Last weekend, I had the opportunity to serve as the Scholar in Residence at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. You can listen to my sermon (on the Didache and what it has to teach the church today) at the bottom of this page.
My main public lecture was titled, “Why the United Methodist Church Is the Most Screwed Up Denomination,” a title that was chosen by the pastors! It was an interesting time. As seminarian and youth pastor Teer Hardy reports, he was surprised that so few of the parishioners at Aldersgate knew what happened at the UMC General Conference in May:
For me, a seminary student and candidate for ordination, this relationship between the congregation and denomination was an eye-opening moment in the conversation. No wonder local congregations are not worried about paying their apportionments the same in which clergy are. For clergy it can be a “career move” and for the local congregation there is no penalty. Even appointments are based upon the overall success (or lack of) a pastor as they lead their congregation. If congregations are not as “attached” to the denomination as their clergy are required to be does the congregation really understand what is required of UMC clergy (elders)?
Now, today comes a report from Gallup that Americans’ trust in “organized religion” is at an all-time low:
Many people are asking me what the future holds, and I’m hesitant to speculate. On the one hand, you’ve got David Lose suggesting one mega-denomination, but that seems about as likely as Esperanto finally catching on.
I’m currently reading Diana Butler Bass‘s compelling new book, Christianity After Religion. She suggests that the U.S. is at the front-end of the Fourth Great Awakening. In the past, I’ve accused DBB of putting lipstick on a pig in her writing about denominational Christianity. This book is far more realistic — even dour — but she hasn’t yet convinced me that a new Awakening is in the offing. I’ll report back when I finish the book.
My guess is that Christian communities are going to get smaller and more diffuse. More house churches, more small start-ups. Less property, less bureaucracy.
Yes, I’m agreeing with George Barna. So sue me.