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February 22nd, 2010

by Craig Groeschel

37 comments (+ Add)

Suggestions For My UMC Friends (Part 1)

crossflameA leader from the United Methodist Church asked me if I’d write a few suggestions for the denomination. I was very honored by his request and thought I’d share a few thoughts.

My family attended various Methodist Churches in Texas and Oklahoma. I did my undergraduate work at Oklahoma City University (a UMC school). After graduating from college, I entered ministry as an associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in downtown Oklahoma City.

Amy and I planned on serving God in the Methodist Church for our full ministry. After experiencing other styles of ministry, God gave us a vision to do church in a different way. We asked for permission to plant a new UMC church. Since I was only ordained as a “deacon” and not an “elder,” church planting, for us, was not an option as a UMC pastor.

Our burden to start a church became greater than our loyalty to a denomination. We left the UMC on good terms with fond memories and many great relationships.

This week, I’ll post six suggestions for my UMC friends. I offer them humbly and in love. I hope one or two ideas are helpful.

Let’s start with the use of Financial Resources. Not long ago, the UMC launched a $20 million advertising campaign called “Rethink Church.” While I wholeheartedly applaud the church’s aggressive efforts to reach people, I don’t think advertisements that promote a denomination are the best plan.

Today’s generation wants to join a cause, not an organization. I would have suggested investing $20,000 each into 1,000 UMC church plants across the United States. Starting new churches is easier than revitalizing old churches. Once a new movement begins, revitalizing the old becomes much more doable.

My thought on this: People are more likely to join a new mission rather than an old denomination.

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  1. 1Darcyjo
    Feb 22, 2010 at 7:05 am

    Keep it coming, Craig! As a member of the UMC (and someone who is working to become a deacon someday), I’m cheering you on!
    RethinkChurch is an interesting idea, but as long as we’re looking at the denomination and not what God is doing, I think it’s not going to turn out like they hope…..

  2. Feb 22, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Although I am not part of the UMC (only attend as a very young child before I can remember), I am looking forward to reading what you have to say. I honestly I believe that I will be able to apply the some of the things you write about to where I serve today. With that being said - today was something I heard in the past that I needed to be reminded of - People are more likely to join a new mission rather than an old denomination. THANKS for the reminder!

  3. Feb 22, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Like Jim I am not part of the UMC and never have been. I think what you say here Craig applies to any and every denomination serious about making an impact in today’s culture. I particularly liked the phrase “today’s generation wants to join a cause, not a denomination.” WOW is that right on! Take the most recent Haiti thing. People out the wazoo supported it-believer and non-believer-not because of any one organization but because it was a cause to rally behind. For what it’s worth: I would seriously question spending any amount of money on advertising when “real church” takes place every day. I look forward to reading the rest of these.

  4. Feb 22, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Talk about denomination…I grew up Catholic (we know how perfect the Catholic church has been for centuries..LOL) and my hubby grew up “SUTHUN”Baptist…we tried them both and we were miserable under “legalism”in both…we went to “Church” to impress Mom and Dad and for them to brag on us in the fam that we were still…”denominational”.

    God’s been working on me forever…When I was 15, I was introduced to Young Life and a “Personal Relationship” with God…My Mom was convinced I was in a cult Banging Tambourines and it was a rough road to walk when your that young, saved and Your parents don’t “get it”…Now they do…
    People simply want to KNOW that God loves them as an individual..that they have PURPOSE and REAL meaning…it does not matter “where” they worship…but when man stands in the way of God anywhere…Growth is NOT an option.

  5. Feb 22, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I am indebted to you for your willingness to share. As a UMC pastor seeking to recapture the Jesus mission which once drove the Methodist movement, I await you thoughts and insights. I know you will speak from your heart and a common goal. God’s Kingdom come. Thank you!

  6. Feb 22, 2010 at 9:52 am

    At risk of sounding harsh. Most churches have a shelf life and the best thing they could do is sell their assets and pass the money on to a church plant. Our church was the recipient of such a gift from a church that has become ineffective. That church had about 25 members/attenders, so they sold their building and gave the funds to plant the church I now pastor. The gift they have given us has resulted in over 50 people coming to faith in Christ in the last 3 years and a growing church of 125 people. Seems like it was a good move to invest in something new.

