Lowell Weems asks, "Can medical science continue to keep US United Methodism alive?"
When the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches' stopped growing the 1960's, the average age of members was well below the general population, and that continued until 1975. Since 1975, the average age in US United Methodism has gone up consistently. Despite over thirty years of aging as a denomination, with the help of medical science we are still alive.
The failure to reach younger people is abundantly clear in the State of the Church report. It is painful to read that clergy seem less concerned about this than laity are, and the laity want younger people but are not willing to change their worship or budget to reach younger generations. The report is clear that the gap between rhetoric and action appears to be as large as the age gap that some believe threatens the future viability of the denomination.
Weems really hits the nail on the head here, particularly when he says,"the laity want younger people but are not willing to change their worship or budget to reach younger generations." I have seen this truth more times than I can possibly count over my years of ministry. In many congregations "change" is a four letter word. As strange as it may seem, it appears to me that a large number of United Methodists would rather see the church die than change. The attitude I've witnessed is, "As long as the church is here to bury me when I die, I don't care what happens after that." Few would come right out and say those words, but the unwillingness to adapt speaks it loud and clear.
I thank God that I serve a congregation that has a passion for reaching the younger generations. Each week 60-65 Jr. & Sr. High students gather for a meal, a time of singing praises (they even dance, O my!), and a lesson. The same activities are offered to elementary children and draws about 45-50 each week.
The few United Methodist congregations like the New Sharon church are not going to be able to stem the tide of an aging denomination. If the Bishops follow through on their new church starts initiative, then there is hope for US United Methodism. If those initiatives get bogged down in Annual Conference wrangling or not properly funded, then in another 30 years you won't find a United Methodist Church in every town. And communities and the world will be poorer for it.