, South Africa or Tierra del Fuego in South America.

The beauty of God’s people who come from every region of the world and every region of the world has shown us the problems, the challenges and the gifts of life, culture, and religion. God has taught me that the most important part of being in God’s kin-dom is the relationship we have with God and with one another.

This insight has left me wondering about what it means to be in relationship and yet have no control. I think we have many illustrations of that now and what it could look like for a Methodist connection.

Some people say that if we go into autonomous relationships there is no accountability. I disagree with that. The accountability comes in communication and expectations of the relationships. We often handle that now with MOU’s or Memorandum of Understanding, a fancy term for a covenant between partners. Sometimes our autonomous relationships are much stronger because we each have the ability to act independently and yet, there is a mutuality in growing together in grace and love.

I have met with leaders from the Korean Methodist Church, the British Methodist Church, the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) and the Uniting Church of Canada. All of these leaders and many more Methodist/Wesleyan and ecumenical partners appreciate and respect the relationships we at Global Ministries have built with them over the years. We work hard to find our common mission and vision and seek ways to collaborate so that we can have a greater impact for the people wherever we are together.

We learn so much from one another. I have learned about different types of leadership structures in these Methodist Churches.

For example, the MCCA use local lay pastors, circuit pastors and then area/regional elders to reach their communities across many islands and countries in the Caribbean. This is another way of dividing the labor for missional leadership.

I’ve learned how to start new churches from the Fijian Methodists and discovered their innovative practices of eco-tourism to support mission and ministry, while also educating about God’s creation. I’ve told their story to many US Annual Conference leaders and encouraged them to reach out to these Methodist colleagues to learn more and find ways to adapt it for their own context. This is what we mean by connecting the church in mission.

The gift of the autonomous relationships is that we can come together around mission, even if our theological understandings, our organizational structures, and our missional contexts may differ. When it comes to loving our neighbors by alleviating human suffering and seeking peace and justice for all, we can do that better together. We recognize that and so do our Wesleyan/Methodist partners throughout the world. It’s not always perfect, but it’s still the great gift of being in relationship for the sake of God’s mission. We don’t control each other; we learn from each other. I believe this is a better way for us to be a global church. We can be united around mission and join God in expanding the harvest.

As Bishop Carter put it simply in his chapter in the book Where Do We Go from Here? we must be:
“One with Christ – this is Unity.
One with each other – this is faithfulness.
One in ministry to all the world – this is fruitfulness.” (p. 43)

That’s what it could look like for a future Methodist global connection. If we are going to be one with Christ, then we’ve got to give up the need to control one another through polity and governance. If we are going to be one with each other, then we’ve got to focus on the people we are with and the journey we are on together, or in other words, live in the moment. And finally, if we are going to be one in ministry with all the world, then we the people of The United Methodist Church need to focus on the mission and truly be in ministry to all the world. Our UMC needs to give up control and put our whole trust in Christ our Savior for the sake of the future of mission and ministry.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

United Methodist Connectional Ministry and Content (Un)Bundling

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

In my previous piece, an overview of the United Methodist apportionment system, I argued that apportionments could be thought of as “United Methodist subscription fees” rather than as “church taxes.” Apportionments are a way in which local churches buy into the set of services and ministries that The United Methodist Church, through its annual conferences, boards, and agencies provides. Most of these services and ministries are ones that individual congregations could not provide on their own.

Yet, as detailed in that piece, the apportionment system is in significant flux as the GCFA board has recommended a significant cut to the amount of general church apportionments and as United Methodists explore possible divisions and reconfigurations of the denomination as a whole in the wake of General Conference 2019.

The possibility of denominational division in particular raises significant questions about how and what connectional ministry will be financed in the future. Will boards and agencies go with one portion of the current church into a successor denomination? Will successor denominations pick and choose to support particular boards and agencies, which could be shared across denominations? Will annual conferences pick and choose? Will individual churches?

Thinking about apportionments as subscription fees allows us to think about the possible funding futures for connectional ministries in a helpful new way: through the metaphor of content bundling.

Content bundling has long been a practice, first in cable television and now through streaming services. The notion in content bundling is that users purchase access to a “bundle” of content – movies, TV shows, etc. They can then choose which programs to watch from among that bundle without having to pay further fees. Nobody watches the whole bundle, and there is always content that any given user would not have paid to have access to, but overall the bundle approach provides for a wide array of options at lower cost for the individual viewer and reliable revenue streams for the content producer.

Almost as long as there has been content bundling, there has also been debate about “unbundling”: giving users greater discretion to pay for specific content or types of content. Unbundling allows consumers to decide whether they want to pay for HBO or save money by not subscribing, but it also allows producers to charge more for unbundled services.

The ultimate in unbundling is the pay-per-view approach, wherein the consumer pays for each individual piece of content she or he views. Rather than subscribing to Amazon Prime and having access to all the content included as part of that price, she or he pays $2.99 to rent individual movies through Amazon.

The apportionment system has been the ultimate “bundling” approach to connectional ministry for United Methodists. Local churches have paid one apportionment fee and then had access to all of the ministry content available through districts, annual conferences, jurisdictions, and the general church. Yet the connectional ministries of The United Methodist Church were a bundle: local churches could either buy into all of them or none of them. The same is less true for the relationship between annual conferences and the general church, since annual conferences have more discretion over which general church funds they pay into, but the principle remained one of bundling.

One way to interpret the time of change that The United Methodist Church is going through is that it is an unbundling of the United Methodist package. In the future, it is likely that congregations or annual conferences will have greater freedom to select which components of United Methodism they want to buy into, in both affiliation and financial senses.

Much of the discussion I have seen thus far has assumed this unbundling will lead to a complete pay-per-view approach: This group will want to support that particular board, or perhaps even that particular program. The notion is that churches/annual conferences/denominations would evaluate each individual institution and/or program and determine whether they wanted to support that particular institution/program.

