WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL THEN OF AMETHODIST
On the American prairie Methodists abandoned John Wesley=s discipleship system in order to become a traditional church based on a Acome structure@ approach. Cultural conditions due to rural isolation made this strategy very successful in the 1800s; people hungry for interaction would come from their farms to the camp meeting or into church just to be with other people. The camp meeting was so successful that it doubled the proportion of church members in America from one in fifteen to one in seven between 1800 and 1850. The great Atwo a day@ checkerboard church planting that began after the Civil War replicated these small Acome structure@ churches every five to seven miles apart in the rural countryside. From 1860-1920 the Methodist Episcopal Church grew from one million to well over four million members, far outperforming Wesley=s societies in England. Over half the congregations present in the predecessor denominations in 1900 or organized since no longer exist. At one time the old ways worked very well.
The old ways that once worked on the prairie fail today because the world has changed. There is no more rural isolation. The world today has more attractive buildings than the church. Society offers more exciting and entertaining events than the church. The old church softball league in the church yard is replaced by a multitude of agencies from the YMCA to schools to park districts offering a wide diversity of sports in expensive facilities. There are no isolated areas left where the church can be simultaneously mediocre and superior because there is no competition from the world. The church=s amateur attempts at social service are dwarfed by the deep pockets and dedicated professionals working in government and social service agencies ranging from welfare to Big Brother-Big Sister. The world has secularized and improved the quality of all these attraction ministries, and now the church cannot compete. It is not that there is a migration of rural people to urban areas; there is a migration of urban culture to rural areas. It is all urban now, and the prairie DNA church can neither cope with the change nor compete with a secular world that has adapted to current reality. The gap between church reality and current reality can be measured in decades.
The need today is not to plant institutional churches, emergent
or traditional, in densely populated areas where there are no United Methodist
Churches. The institutional church is unable to make disciples and is unable to
attract the lost to come to its events and worship. Lost people are not
interested in anything that will make their life busier; if they were, many
opportunities more rewarding that worship (in their opinion) are available to
them. If that was not enough, better worship than any local church can provide
is available via internet broadcast, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, in the
comfort of one=s own home at a time convenient to one=s own schedule. Worship will not
draw in the lost in this century.
Nor will it be enough to encourage people to invite their friends and neighbors; Putnam=s work on social capital indicates that the social network links between people are literally disintegrating. People are withdrawing from each other in our society and they no longer know anyone to invite them to church. The come structure church is a dinosaur on the brink of extinction. Come structures don=t work; nobody comes.
Only a discipleship system that develops relationships with lost
people and draws them into the network of small groups that function as a
community of faith can generate the church growth desired to reverse membership
decline. People are no longer looking for a friendly church; today they are
just looking for friends. If a cell church discipleship system that focuses on
people evangelizing people is added to the worship system of a church, it will
work. It=s not necessary to change the
traditional worship system, just to add the right kind of discipleship system.
Jeffrey K. Hadden and Anson Shupe, Televangelism: Power & Politics On God’s Frontier (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison‑Wesley, 1981), http://religiousbroadcasting.lib.virginia.edu/ powerpolitics/C6.html (accessed May 1, 2007), 102. Cf. Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2006), 206-210.
Evers, History of the Southern Illinois Conference, 148. Southern Baptists averaged four hundred missions a year in the 1890s and thirteen hundred in the 1990s, a daily average of 3.6 a day. Lyle Schaller, The Interventionist (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), 195-196.
Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., APart Two: The Nineteenth Century,@ in John G. McEllhenney, ed., United Methodism In America: A Compact History (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 91.
Lyle Schaller, AWhat Should Be The Norm?@ Circuit Rider, September/October 2003, 17.
NOTE (my response)
The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.