|Bishops seek younger church membership by 2019|
United Methodist Bishops (from left) Janice Riggle Huie, B. Michael Watson
and John R. Schol take counsel with one another during their fall meeting.
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 5, 2009 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)
United Methodist leaders are seeking to lower the average age of church members by a decade in a decade.
At its fall meeting, the Council of Bishops approved a plan that
emphasizes mission work and leadership development among young people
to help reverse declines in the U.S. church, which is aging and
shrinking in membership.
Melissa Wheatley (right) and other young
adults prepare a Sunday school lesson for children at Trinity Church in Spring Hill, Tenn.
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
Part of the plan, proposed by a Call to Action steering committee
formed at the May council meeting, calls for an outside consultant to
do a churchwide assessment that will encompass annual (regional)
conferences, general agencies and the council itself.
“It is critical to the survival of the denomination to lower the age
of United Methodist Christians by a decade in a decade,” said Bishop
Larry Goodpaster, president-elect of the council and chairperson of the
steering committee. The average age of United Methodists in the pews is
57, he said.
The bishops’ plan seeks to lower the average age to 47 by 2019.
The council also approved creating a 12-person steering committee to
be led by Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, president of the Council of
Bishops, to oversee the new plan. A four-person project team led by a
project manager would monitor day-to-day work.
The Call to Action steering committee was formed in May at Palmer’s
request. While the committee was called at the height of a financial
crisis, it was evident quickly that this was not about money,
“This is about how can The United Methodist Church respond to the
needs of the world in a more rapid way,” he said. “We were driven
always by the mission of creating disciples of Jesus Christ for the
transformation of the world.”
The committee is recommending an Internet-based survey to gather feedback from a wide range of United Methodist voices.
“We must lead our denomination, all of us together, toward a system
that breaks through the inertia and reignites a movement,” Goodpaster
said. “Local church is where disciple making happens.”
Series of conversations
Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, Central Pennsylvania, asked why yet
another committee was needed. The Connectional Table was created to
give the church a way to act on decisions between General Conferences,
and there is another committee studying the worldwide nature of the
“How is this not just another layer on top of everything else?” she asked.
Goodpaster said the idea came from the steering committee’s consultant.
“He convinced us we needed fresh eyes and fresh spirits, but still
need to have some continuity — the reason we want to keep five of the
current members on the committee.”
The bishops agreed to host a series of conversations in their areas
to focus on feedback for reordering the church and for establishing
methods of evaluation and accountability.
The steering committee will ask the Connectional Table for funds for
the outside consultants and a project manager. A progress report will
be given at the spring 2010 Council of Bishops and Connectional Table
meetings, with final recommendations made in fall 2010.
Goodpaster assured the council that the mission to make disciples of
Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world “is paramount. It is
everything, Structure follows mission.”
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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