Yet unbundling does not necessarily mean no bundles. It is possible for unbundling to mean the breaking up of a larger bundle into various smaller bundles. Instead of one cable price, there is the basic cable bundle with a variety of additional optional packages: the sports package, the premium package, the movie channel package, etc.

Thus, if United Methodism is becoming unbundled, perhaps the question to ask is what smaller bundles of United Methodist services and ministries will congregations or annual conferences be able to choose from? Is there a basic bundle of United Methodism? Will annual conferences offer bundles of services and ministries for local churches to choose from and financially support, or is the annual conference the basic bundle of United Methodism?

On the general church level, is there a financial/administrative bundle that consists of services from GCFA and Wespath? Are the monitoring services of GCSRW and GCORR part of the basic administrative bundle, or are they an add-on? What sorts of bundles exist for mission? Is Global Ministries and UMCOR its own bundle, or are there other components to mission added into the bundle – perhaps new church starts at Discipleship Ministries? Is there an educational bundle with GBHEM, the Ministerial Education Fund, the Black College Fund, and the Africa University Fund?

Does this metaphor of content bundling help us think in new ways about international relations within United Methodism? Is participation in General Conference part of the basic bundle, or is it an optional add-on? Can General Conference itself be unbundled so that groups can choose to participate in some portions of collective decision-making and not others?

It seems that this ministry bundling approach to United Methodism has a couple of advantages for both local congregations/annual conferences on the one hand and annual conferences/general boards and agencies on the other.

The advantage for local congregations and annual conferences of buying into bundles rather than individual programs is the same as it is for content viewers: it allows for low-cost exploration of new content. Congregations and annual conferences can be exposed to new forms of ministry through United Methodist ministry bundles that they may not have considered previously but may be interested in exploring, especially if they can do so in a cheaper and easier way.

For annual conferences or boards and agencies offering the bundles, bundling their programming provides for greater predictability and reliability in their income, which translates into greater freedom to develop new forms of ministry.

In other words, for both those selecting bundles and those offering bundles, ministry bundling is a way to encourage innovation, exploration, and development of new ministries. Bundling is a way of keeping the church open to being led in new directions in God’s mission rather than being confined to the status quo of what is already popular. Thus, there are significant missional and theological grounds why bundling could be a good idea.

Of course, bundling will not solve all the church’s financial problems. My next piece will look at the consequences reduced apportionment funds could have at both the annual conference and general church level.

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Ministry Consequences of Reduced Apportionments

Today's post is the second in a two-part series by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

As discussed earlier this week, it is highly likely that there will be a significant reduction in the amount of apportionment money at all levels of the church in the future, due both to proposed reductions in general church apportionments and to protests and possible division in the denomination.

This situation naturally begs the question: What are the possible consequences of this reduction in apportionment funds? I will look at the range of possibilities on two levels: institutions and programs.

Apportionment money goes to support a variety of institutions – some components of the church itself, like annual conferences; some ministries of the church, like boards and agencies, church camps, and collegiate ministries; and some relatively independent but still church-supported organizations, like colleges, hospitals, and social service providers.

One possible impact on these institutions could be that the church (or churches, if there is a division) could decide to reduce the number of institutions it supports that are doing similar work. Thus, the UMC could reduce the number of supported seminaries or the number of episcopal areas, for instance.

The future of agencies no longer supported would vary – loosely controlled agencies like seminaries, hospitals, or colleges could try to continue on their own without church funds. Some might succeed; others likely wouldn’t. Portions of the church like episcopal areas or annual conferences would need to consolidate down to a smaller number.

Another possible consequence could be that the UMC (or its successors) could consolidate institutions with dissimilar but related functions. This option is most likely for general church boards and agencies, where reduced general church apportionments could lead to the return of something like Plan UMC, but this option could also play out at the annual conference level. The idea would be to try to reduce spending through shared services, fewer staff, fewer board members, shared facilities, etc. The amount of savings realized may or may not be sufficient to prevent other types of impacts, but this possibility would likely be combined with other types of cuts.

The model might even look like the unitary board model common in other smaller denominations, wherein the denomination has one board with various departments instead of multiple separate boards and agencies.

A third possible consequence could be that annual conferences or the general church decides to stop supporting institutions that do certain types of work. The church could choose to focus on or prioritize some forms of work and cease funding for others. Again, the implication for the institutions no longer receiving church funds would depend on how closely tied they were to the church and how significant church funds were for covering their overall operating expenses.

A fourth possible impact is that the church (either general church or annual conferences) could expect church-supported institutions to rely more on other sources of funding, perhaps direct giving, grants, or fee-for-service arrangements. This option is most likely for relatively independent church-supported institutions and ministry organizations.

This may or may not be a realistic expectation, depending on the type of institution, the type of ministry it does, and its previous experience with other forms of funding. It is unrealistic to expect an institution that has previously relied entirely on apportionment money to suddenly self-fund, but church institutions like hospitals, colleges, seminary, camps, and social service agencies with previous experience with other revenue streams may be more successful. Such a decision to push for greater institutional self-support may end up being a de facto decision to cut programming at those institutions.

Whether or not it impacts the programming of institutions, the decision to reduce church financial support of institutions will also have the effect of reducing church control of institutions. Control usually follows money, and less financial support likely means less control. That may or may not be a bad thing, either from the church’s perspective or that of the institution.

The final option for the church (either general church or annual conferences) would be to keep the same set of institutions but to expect them to do less, since they would be receiving less funding. That leads to the second level of implications: the programmatic level.

For any institution impacted by the reduction in apportionments, there are a few ways to cope with reduced funding: reducing overall business costs, doing less of the same programs, and doing fewer programs.

One main way of reducing overall business costs is by increasing efficiencies within the institution – finding cheaper paper suppliers, automating tasks, outsourcing IT support, etc. Due to the general business climate and specific financial pressures may church-related institutions have faced in recent years, the search for greater efficiency is already well underway. It is unlikely that institutions could realize a cost savings of 15% (the proposed reductions for some boards) just through greater efficiency.

