“Are people leaving the church?”
The reality is, people have been leaving the church for centuries. The only way forward is to acknowledge this reality. Then we can begin to explore how creating disciple-making relationships will move us forward. In the context of the United Methodist Church, we continue to experience a slow, consistent decline that began over 50 years ago.
When we speak of decline, we’re using the only data we have available: worship attendance. While worship attendance is not the sole indicator of a church’s health, it is the long-term number we have as an indicator of participation. Worship attendance does not reflect true missional impact, growth in faith, discipleship, or transformation. Counting people merely serves as an indicator and should not be the sole focus.
Potential Reasons for Decline
While it may have contributed to the decline, COVID-19 is not the sole reason for the continued decline. They highlight how online services during the pandemic often created a passive worship experience, where people watched without actively engaging. This passivity raises questions about the role of church in people’s lives.
Further, in a divisive culture, expressing political opinions on charged topics can lead to divisions and even people leaving the church. We all recognize that Jesus was the first person to lead conversations that ignited conversation and sought to change perspectives. When taking a stand on difficult topics, remember that you’re on team Jesus. If the conversation creates winners and losers, you’ve likely lost sight of Jesus.
The conversation shifts to the uncomfortable reality that the church no longer holds the pride of place it once did in society. Sara acknowledges the discomfort of not being in the majority and the challenge of connecting with people and sharing God’s love in this new reality. Tim reflects on how the early church thrived when it was in the minority and faced persecution.
The Reality of the Church Today
We encourage you to accept the current reality and adjust your leadership approach accordingly. We challenge you, as Christ-centered leaders, to shift your focus from counting attendance numbers to engaging with and transforming their communities. In the next episode, we will explore leadership approaches that align with the changing cultural landscape.