  7. 7Ray
    Feb 22, 2010 at 10:19 am

    As a UM Pastor - third generation - I am always open to an honest look at the church - not simply the UM Church but the Christian Church.

    I pastor a church that was once strong and then hit hard times. When I was invited by the Bishop to live out my calling in this location - my first statement to the congregation was that I wasn’t here to help them survive as a congregation - but rather to be faithful to God - if that meant closing our doors or growing or anywhere in between. Our goal was to serve God. Over the last few years we have begun to grow again and we’re seeking to be faithful to God in all we do. We teach a need for a personal relationship with Jesus on a daily - moment by moment basis - and that is not taught in many UM Churches these days.

    Resources to help a church or denomination survive are not monies well spent. For the UM Church to become an impact partner in the Christian world today she needs to return to her evangelical roots. Caring once again if people know Jesus or not - trying to convert the world. Throwing money at her image is fruitless. People want to know that they are following God and not man.

  8. 8Matt Poole
    Feb 22, 2010 at 10:46 am

    As a denominational staff person in charge of new church development and church planter in the UM I only wish I had been in that room when they decided to spend 20 million on ads!

  9. Feb 22, 2010 at 10:48 am

    craig, as someone who was in the trenches alongside you in the UMC… I agree mission is important.

    Quick story from my large church UMC days.
    I was sitting in house with a group of businessmen (part of a year long leadership group.

    I suggested over a meal, that the church we were all a part of didn’t do evangelism very well. Ed (and amazing guy) was astonished.

    “Mark how can you say that? We spend 20% of our budget on missions and we’ll spend $85,000 this year on radio spots”

    I said, “Ed when was the last time you told a friend about Jesus.”
    He chuckled and said, “Well, you don’t have to get personal.”

    Advertizing is an easy substitute for evangelism these days.

  10. Feb 22, 2010 at 11:36 am

    I like your strategy of church plants based on community & cause rather than an organization/denomination. The problem we run into is that $20,000 on the West Coast (San Diego) doesn’t go far.

    What we have experienced is that $20k helps at lot more when you multi-site and the business & finance side of “one church/multiple locations” is centralized. We have 5 sites (adopted two in Sept. 2009) and opening our sixth at the end of this year. It is a great adventure reaching people in new communities. LifeChurch has been a great resource!

    robert wachs
    executive pastor

  11. Feb 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    On the topic of rejuvenating old churches: I’ve always thought it would be interesting for a pastor to go around to old churches that seem to be losing “first love” vision/passion and teaching a few Sundays.

    Just a thought!

    I do agree on not promoting the denomination, but rather igniting more passion, a new movement, for the true Love - !

  12. 12Paul
    Feb 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Amen Craig…preach it!

  13. 13Gena
    Feb 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    I look forward to hearing more. As we plant new, what do we do with old? I am attending for the first time a church that is actually dying. The pastor is young and passionate, the people love their church, discipleship is the priority, evangelising the neighborhood is a close second, and still the 70-yr old facilities are impossible to keep up, the congregation can’t carry the financial burden, and the support is beginning to fade. How do you close the doors on people with a strong emotional attachment to a place that has been part of their family for generations? It feels like failure.

  14. Feb 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    As Perry Noble says, “It’s easier to give birth than raise the dead!”

  15. Feb 22, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Craig, I’m very excited to hear your insights and suggestions for the UMC! I’m currently serving in my second UMC and late last year, felt a very similar tension in “burdens” just like you mentioned. I’m currently at an awesome seminary (Gordon-Conwell) which I have no doubt I was called to by God. But when I started feeling the call to start the candidacy process in the UMC, I discovered that Gordon had been taken off the list of “approved” seminaries in July 2007, less than a month before I started my first class there. No one can give me a good answer as to why, but I surmise it has to do with politics and declining attendance at the UMC denominational seminaries, vs. places like Gordon…therefore, if I wish to go the ordination route, I’ll have to transfer out. At this point though, my burden to stay at Gordon and also to plant a missional church one day remain greater than my burden to begin candidacy. Thanks again for you insights!