The other way in which contemporary organizations reduce their overall business costs is by shifting the costs of business onto their employees. This is a general trend in American business and is carried out in many ways – changes to benefit packages, the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions, the use of more temporary as opposed to long-term employees, etc. There may be moral reasons why this form of cost-savings is unsavory to the church, but such proposals can often be presented in financial terms that obscure the impacts on employees.

The second programmatic option is to do less of the same thing. Under this option, institutions continue to conduct the same sorts of program, but spend less on them by operating these programs at lower levels – fewer clients served, less staff support, fewer scholarships given, fewer visits by the DS, etc.

Lower levels of inputs likely produce lower levels of outputs and outcomes, though the correlation between inputs and outputs is not always linear. Some programs may have outcomes that depend upon a certain scale, and for these, doing less of the same thing may result in a reduction in outputs that is proportionally greater than the reduction in inputs.

Some programs may also have a minimum size that they need to function based on staffing levels, physical space, or other criteria. There comes a point at which it is not possible to do less of certain programs and still do them in any meaningful way.

When that point comes, it leads to the third possible programmatic consequence: doing fewer programs. Institutions may decide to cut programs because they lack the funds to sustain them at sufficient levels or because they decide to focus and prioritize elsewhere. That saves the institutions money spent on salaries, supplies, services, etc, but means the church no longer try to prevent malaria or support ethnic new church starts or do whatever else happened through shuttered programs.

Again, the church, both at the annual conference and general church levels, is likely to employ multiple of the above strategies for addressing the reduction in apportionment funds. Especially if there is church division, multiple strategies will be necessary.

Moreover, because of the very wide array of church-financed institutions and programs and because of the large collection of decision-making bodies for these institutions and programs, it is impossible at present to say how reductions in apportionments will play out, either in total, or in any particular field.

What is certain, however, is that the connectional and financial troubles of The United Methodist Church as a whole will have dramatic and deleterious consequences for its connectional institutions and ministry programs.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Questions about UMC Separation

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

There has been a lot of conversation about the possibility of a coming split in The United Methodist Church since General Conference 2019. Secular media has speculated about it. Members of the Renewal and Reform Coalition have been calling for separation or "mitosis." The recent UMC Forward and UMC Next events discussed this possibility. Even the Council of Bishops "is exploring models and plans of new forms of unity."

There are, to put it mildly, many questions that arise from the possibility of such a split. On a basic level, there are many different ways separation could happen – one group leaving the existing structure and another staying, all current connections being dissolved with congregations or annual conferences left to determine their own plans, two or more groups negotiating a plan of separation, and probably other possibilities as well.

Assuming some sort of negotiated plan of separation, questions then arise of who will be doing the negotiation. What authority will they have to speak for a wider group? What voices will be part of the negotiation, and whose interests will they represent – theologically and in terms of a variety of identity issues (race, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc.)?

Then there are questions regarding the details of the separation, including the following:

1. What happens to the central conferences? Do they become autonomous? Do they go with one group as a default? Does each of them vote on autonomy or affiliation with one group? Is the central conference even the right body to make these decisions in all cases, or would it make more sense for episcopal areas or annual conferences to make such decisions in some cases? Allowing United Methodist outside the US to make these decisions themselves is necessary for a division to happen in a non-colonialist way. It is quite likely that different central conferences would make different decisions. It is also likely that there will be differences of opinion within some central conferences.

2. Who (if anyone) keeps the name “The United Methodist Church”? If one group keeps the name and the other doesn’t, then it seems more like an exit than a division. If neither group keeps the name, then it seems more like a mutual division.

3. Who (if anyone) keeps the cross and flame insignia? Again, if one group keeps the name and the other doesn’t, then it seems more like an exit than a division. If neither group keeps or both groups keep the cross and flame, then it seems more like a mutual division. Both groups continuing to use the same logo may cause confusion, though, unless there is some modification by one or both groups.

4. When determining which congregations and clergy become part of which group, is there a default option for affiliation, or does every congregation and clergy person vote? If there is a default option in the division, what is it – the progressive or the traditionalist group? Who determines that default? At what geographical level is it determined – jurisdiction? annual conference? This may be the most contentious issue, since whichever group is the default option with likely retain divided congregations or congregations reluctant to vote.

5. What happens to the boards and agencies? Do they go with one group? Is it necessary that they all go with the same group? Are at least some of the boards and agencies shared between groups? Do they become independent non-profits, able to serve Methodist groups and non-Methodists alike? If they do not continue to be part of one group solely, how will their boards be determined? In any case, what will their revenue streams look like? Will they be dissolved, their assets liquidated and split?

6. What happens to other United Methodist-related institutions such as seminaries, colleges, hospitals, non-profits, etc.? Do they choose a group? Do they cease to be church-affiliated at all? What does that affiliation look like? In cases where there are currently United-Methodist appointed trustees, who will appoint those trustees in the future?

7. What, if any, opportunities will there be for on-going relationship across newly separated parts of the church, including perhaps newly autonomous central conference regions? Will they all be part of the World Methodist Council? Will there be other avenues to foster those relationships, such as some non-law-making continuation of General Conference? Will boards and agencies continue to serve as means of fostering relationships? Will there continue to be direct relationships between annual conferences or local churches?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the question, to the extent that congregations, annual conferences, and/or church institutions are choosing between groups, what are the defining issues by which those choices are being framed? Will the choice just be about views on queer ordination and gay marriage, or will each group articulate a larger vision of the church, say around a particular understanding of holiness, full inclusion and affirmation of all people, and/or opposition to systemic oppression in all its forms? This question has particular salience for United Methodists of color and United Methodists in the central conferences, who may not see themselves aligning perfectly with either side in a split if the terms are set solely by white Americans.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Primer on United Methodist Apportionments

Today's post is the first in a two-part series by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Today, we’re going to take a look at apportionments, the system by which The United Methodist Church funds many of its joint ministries.

The basic idea behind apportionments is that local congregations pool a portion of the money they collect to accomplish things that are either beyond their ability to do as individual congregations (run a seminary, for instance) or that can be done more effectively or efficiently together (develop resources on preventing harassment and abuse). Apportionments allow the church to produce goods and services funded by all for the benefit of all – collective goods.

