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The Future of the United Methodist Church, 7 Vision Pathways, by Ed Howard

August 18, 2010


Devotion – August 15, 2010

Romans 12   – 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.


This summer, June and I attended the Holston Annual Conference at Lake Junaluska as District Delegates.  This morning, I want to share with you some of what we learned there.  I am also sharing material from The Future of the United Methodist Church, 7 Vision Pathways which we got at the bookstore while at the conference.

First, to set the stage, a few UMC gee whiz numbers:

  • 34K congregations in US
  • 12K congregations in Africa, Europe and Asia
  • grew by 34% between 1995 and 2005
  • 200% growth in Africa and SE Asia
  • declined by 10% in Europe
  • declined by 25% from 10.7M to 8M in US
  • average age in US is 57
  • 5% are under age 18
  • 195M unchurched people in the US
  • 78% unchurched in Carroll County

The Council of Bishops over the last several years has focused on the mission of the United Methodist Church in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  They have identified seven vision pathways in four areas of focus as being essential right now.  Focus area 1 is Creating New Places for New People and includes two vision pathways of Starting New CongregationsandRenewing Existing Ones.  This was one of the themes of the conference.

The decline of United Methodism in the US may be in part because of a lack of focus on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  It may also mean that we need to respond more nimbly and effectively to changing population trends.  In a time of changing demographics, many of our churches fail to reach or provide ministry to persons of different ethnic or socio-economic groups that are now in the neighborhood or community.  We have stopped following the people and have tried to reach the unchurched by improving outreach ministries of existing congregations.  This traditional approach has not worked.  Our church leaders are engaging in serious conversations about transforming existing congregations and starting new ones.

The path of starting new congregations will lead to a new culture in our church where neighboring local churches celebrate new congregations, where talented pastors volunteer to be new church start pastors, and where pastors of large churches are committed to leading their congregations to become parents of new churches.  The UMC has made enormous progress already in knowing how best to start new churches.   The strengthening network of annual conference new church development staff persons, the use of New Church Leadership Institutes, the recruitment of new church-start pastors, and a growing knowledge base of best practices all have helped us do a better job of reaching unchurched people.

Renewing an existing church is hard work that is only done with committed lay and clergy leadership willing to change.  Why would anyone go through that difficult process?  They do it because they are committed to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and they know that fruitful ministry in a changed situation means a different kind of ministry from the one done in 1970.

The UMC has developed a national strategy to plant new churches, and with significant start-up funding now provided by the General Conference, Path 1 has established an ambitious goal for 2012:  to recruit, train, and provide resources for 1,000 new church planters to start 650 churches in partnership with annual conferences in the US, targeting 50% of those churches to be racially and ethnically diverse congregations.  There is also a goal to establish 400 new churches outside of the US.  To achieve these goals, we must establish a new culture of starting new churches to gradually replace our current culture of maintenance and decline.

The North Georgia Conference has started more than 100 new churches since 1990.  Other annual conferences in the US have had similar results.  The NC, Alabama-West Florida, and Arkansas areas have been noteworthy in creating a culture where planting new churches has become the number one priority.

Vision Pathway 2   – Common elements that have been present in successfully renewed congregations:

  • They embrace risk and change as they display as much passion and care for those outside the congregation as they do for those already present.
  • The vision, spiritual energy, leadership, and motivation come from within the congregation rather than from the conference or denomination.
  • Excellent pastoral leadership who know that the principal mission field is “out there” and not “in here”.
  • Streamlined structures that are agile and responsive.
  • Actively and extravagantly engaged in one or more community or global outreach ministries that significantly influence the lives of people.
  • They became new creatures in Christ, letting the old pass away and embracing the new, with a focus on fruitfulness, stopping things that don’t work, changing things that could work better, and creating ministries that reach the mission field around them.


Rev. Charles Kyker, pastor of multi-site Christ UMC in Hickory, NC brought a powerful mussage on Creating New Places for New People. He came to Hickory in July, 1998 to pastor a storefront with about 150 worshippers.  They have merged with 2 churches that were down to about 22 worshippers each and started  a new church in a high school.  They now average 2600 worshippers at the 4 locations.

He said their mission focus is on reaching, not keeping.  He highlighted the danger of keeping from  Luke 9   – 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?

He also said that their core values include spending 25% of their spiritual and financial resources beyond their own body of believers and launching a new site every three years.  He does not believe in fund raisers, thinking that they are a distraction from making disciples and are unnecessary in a church that tithes.  He asked “would you rather have 90% that is blessed or 100% that is cursed and referred to Malachi 3   – 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’  “In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

In order to join Christ UMC, members must first sign a six-fold covenant to (1) worship regularly, (2) study the Bible regularly, (3) participate in small life groups for life-long learning, (4) serve, (5) pray regularly, and (6) tithe.

They equip their laity with training to perform many leadership and even some pastoral care roles so that their pastor has sufficient time for leadership, visioning, training, and teaching.  They now have 46 trained leaders and 40 of them lead small life groups.


Almighty God, creator of everything that is, out of nothing.  Thank you for making us and thank you for saving us.  Strengthen us, and give us the wisdom to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Thank you for our many blessings and for this church and the many opportunities it offers us to worship and serve You.  At this time when we are preparing to launch a new worship center, we ask that you guide our pastors, leaders, and congregation members so that we each will use the talents you have given us to spread the Gospel as You would have us do.  We ask these things in Jesus name.  Amen



Post a comment
  1. Fielden #
    August 18, 2010

    Quoting from ” The Future of the United Methodist Church, 7 Vision Pathways, by Ed Howard” above: “In order to join Christ UMC, members must first sign a six-fold covenant to (1) worship regularly, (2) study the Bible regularly, (3) participate in small life groups for life-long learning, (4) serve, (5) pray regularly, and (6) tithe.”

    I wonder how Rev. Kyker “requires” potential members to sign the six-fold covenant… Church leadership (at the top) does not even want pastors to require basic Christian beliefs for membership. I praise God for the apparent success of Christ Church and its 2400 attendees. However, I seriously question how much the “six-fold covenant” contributed. Time will tell if all the emphasis on “new church starts” will make a difference. Having said that, it is worth a try. The UMC in the United States surely needs a change. One of those changes, I firmly believe, is for the Council of Bishops, The GBOD, etc to return to a true Biblical foundation rather than continue their quest for their own view of “Social Justice” and “Social Gospel.”

    • August 18, 2010

      Great comment! I agree wholeheartedly!

  2. Patti #
    August 18, 2010


  3. Ina Horton #
    August 19, 2010

    Great job, Ed!

  4. Sue #
    August 19, 2010

    Great article, Ed. Very educational for all involved. Thanks for taking the time to do this in such great detail.

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