Can we plant ourselves out of our decline?

Posted: December 6, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

GoughMark_SRWBM22EMark Gough, Director of Church Development for the Indiana Conference, asked the question, “Can we plant ourselves out of our decline?”  The “we” he was referring to was the Indiana Conference.  You see since we formed a few years ago, our churches overall have had more years of worship attendance decline than gain and the number of  members has continued to decrease.

So when did Indiana Methodism experience its greatest growth?  Back in the 1800’s when we were planting new churches.  Although there is a direct correlation between the number of churches being planted and the growth of a denomination, can we start enough United Methodist churches in Indiana to turn our growth trend around?

Mark Gough has come to the conclusion, “No.”  According to Lyle Schaller’s formula, the Indiana Conference would have to plant 36 new churches every year to grow again.  (Lyle is a retired UM clergy person who has written nearly 50 books on church growth.)  Mark recognizes that we just don’t have the capacity to start that number of churches right now.

So what do we do?  He’s convinced that it will require a combination of church planting and the revitalization of our nearly 1,200 UM churches.  Indiana’s population has shifted since the 1800’s–to urban centers–but our churches haven’t moved.  Thus, there’s a tremendous need to start new churches in our urban centers and to help some of our churches relocate to where the people have moved.

Indiana’s population also is much more ethnically diverse than it was in the 1800’s.  The students at my kid’s high school, in Fort Wayne, for example, speak over two dozen different languages!  Our churches no longer reflect the ethnic mix of the state’s population and so new efforts need to be made in that area too.

So if we aren’t going to plant our way out of this decline, not only relocating churches and reaching ethnic minorities will be important, but revitalizing our existing churches will be as well.  Read more about how Church Development is focusing on this in our next article.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

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