Local congregations are requested to pay a certain dollar amount in apportionments that is determined by their annual conference. That amount is determined on the one hand by the budget of the annual conference, including the amount the remit to the general church, and on the other hand by the budget of the congregation and possibly its membership size (this varies by annual conference). Larger congregations with larger budgets are asked to pay more, on the principle that those with greater ability should contribute more.

Apportionments are often referred to as “church taxes.” This label comes from the fact that the government is the prime example of an organization that collects money from many individual to produce goods that cannot be produced by any individual yet are for the benefit of all individuals.

Yet it’s worth pointing out that governments are not the only such organizations. Subscriptions services like Netflix do the same thing. No one family can produce “Orange Is the New Black” or “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” but by collecting money from all of their subscribers, Netflix as a whole is able to produce these collective goods. Moreover, Netflix determines the fees it charges, just as the government determines the tax rate. Thus, apportionments could just as fairly be called “United Methodist subscription fees” as they could “church taxes.”

The system of apportionments evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prior to apportionments, boards, agencies, and other collective ministries relied upon direct fundraising. The evolution of apportionments was driven by three overlapping desires: Boards and agencies wanted a more reliable source of income than the varying amounts they collected in fundraising. Local churches wanted a simpler approach to giving that the multiple appeals with which they were bombarded. And General Conferenced wanted more control over the boards and agencies. The apportionment system achieved all of these goals simultaneously.

As it stands today, the apportionment system in The United Methodist Church has several levels that reflect the broader polity levels of the church: In the US, there are apportionments paid that go to support the work of the district, the annual conference, the jurisdiction, and the general church.

Despite the frequent focus on general church apportionments in the UMC, the majority of apportionments actually go to the annual conference. For every dollar United Methodists in the US give to the church, only $0.02 goes to general church apportionments, whereas $0.07 goes to district, annual conference, and jurisdictional apportionments, mostly to the annual conference.

Within general church apportionments, there are seven different funds:

  •  The World Service Fund, which pays for the work of those general boards and agencies funded through apportionments, the work of the Connectional Table, and special ministries such as the Central Conferences Theological Education Fund. Just over half of general church apportionments go to the World Service Fund.

  •  The Episcopal Fund, which pays for episcopal salaries, housing, and travel costs for all bishops throughout the world. About 1/6 of general church apportionments go to the Episcopal Fund.

  •  The Ministerial Education Fund, which supports the work of the 13 official United Methodist seminaries in the US. About 1/8 of general church apportionments go to the Ministerial Education Fund.

  •  The Black College Fund, which supports the work of the 11 historically black colleges and universities in the US affiliated with the UMC. About 7% of general church apportionments go to the Black College Fund.

  •  The General Administration Fund, which supports the work of GCFA and GCAH, covers the costs associated with planning and holding General Conference, and covers the costs of the work of the Judicial Council. About 6% of general church apportionments go to the General Administration Fund.

  •  The Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, which supports the work of the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Cooperation. Less than 2% of general church apportionments go to the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund.

  •  The Africa University Fund, which supports the work of Africa University. Less than 2% of general church apportionments go to the Africa University Fund.

Giving from churches in the US supplies the vast majority of general church apportionment funds – over 90%. Churches in Europe have long given voluntarily to support some general church funds. General Conference 2016 approved the collection of apportionments from churches in all the Central Conferences to support the Episcopal Fund and the General Administration Fund. European churches continue to pay at a level in excess of that requested of them.

Currently, the system of apportionments is facing two major developments that could significantly curtail the amount of money collected through the apportionments system.

First, the GCFA board of directors has proposed a significant cut in the amount of general church apportionments requested from US churches. Last August they proposed an 18% reduction. Since annual conferences and not local congregations determine how apportionments are collected, annual conferences will ultimately determine how much of that reduction is passed on to local churches. Again, general church apportionments are only a quarter of the total apportionments collected.

The Connectional Table has worked with the GCFA board of directors to determine how that 18% overall reduction for general church apportionments would translate to various specific funds. The CT controls the World Service Fund, Ministerial Education Fund, Black College Fund, Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, and Africa University Fund. GCFA controls the Episcopal Fund and the General Administration Fund. A full report of the CT’s recommendations can be found here.

The recommended budget from GCFA and CT needs to be approved by General Conference 2020 before it can go into effect. It is possible the GC would increase general church apportionments from the level proposed, but significant reductions are likely.

The other factor which will likely impact apportionment giving at all levels – district, annual conference, jurisdiction, and general church – is the conflict over the Traditional Plan and the uncertainty about the future of the denomination. Some local congregations are withholding all apportionments in protest of the Traditional Plan’s passage. Some annual conferences are working out system to pay only portions of the general church apportionments. Moreover, a division of the church, which seems increasingly likely, will reduce the amount of apportionments further.

My next piece will look at how the metaphor of apportionments as subscription fees can help us think about the future of apportionments and connectional ministries in a less united United Methodist Church in new ways.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The United Methodist Representational Problem, Part III

Today's piece is the second in a three-part series by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo. Dr. Wingeier-Rayo is Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary.

The previous part of this blog series discussed whether the UMC’s polity and election formulas are consistent with the UMC’s mission statement, which emphasizes making disciples.

This leads us to another problem with the representative system that only counts current members, but does not take into account potential. What about underrepresented people groups? The voices of the potential mission opportunities are largely absent at General Conference, which gives a disproportionate power to the status quo.

The Hispanic population in the United States is about 17% of the population (52 million) but comprises less than 1% of UM members. Asians-Americans are 6% of the U.S. population (about 21 million) and comprises only 1% of UM members, and both groups are large potential mission fields in the U.S. Yet there were only a handful of Hispanic and Asian-American delegates to General Conference. The same could be said for other underrepresented groups.

