Wednesday, May 23, 2007

New Churches, Renewed Churches

Last week, Presbyweb provided a link to a news article out of the United Methodist Church. Apparently, the Methodists want to start 650 new churches by 2012. I applaud the effort. New church development is essential to the life and vitality of a denomination. I have often been frustrated that the PCUSA doesn’t seem similarly interested. In Palo Duro Presbytery, for example, no one remembers the last time a new church was started. Granted, the overall population of the Texas plains peaked at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Still, there is potential in some of the urban areas of the presbytery.

Although I was inclined to be sympathetic, I became quickly saddened. Rev. Thomas Butcher, the chair of congregational development in the United Methodist Church tried to explain his rationale for focusing on new churches.
…the common outcry among United Methodists, Mr. Butcher said, is for renewal, not new churches. His response? "It's easier to give birth than to raise Lazarus from the dead," he said in a report to the Council of Bishops.

New churches, he said, need to have a younger and more diverse membership to reach the changing demographics in the U.S. About 35 percent of the nation's population don't attend church.
I’m disappointed that Rev. Butcher seems so dismissive of existing congregations. Why do we have to choose between new church development and congregational renewal? Do only folks in growing suburban areas need churches that are vital and faithful?

Established congregations are less desirable because they are set in their ways. They are filled with curmudgeons who are unable to draw church members of an attractive demographic. Rather than call people to repentance and a deepening faith, it is easier to start with a self-selecting group who feel comfortable with the culture of the new church. Renewal is hard work. It requires leadership, sacrifice and love. It is not for the timid.

Thankfully, the majority of established churches have signs of life. There are men and women in those congregations earnestly seeking to be followers of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, some established churches can be stubborn, mean, and even faithless. Some have been dead for more than three days and “stinketh” (John 11:39, KJV). Jesus, however, is the resurrection. Even Lazarus can be raised from the dead.

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