My tribe just conducted a survey of 36,000 United Methodist Churches (UMCs) only to find what many of us have been teaching for over two decades. Here is a quote from the report from the UM Portal survey.

UMC Portal Report

“United Methodist congregations that are thriving have a few things in common—whether large or small, urban or rural. A new survey shows United Methodist churches with the greatest vitality are marked by inspirational preaching, plenty of small groups and programs for children and youth, and a mix of both traditional and contemporary worship services.”

The good news is that now when people like me say these things they are backed up by excellent research. Lets look at those findings again:

Thriving churches of all sizes and locations have the following things in common:

  • Inspirational preaching
  • Lots of small groups
  • Children and youth ministries
  • Both traditional and contemporary worship

Now if the truth were known, and the survey had separated thriving established churches from church plants, the study would have shown one more important thing that the vast majority of thriving church plants have in common – contemporary worship without traditional worship. I also wonder if the survey had taken a deeper look into the stats if it would have shown that in the thriving churches contemporary worship was always growing and traditional was most stagnant or declining. I doubt if we will ever know that from the study. But could it be like the rest of the study? Those of us who consult for a living already know the answer and like the four common denominators, we have been saying for decades that traditional worship is on the downswing and contemporary is becoming the new normal for thriving churches.

The problem is, just as many denominational officials and pastors discounted our cry for the four things in common, they seem to want to do the same with our cry for more contemporary, less traditional worship. Churches are doing the same thing because most of the dying churches we work with that do have contemporary worship are still spending more money on traditional worship (even though they are watching it die) than they spend on contemporary worship. Go figure.

The survey also backed up what we have been saying about denominational life. Here is what the survey said.

“Among the findings? The denomination has lost its theological identity, experiences a general lack of trust and accountability, and struggles with a perceived distance between the general church agencies, annual conferences and local churches.

“The central focus was on a sense of loss of mission definition and relevancy and an accompanying sense of loss of identity,” the report stated. “At the broadest level, the church’s struggle for an identity as a global church was widely discussed.”

Areas for improvement include:
• More clarity and understanding about the denomination’s mission, culture and values;
• Less perceived organizational “distance” between the general church and local churches;
• Better defined leadership roles and accountability, and improving trust “between the pew and leadership”;
• More standardized management processes and reporting systems”

Sound familiar?

Now, since I love my tribe, it is my deepest hope that it will heed the warnings in this survey and seek to remedy the issues that are tearing the UMC apart. There are islands of strength, as the survey shows. The trick is for us to learn from these vital churches.

Question: Have you seen these same trends in other denominations? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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