Every four years annual conferences elect delegates to General Conference. Usually mindful of the desire for racial and gender diversity, some annual conferences are more successful than others at achieving this aim. In the United States, the UMC is approximately 90% Caucasian at a time when ethnic minority populations are growing. The U.S. Census predicts that the U.S. will become majority minority by 2044. Generally speaking, Caucasians in the U.S. tend to be older, while people of color are younger.

We are already seeing this shift in the U.S. where African American, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American membership is growing in the UMC, while Caucasian membership is in decline.

There are many local churches that are islands of older Caucasians in the middle of black and brown neighborhoods. This reality is reflected in the power structure, where the majority of U.S. delegates to General Conference delegates are older and white, yet their churches are located in communities that are younger and ethnically diverse.

Although the United Methodist Church prides itself on being a global church, there is very little representation at General Conference from Asia and none from Latin America.

The Philippines had 50 delegates representing 5.8% of the total delegates. Sixty percent of the world’s population lives in Asia. The three most populated countries in the world, China, India and Indonesia (who together comprise 1/3 of the world’s population--approximately 2.7 billion people) have no voting delegates at General Conference.

Mexico, Central and South America, a region that is extremely important geopolitically to the United States and has a population of 625 million people, have no voting delegates. Can we call ourselves a global church when such large sectors of the world’s population are not represented in the United Methodist Church?

Within the United States, the Western Jurisdiction only comprises 3% of membership, and thus has 3% of the delegates to General Conference. However, the jurisdiction covers one-third of U.S. territory with vast natural and economic resources. Historically, Methodism arrived in the Eastern United States and slowly moved to the West. The Western Jurisdiction began as missionary annual conferences, and Alaska is still a missionary conference today.

Although the jurisdiction has proportionally small membership, the states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, and Utah have some of the highest populations of unchurched people among their collective 65 million inhabitants—many of them younger and ethnically diverse. The populations in these states are growing.

Losing this growth potential and mission field would be a huge loss to the United Methodist Church, but our current formula for representative democracy takes no account of the needs and potential of this population.

Our system favors conferences that have more current members, even though they are generally older, of a dominant ethnic group and male. These voices have disproportionate power and are not representative of the potential mission and future growth of the church.

The General Conference election formula is inconsistent with the mission statement of the UMC. A balanced and healthy church polity would have proportionate representation of those who are living out the mission statement with their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

Here are five practical recommendations that could make the process for electing delegates more representational of the reality of the UMC constituency:

1.    Move the dates of the General Conference to a time when more young people are available to attend (i.e. taking into account the academic calendar).

2.    Support the young people’s call to mentor and encourage young people to become delegates to General Conference.

3.    Require an equal number of men and women from each annual conference as delegates to General Conference.

4.    Ask each annual conference to be accountable for financial commitments of the general church proportionate to the number of its General Conference delegates.

5.    Give greater voice to those leaders from vibrant ministries making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The United Methodist Representational Problem, Part II

Today's piece is the second in a three-part series by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo. Dr. Wingeier-Rayo is Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary.

The first part of this blog discussed ways that the representation to annual and general conferences is not proportionate or representational of the body of United Methodists. This second part will discuss whether the polity and election formulas are consistent with the UMC’s mission statement.

The mission of The United Methodist Church is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The mission statement calls us to make disciples, yet representation to General Conference is awarded to those who make members. Are making a disciple and making a member the same?

In some cases, the process of making a disciple and making a member overlap, and becoming a member of a local church is a logical outcome of becoming a disciple. However, they are not always synonymous. In our churches there are disciples of Jesus Christ who are not members, and there are church members who may not be committed disciples.[1]

For example, in the church I attend there is a young man who is active, attends worship regularly, gives generously, participates in mission and outreach, yet has not joined the church. After General Conference in February he commented to me that: “it would be a hard sell to invite any of my friends to the United Methodist Church right now.” Recently there was a whole confirmation class in Omaha, Nebraska who decided to not join the church.

There are countless others in our churches who attend worship regularly, volunteer, give financially, yet are not members. I would call them disciples, but not members.

Inversely, there are other churches that focus on maintenance of current membership. Some members have been on the rolls for decades with very little involvement. Some are “Christmas and Easter Christians.” Unless there are extenuating circumstances that prevent them from attending (such as illness, physical mobility or proximity to church), I would say that they are members, but not necessarily disciples.

A church may invest in ministries that make disciples for the transformation of the world without making members. I would argue that these are actually some of our most fruitful investments. I point to the example of our denominationally-supported campus ministries that disciple college students who will be the future leaders of society. They may or may not choose to join a United Methodist Church, but will participate in a lifetime of Christian witness (whether in the UMC or not) and the transformation of the world through their professional vocations.

Other examples are our new church starts and Fresh Expressions that de-emphasize denominational connections. Studies have shown that young people today are less interested in supporting an institution, and so these ministries often do not use the cross and flame logo in their publicity. These ministries emphasize making disciples but not necessarily members.

Ministry is contextual, and each local church decides its own budget based on its own priorities. Some churches see themselves as the salt of the earth and place major emphasis on social ministries. Many have outreach programs to serve their community. Others are very missional and support international missionaries and VIM teams.

All churches would like to grow, but this depends on how one defines growth. Is numerical growth the best metric for measuring a healthy and effective church? Is it not possible to be engaged in healthy, effective ministry that transforms the world (or a least the surrounding community) and yet be a small membership church?

In his book, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, Reggie McNeal makes the case for using such metrics of church vitality as volunteer service hours. Conversely, there are many cases of members who do not uphold their vows to support the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

Should the voice and vote of the member be valued more than the active seeker? Should the voice of the elderly be valued more than that of the young? An 80 year-old lifelong member has representation, but a young person in the youth group or a new disciple who is not a member cannot vote.

Inviting new people to participate in decision-making and have ownership is part of discipleship and one of the best way to retain young people and their needs and opinions should be given serious consideration.

[1] For further discussion on the United Methodist mission statement see Dana Robert and Doug Tzan’s article “Is the UMC’s mission statement really Methodist?”

