Friday, January 6, 2023

Recommended Readings: German United Methodists Rethink Church

As in many places in the United States, The United Methodist Church in Germany has been facing challenging trends with many small, aging, and declining congregations. While there are certainly vital ministries and new faith congregations in Germany, the church there recognizes the challenges it faces in continuing to engage in faithful, relevant ministry in its changing context.

Stemming from that recognition, the German UMC has been taking proactive steps to change its organization at the central conference and annual conference level and encourage creativity at the local congregational level to strengthen the focus of the church on its mission. These changes are intended not just to consolidate in the face of decline but to use numeric decline as an impetus for the church to become clearer about its purpose and calling.

This process is evident in the actions of the Germany Central Conference and two of the German annual conferences, all of which met late last year. The Germany Central Conference approved a wide-ranging package of structural reforms that sought "more mission, less administration" (story in German; Google translated version). The South German Annual Conference than approved its own set of structural revisions and encouragements to congregations to try new forms of worship and outreach (story in German; Google translated version). Finally, the East German Annual Conference approved a resolution to revision its conference facility as a form of "church in a different shape" (story in German; Google translated version).

Given demographic trends and the impact of disaffiliations, many annual conferences in the United States are already having or will soon need to have conversations about how to restructure in the face of reduced membership and finances. When they do so, they could learn from the German model about how to keep mission front and center in such difficult conversations and decisions.

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