I have been a pastor in the United Methodist Church now for almost four years. The one thing I hear consistently is "the church is in decline". This is very discouraging to me. I believe that the United Methodist church has much to offer compared to other denomination and I can't believe somtimes that we are in such bad shape.
I grew up in a denomination that was and is on the move. Of the denominations in North America, the Assemblies of God is one, if not the fastest growing movement in the world. Statistical reports have the A/G growing at about 2-5%, depends on who you ask. While the UMC and other main line churches decline at 5-8% with some of those mainline churches like the PCUSA declining at 12%.
I guess my concern is how do we stop the bleeding and start growing...again. Methodist was the primer denomination in the 19th and early 20th century in America, now we are just a lumbering giant, like many of our mainline brothers, that is dying. So, whats the answer? Many believe that church growth within the mainline lies in new church development. I agree. Research shows that on a whole, new church starts are healthier, bigger and more vibrant than existing churches, even healthy existing churches.
The UMC is making ground on the realization of the need to plant churches, but is slow on the actualization. Many conferences have set goals of 2-3 new churches a year, when what we need is 4-5 a year. One might think that two churches a year is a good goal, but when 2-3 and even more are closed, there is no ground gained, only the status quo.
I hope we recover, and I think we will, but it starts with and apostolic vision for birthing new congregations and this vision must come from our apostolic leaders, the Bishops.