Monday, May 13, 2019

Philip Wingeier-Rayo: The United Methodist Representational Problem, Part I

Today's piece is the first in a three-part series by Dr. Philip Wingeier-Rayo. Dr. Wingeier-Rayo is Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary.

The United Methodist Church has a representational problem.

The recent General Conference in St. Louis was comprised of 864 elected delegates, half lay and half clergy, who were elected according to a formula proportionate to the membership in their home conferences.

A representative democracy was established at the founding of the Methodist Episcopal Church at the Christmas Conference in 1784 in Baltimore. The conference system builds on the foundational system of Christian conferencing established by John Wesley in England, and moves from the local church, to the annual conference, to jurisdictional/central conference, and finally General Conference, which is the maximum authority of the church.

The question is how do we define representational?

Let’s take for example the basis of the United Methodist form of government, the annual conference, also composed of an equal number of lay and clergy delegates. Although seemingly fair and equitable, this model actually gives proportionately more representation to smaller membership churches than medium and larger membership churches.

Why is this? A small membership church may have 50 members or fewer, while a medium to large membership church may have considerably more—yet these churches may both have one appointed pastor, and thus be allotted one lay delegate. Larger churches may have several pastors on staff (e.g. youth pastor, children’s minister, pastor of visitation, executive pastor, etc.), but if they aren’t appointed, then they will not be delegates to annual conference. So a large church may have many more members and pay much more in apportionments, yet only be allotted one lay delegate per appointed pastor—the same as a small membership church.

And nobody knows if the lay delegate for each church will necessarily vote in a way that is representational of his or her church membership. The UM representational system has no way of holding delegates accountable for voting with their constituency. Once delegates are voted on at charge conference, each delegate is free to vote his or her conscience and does not have to vote as a representative of the wishes of his or her congregation.

There is also no way to assure fair demographic representation in the United Methodist system. If a congregation is comprised of 50% men and 50% women and elects a male delegate, then are the women represented? And if the church names someone who is retired, are the youth represented? And this doesn’t begin to address the ethnic diversity in a congregation.

The representative formula for General Conference is different from that of annual conference. While the annual conference is one lay and one clergy delegate per church, the formula for General Conference is proportionate to conference membership. Those conferences with larger church membership receive more delegates.

Similar to annual conference delegates, the formula for electing General Conference delegates has no way to guarantee that women are proportionately represented. Of the 864 elected delegates at St. Louis, 309 (36%) were women and (64%) were men. Among U.S. delegates the delegates were 56.3% men to 46.5% women. Among the Central Conference delegates, men outnumbered women 260 to 87 for a 3:1 men to women ratio. Of the jurisdictions, the Northeast was the only jurisdiction with a majority of women delegates (54.7%).

The majority of male delegates contrasts with the membership of local churches. Dana Roberts reported in her book, Gospel Bearers, Gender Barriers, that two-thirds of the membership of the global church are women.  And if we look at who are the people behind the scenes making ministry happen, women often play significant roles in churches, but are disproportionately underrepresented as delegates.

Young people are another group who were disproportionately represented In St. Louis with delegates under the age of 35 being only 7% of delegates.

Yet their voice was heard when they wrote a statement signed by 15,000 youth from around the world which encouraged delegates to: “elect a young person to your 2020 delegation. Not as a reserve, but as someone seated with a vote on the floor. Mentor a young person to run. Advocate for a young person to be elected. Show up for the young people in your life, and actually celebrate them around these tables in 2020. If we are actually part of the Body, it is time to bring our voice and vote around these tables.”  The statement went on to say: “Over and over, bishops and delegates have told us from the floor here, they don’t want us to leave, but with all due respect, you are not fighting to keep us here.”

Despite their under-representation, young people will be disproportionately financially impacted by a decline or division in the denomination through losses in support for ministerial education and impacts on ministerial pension plans.

The formula for delegates to General Conference has no way to account for equal financial responsibility and accountability. If a delegate votes for a petition that has financial implications, that delegate will not necessarily be proportionately impacted. The delegates at General Conference set the budget for the whole church. One supposes that these delegates are generous givers as members of their local church, but nobody knows how much they pledge.

So as a body the General Conference creates a budget that they personally will not cover. Some conferences may have larger membership, but their financial contribution to the general church is not proportionate to their membership. Conversely, a conference that is allotted just a few delegates may make a substantial contribution to the general church. The size of an annual conferences delegation to General Conference is not proportionate to its apportionment to the general church budget.

Yes, the United Methodist Church has a representative democracy, however there are different ways to interpret “representative.” At the annual conference level, representative is defined as one clergy and one lay delegate per church, and so large churches who contribute more are disproportionately underrepresented. At General Conference the number of delegates is proportionate to conference membership; however, there is no consideration for proportionate gender, age, ethnicity or financial contributions of the annual conference.

This formula without provisions for gender, age, ethnicity or financial representation leads to certain groups being disproportionately underrepresented and not having their voices heard. It also leads to other groups having a disproportionate power in spite of not being representative of their home church or conference.

As we strive toward perfection, I invite United Methodists to reflect on ways to improve our representative democracy to have people making decisions who are truly making ministry happen in our local churches through their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

In the second part of this blog I will discuss the mission of The United Methodist Church and whether membership is the best metric to assess participation in the life of the church.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Recommended Viewing: Evangelism Videos

Both the Methodist Church in Britain and Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church have come out with videos recently about evangelism.

The video from the Methodist Church in Britain, entitled "Stepping Out in Evangelism and Growth" is a nice, 8-minute long introduction to the MCB's approach to evangelism and the importance of evangelism in the life of the church. It comes out of a recent MCB focus on evangelism and growth.

The video series from Discipleship Ministries is part of their See All the People campaign. While there is a series of 19 videos (and counting), the two videos "What is 'See All the People'?" and
"#SEEALLTHEPEOPLE" provide the best overview of the approach to evangelism embodied in this initiative.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

UMC Membership Growth and Decline Relative to Population

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

In my previous post, I reviewed the sources of membership growth and decline in church bodies and asserted that they best way to determine whether a church was growing or declining through new adult members (individual or group) vs. adult disaffiliations (individual or group) was to screen out the impacts of births and deaths on membership numbers. And while religious groups may differ in their birth or death rates from surrounding societies, the easiest way to get a proxy for the impact of purely demographic forces on church membership is to compare church membership to the overall population growth or decline of the surrounding society.

