Methodism as a Missional Movement

Several weeks ago, I attended the inaugural New Room Conference in Franklin, TN, sponsored by Seedbed and the Wesleyan Covenant Network.  I’d like to share some of the things I found helpful and stimulating in this post and others in weeks to come.  The New Room Conference was an incredibly motivating experience, with an amazing lineup of speakers who spoke from and to the heart of Methodism.  I would highly recommend that you attend next year’s conference!

Thoughts from Ed Stetzer, highly respected researcher of the Southern Baptist Church, on Wesleyanism as a Missional Movement:

  • “A movement with so great and obvious a heritage must do more to connect that heritage with today.  Wesley got right years ago what we are trying to get right today.”
  • The engine of Methodism’s growth on the American frontier was the church planting movement.  In a 15-year span, Methodists and Baptists planted 3,000 churches.  This is something in our DNA we need to recover today.
  • Ingredients of a fruitful denominational ministry (all of which were exemplified by the Wesleyan movement in the past):
    • Student ministry (students are the age group most open to the Gospel)
    • Church planting
    • Global ministry
    • Holistic mission (deeds of mercy and justice, serving the hurting and saving the lost – combines demonstration with proclamation)
    • Lay involvement
    • Intentional discipleship
    • 75% of conversions happened through small groups in Wesley’s ministry (not large meetings)
    • Goal in church planting ought to be 3% of existing congregations – for a denomination of 30,000 churches in the U.S., that means 900 church plants per year (we are currently around 300, which is an improvement from previous quadrenniums)
    • “The majority of the people in the majority of churches are unengaged in the ministry of the church.”
    • Areas to focus on:
      • Indigenous leadership – be the church of the common person, led by common people – “institutionalization leads to the professionalization of ministry, which leads to clericalism”
      • Simplicity – have an easily reproducible organizational structure – have a low threshold of involvement (“desire to flee the wrath to come”), but a high commitment to involvement (requirement to renew one’s “ticket” quarterly in order to keep attending)
      • Intentionality – spiritual discipleship – Wesley used the class and band meetings
      • Urban ministry – that is where the people are – Methodism’s growth in the 1800’s took place in rural areas because that is where the people were – we have failed to transition to urban ministry, and the declining rural population in the U.S. is a major factor in our decline
      • UMC is the most liked of all groups tested among the unchurched – Methodism has the best contextual alignment with the current cultural context
      • Labels on the church are not helpful – many congregations are forsaking a denominational label (even those that are denominational churches) – people are more open to non-denominational or community churches
      • An emphasis on sanctification produces “nice” people, who are well liked by others – one of our best tools in evangelism

These remarks were very hopeful to me, as they laid out a promising possibility for fruitfulness and growth for Methodism in the future, whatever form it takes.  Ed Stetzer’s address set the tone for the whole conference, which addressed many of the themes he introduced.  I particularly resonated with the need to plant churches and engage in intentional discipleship.  I perceive these to be the greatest weaknesses of our church right now.  (Others would be the need to simplify our structure and set the laity free to engage in ministry.)

As Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, blessed are you if you do them!”

2 thoughts on “Methodism as a Missional Movement

  1. Tom, I agree, church planting and intentional discipleship are vital. I think that undergirding these we need to have a much stronger emphasis on Biblical holiness and sanctification, and that includes a much stronger view of and respect for the authority of God and His word. I also believe that a much stronger emphasis on small groups very much like those of John Wesley, not watered down versions. This would include strong accountability and Biblical church discipline as commanded by Christ (Mt 18:15-18), starting with our bishops. Along with that I think simplicity as described by Stetzer and practiced in early Methodism is important. We are a top heavy denomination with a monster of an organization that makes accountability, especially for bishops and those at the top, nearly impossible. This, I believe, is the path to becoming more of a holy disciple-making movement and less a dead sect that holds to a form of godliness but denies the power.

    Thanks for sharing from the New Room Conference, Tom, for myself and others who couldn’t be there. Maybe next year.

    News like this gives me hope for our church.

  2. I attended New Room and you are right on track. I am registered for next year and ready getting more pastors for next year. AMEN.

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