07 April 2007

Talking ourselves down

My friend Dave over at 42 has recently written a couple of posts about how he thinks that The Methodist Church is on the up, contrary to all the messages of doom and gloom that we often hear.

Yesterday on an ecumenical Good Friday walk of witness an Anglican woman said to me in passing "Of course, the Methodist Church is rapidly dying out." I looked at her and replied, "Actually, I don't think that's quite true. I think that we talk ourselves down a lot." I said that, whilst I realise they are both somewhat unusual congregations, my sending congregation had a membership of 200 and the church where I did my placement had a membership of about 270.

I'd like to advocate that The Methodist Church desperately needs a centrally-expressed vision of where we are going. For good or for ill, at the moment, the message that is coming through from the centre is that we are dying.

Now, I've just come out of over 20 years in business and I want to say that I'm in whole-hearted agreement with the fact that the Methodist Church needs to cut costs. If you're a business and you're growing, you add staff and branches. When your business slows or loses business, you have to cut out branches and central staff. It's the same with us as a church and it's only sensible that we look at our costs and cut them back if we can't afford them. And undoubtedly, that's where we have been for several years. It's only responsible to do this now.

The problem is that the message that seems to be going out to all and sundry is that "we're dying". And I don't think that's true. Using a business analogy again, you're not going to buy a PC from "PC Universe" if you think that "PC Universe" is going to be out of business in the next year.

Whether or not it's the message that Church House wants us to be repeating, at the moment, many of us seem to be repeating the mantra "We're dying". And everyone else is getting that message loud and clear.

We have 300,000 members in the UK. We need a positive vision to work toward and a positive manta to repeat and we ALL need to be "on message". The message that we keep repeating is the message that we will finally live out.


Turbulent Cleric said...

Well said! It is easy to despair but this is the season of hope and new life.

Keep preaching it!

Sally said...

Amen amen- thank you Pam- actually I think we bring a positive message of hope through grace to a post-modern world!

DaveH said...

I absolutely agree with you, the general message from 'the Methodist Church 'is that things are pretty bad. Whilst I understand what you are saying with regards to Church closure I do feel that perhaps more should be invested into ascertaining whether things can be turned around before closure occurs. Church closure does nothing for morale at a local level. I am of the opinion that the Methodist Church is bad at publicising the good but good at letting everyone know how bad things are going, inside and outside the denomination. I was at a Christian conference last week, Spring Harvest, and got talking to a Pentecostal, upon hearing that I was a Methodist he exclaimed with a laugh, 'well there aren't many of you left these days' I did my best to ensure him that we are a long way extinction, but how can we 'sell' ourselves to others if internally the picture seems bleak.
Thanks for your points Pam.

God Bless

PamBG said...

daveh - Thanks for your comments.

I think I'm trying to express something of a balanced view here between being responsible and "talking ourselves down".

From a "top-down" perspective, I DO think that we have far too many buildings. It also does nothing for a local congregation when all their emotional, spiritual and financial efforts are going into just barely keeping a building in some state of repair.

Of course, if a particular congregation can find ways of employing a building to the benefit of the local community, all fine and good. But I don't think that we can escape the fact that, in aggregate, there are simply too many buildings.

I realise that there are HUGE pastoral issues, but, alternatively, imagine a congregation of 15 people that met in someone's home and didn't have a £300,000 building to maintain. Imagine the support they could give each other to be Christians in the "real world"; imagine the missions that their weekly contributions could support rather than all of the non-assessment money going toward building maintenance? This is just a thought!