This is what I have tried to do for The United Methodist Church. I have used data from GCFA from 2010, 2014, and 2018 that they collected in the process of determining General Conference delegates. The 2010 data is from a previously-published article by Dana Robert and myself, and the 2014 and 2018 data is publicly available here. I grouped the data into the smallest geographic regions that could be directly compared to secular population growth trends (in the US, jurisdictions and outside the US, countries in most cases). I then compared that data to US Census Bureau data for US state populations and data from the World Population Data Sheet (2010, 2014, and 2018) for countries.

The table is at the end of this article, but here are major findings:

1. In some countries, I concluded that UMC membership data was unreliable for conclusive comparisons to the surrounding country. Any instances in which there was repeated data (the same number submitted two quadrennia in a row) or a more than 50% membership drop in four years or more than 100% growth in four years I regarded as suspect. Ukraine and Moldova, Russia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, and Zambia all have repeated membership figures. Nevertheless, in all these cases except Liberia (where there was significant variance) and Cote d'Ivoire (which has never submitted revised figures), those repeated figures were close to later revised figures, indicating that they make still be ballpark reliable. Switzerland/France, Serbia/Macedonia, Poland, and Zimbabwe all had extreme fluctuations in membership numbers that seem very unreliable to me. Data is incomplete for Mozambique, Malawi, and South Africa.

2. Given the above caveat, even though UMC total membership has grown in the past 8 years, that growth is about 6% behind total population growth for its host countries worldwide. While there may be reasons why the UMC has lower birth rates or higher death rates than its host countries overall, it is likely that the UMC worldwide is experiencing more disaffiliation than new membership. The United States is a significant factor in that trend, but not the only one, as elaborated below.

3. The only place where the UMC has a large membership and is growing significantly relative to overall population trends based on relatively reliable data is the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are also some countries in Europe with small membership where there is good growth relative to overall population based on reliable data (Finland, for instance), though their small membership size makes those numbers more susceptible to yielding extreme results when calculated on a percentage basis.

4. There are a number of countries in Africa where UMC membership growth is trailing, sometimes quite significantly, overall population growth. East Africa and Angola are examples with relatively good data. Assuming that the data for Nigeria and Zambia is relatively reliable despite repeated figures, membership in those countries also significantly lags overall population growth.

5. Within the United States, relative to overall population trends, there is essentially no difference among the North Central, Northeastern, South Central, and Southeastern Jurisdictions in how they’ve done membership-wise in the past decade. The slower rate of membership decline in the south relative to the north is entirely a function of greater population growth in southern states (in large part due to in-migration from the north).

6. The Western Jurisdiction has had notably more significant membership decline than the rest of US United Methodism. Given that there is no difference among other regions despite theological variations among them, I think it’s possible than non-theological factors may explain the difference between the Western Jurisdiction and the rest of the US church. The UMC has always had a weaker position in society in the West than in the rest of the country. The Western US is also the most racially and ethnically diverse region of the country, which impacts the membership numbers for an overwhelmingly white denomination like the UMC.

7. Relative to overall population trends, the UMC may actually be doing worse in the Philippines than it is in the US. While total UMC membership in the Philippines in 2018 was about where it was in 2014, the overall Filipino population has grown significantly. Thus, steady membership in the Philippines actually represents a notable loss relative to demographic factors.

Again, these numbers don't in and of themselves prove anything about theology, church polity, missional strategies, or distribution of resources. Those are all questions that need to be collectively assessed drawing on a variety of values and types of information. But good data about actual trends in membership gains and losses is undoubtedly one of those resources.

Region 2010 Church Membership 2014 Church Membership 2018 Church Membership % Change 2010-2018 2010 Population 2014 Population 2018 Population % Change 2010-2018 Membership vs. Population

North Central Jurisdiction 1,346,180 1,270,124 1,189,259 -11.66% 56,291,024 56,942,246 57,341,519 1.87% -13.52%

Northeastern Jurisdiction 1,329,181 1,257,546 1,168,609 -12.08% 64,525,181 65,418,605 65,629,255 1.71% -13.79%

South Central Jurisdiction 1,739,946 1,707,526 1,652,134 -5.05% 49,217,134 51,394,492 53,381,380 8.46% -13.51%

Southeastern Jurisdiction 2,894,485 2,815,145 2,752,106 -4.92% 69,250,709 71,787,557 74,917,045 8.18% -13.10%

Western Jurisdiction 365,793 340,350 312,230 -14.64% 70,039,037 72,870,240 75,898,235 8.37% -23.01%

Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, & Uganda 170,725 243,459 173,806 1.80% 92,700,000 103,600,000 119,500,000 28.91% -27.11%

Angola 184,981 132,722 164,634 -11.00% 19,000,000 22,400,000 30,400,000 60.00% -71.00%

Mozambique 46,038 136,707 85,249 85.17% 23,400,000 25,100,000 30,500,000 30.34% 54.83%

South Africa 0 9,102 0 #DIV/0! 49,900,000 53,700,000 57,700,000 15.63% #DIV/0!

Zimbabwe 48,942 138,547 148,892 204.22% 12,600,000 14,700,000 14,000,000 11.11% 193.11%

Malawi 0 8,389 9,968 #DIV/0! 15,400,000 16,800,000 19,100,000 24.03% #DIV/0!

Dem. Rep. of Congo and Tanzania 1,803,530 2,436,777 2,869,536 59.11% 112,800,000 122,000,000 143,400,000 27.13% 31.98%

Zambia 133,103 133,103 129,604 -2.63% 13,300,000 15,100,000 17,700,000 33.08% -35.71%

Liberia 148,382 148,382 281,007 89.38% 4,100,000 4,400,000 4,900,000 19.51% 69.87%

Sierra Leone 225,000 225,000 285,083 26.70% 5,800,000 6,300,000 7,700,000 32.76% -6.06%

Cote d'Ivoire 677,355 677,355 677,355 0.00% 22,000,000 20,800,000 24,900,000 13.18% -13.18%

Nigeria 457,959 457,959 463,957 1.31% 158,300,000 177,500,000 195,900,000 23.75% -22.44%

Austria 726 746 729 0.41% 8,400,000 8,500,000 8,800,000 4.76% -4.35%

Bulgaria 1,300 1,257 1,251 -3.77% 7,500,000 7,200,000 7,000,000 -6.67% 2.90%

Czech and Slovak Republics 855 1,087 1,126 31.70% 15,900,000 15,900,000 16,000,000 0.63% 31.07%

Hungary 375 437 449 19.73% 10,000,000 9,900,000 9,800,000 -2.00% 21.73%

Serbia-Macedonia 2,160 2,012 468 -78.33% 9,400,000 9,200,000 9,100,000 -3.19% -75.14%

Poland 7,706 2,161 2,375 -69.18% 38,200,000 38,500,000 38,400,000 0.52% -69.70%

Switzerland-France 3,040 7,652 6,763 122.47% 70,800,000 72,300,000 73,600,000 3.95% 118.51%

Germany 32,305 32,108 30,122 -6.76% 81,600,000 80,900,000 82,800,000 1.47% -8.23%

Denmark 1,252 1,242 1,233 -1.52% 5,500,000 5,600,000 5,800,000 5.45% -6.97%

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania 2,764 2,411 1,690 -38.86% 6,800,000 6,200,000 6,000,000 -11.76% -27.09%

Finland 1,304 1,270 1,642 25.92% 5,400,000 5,500,000 5,500,000 1.85% 24.07%

Norway 4,410 4,310 4,237 -3.92% 4,900,000 5,100,000 5,300,000 8.16% -12.09%

Russia 1,699 1,699 1,363 -19.78% 141,900,000 143,700,000 147,300,000 3.81% -23.58%

Ukraine and Moldova 551 551 0 -100.00% 50,000,000 47,000,000 45,800,000 -8.40% -91.60%

The Philippines 145,642 216,326 140,235 -3.71% 94,000,000 100,100,000 107,000,000 13.83% -17.54%

Overall 11,777,689 12,413,462 12,557,112 6.62% 1,388,923,085 1,456,413,140 1,561,067,434 12.39% -5.78%

* The East Africa Episcopal Area includes South Sudan and Ethiopia, but these countries' populations are excluded from the totals due to the small amount of UMC membership in them.

* The population figures for the Switzerland-France-North Africa Annual Conference do not include populations in North Africa, given the small amount of UMC membership there.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Factors Influencing Church Growth

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
Within the United Methodist Church, and within American conversations about Christianity generally, there is a frequent preoccupation with church membership growth (or decline). United Methodists frequently ask, "Is that congregation growing?" or "Where is the church growing globally?"

For United Methodists, membership growth equates with success, and growing membership is often taken as a demonstration of the validity of theology, as if popularity proved truth. It is worth noting that this is not a universal Christian assumption. An Anabaptist, for instance, might more readily agree with the notion that truth leads to unpopularity.

Yet given the importance in United Methodist minds of membership growth, it is worth examining in more detail the factors that influence church growth and decline. Membership growth happen when the number of new members exceeds the number of lost members, but there are several factors influencing both sides of that equation, both at a congregational level and for regional bodies.

When most people hear "new members," they think of adult converts. Yet adult converts are only one form of new members, and there are differences among adult converts as well.

The most significant source of new members for most religious tradition is actually not adult converts but children born into the tradition who then remain affiliated with the tradition when they become adults. Thus, the birth rate among present members is one of the largest determining factors in whether churches are growing, especially for churches as regional bodies.

Another way in which the church gains new members, both for local congregations and regional bodies, is through the addition of individual adults to existing congregations. This is the classic adult convert. Yet it is worth distinguishing between adult converts to Christianity and adults who have switched from another Christian tradition. There is value in both, but the two are different groups when it comes to evangelism. It is also worth noting that migration is a significant vector by which existing Christians may be added to a congregation or regional body.

The third way in which churches as regional bodies can add new members is by accepting new groups into the body. Entire congregations or other regional bodies may join a regional body, boosting its membership. Or, an entire group of people might decide to adopt a new religious identity en masse, as has often happened in the history of mission. Either way, growth results not from individual decision-making, but from group decision-making.

On the other side of the equation, the sources of membership loss reflect the sources of membership gain: death, children who leave the tradition upon reaching adulthood, individual adult disaffiliations, and group disaffiliations.

Just as the most common way in which people enter religious groups is through birth, the most common way they leave is through death. Youth adults who leave the tradition in which they grew up may count as membership losses, if they were counted as members as teenagers, but they certainly represent a retardant on growth.

Individual disaffiliations, either through out-migration, for the sake of joining another church, or because of a loss of faith are, of course, a form of membership loss. And whole congregations or larger groups may choose to sever their relationship with a regional body, resulting in membership loss for that regional body.

In a church in which birth and death were the only ways in which people entered and exited the church, the growth or decline of that church would be a purely demographic exercise. To get a sense of whether the church is growing through evangelism (of individuals or groups, Christian or not) or declining through disaffiliation (of individuals or groups), it would be necessary to examine the additional membership variation after births and deaths are factored out.

There are reasons why the birth and death rates of a church body might vary from those of the society in which it is located - theologies of families and reproduction, better access to health care, social practices regarding family planning and elder care, etc. Yet without targeted, intensive research of specific church bodies, birth and death rates are usually only available for societies as whole.

Thus, the best way to get a sense of whether a church body is growing or declining after screening out the demographic factors of births and deaths is to compare its membership trends to the membership trends of its surrounding society. That's exactly what I will do for The United Methodist Church in my next post.