  16. Feb 22, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Gena, with all due respect, if people have such “a strong emotional attachment to a place” that leaving it would be like “failure” it already IS a failure. Our “strong emotional attachment” shouldn’t be to a place but to the Savior.

    Except the seed die there will be no new growth. I was part of a dying 25-year old church that died to live again–we became the second campus of and it is now thriving.

    I’m sorry but churches who live in the past have no future.

  17. 17Gwen W.
    Feb 22, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Interesting discussion. I know it’s difficult to change churches (my dad is a retired Southern Baptist Minister of Education/Church Administrator). I’ve seen my church (Hermitage TN UMC) leadership pray over a decision and its members…and the change was accepted and even embraced. It’s rare I know. I am more concerned with the extended Church structure - all the agencies that seem to duplicate efforts - and have a 4 yr outlook. I love the UMC because of the checks and balance but it appears to a new member (7 yrs) that many of our decisions are based on immediate results. Truly, unfortunate for an organization that should be more interested in the eternal than the immediate results - or at least until the next session.

  18. Feb 23, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Thanks, Craig…I don’t know if you are responding to my request or someone elses…but I appreciate your willingness to share with us. My Son and Daughter in law in K.C. watch you every Sunday and they really appreciate your ministry. I am looking forward to your other comments. Blessings, Gary

  19. Feb 23, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you for these insights Craig. I am a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination even more structured and bureaucratic than the UMC, so I am interested in reading and gleaning some insights for the ministry God has for me as well.

  20. Feb 23, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Not a UMC, but still, these recomendatiosn are good for ANY denomitation.

    Specially in Latin churches-denominations.

    Learning alot!

  21. Feb 23, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    [...] of the SBC last night. I could not help but think Craig Groeschel typed the wrong letters when he began a series of suggestions for the UMC. It may well have been we should have invited Craig to speak to the GCRTF of the UMC SBC. He closes [...]

  22. 22Scott
    Feb 24, 2010 at 9:30 am

    A friend of mine told me how much he liked the “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” ad campaign. He said all churches should take this stance with regard to Christian evangelism and service. I asked him if the campaign inspired him to seek out a UM church and worship there. It had not and he had no intention of doing so. I told him, since he is a marketing executive, that he of all people should weight this as the true effectiveness of a campaign. I believe my friend just thinks of it as a public service message. I haven’t done the research, but did that campaign bring many new worshipers to UM churches?

  23. Feb 24, 2010 at 2:41 pm

  24. Feb 26, 2010 at 11:39 am

    [...] Groeschel on the UMC #1 [...]

  25. 25Warren Carswell
    Feb 26, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Hi Craig, thanks for your UMC post. I’ve been a UMC pastor for over 15 yrs. I grew up UMC and experienced a call into ordained ministry while a senior in High School (1987). So, the long journey through the UMC Ordination process begun. I had, and still have, a heart and passion for new church development and to “do something different,” yet it was not practiced in the S. GA conference. Oh yeah, and I wasn’t yet ordained either:) While voicing my frustration to the hierarchy, I witnessed too many young pastors leave the UMC because of the lack of new church developments and the many “hoops” to jump through to be ordained. Unfortunately, I’m witnessing it still today. When I read your post, I was shocked to find out you were once UMC! I said to myself, “Wow, the UMC lost another great leader because of the system.” I’ve enjoyed following you and your ministry. I heard Andy Stanley credit you with saying, “To reach people that no one else is reaching you have to do what no one else is doing.” I’ve introduced that saying to my church and we are beginning to ask what it is that we can do! Keep up the great and creativity. I pray that the UMC can learn to do what no one else is doing!

  26. Feb 28, 2010 at 9:37 am

    my sudgestion regsrding that financial rroblem is the sacrifice of every pastor like they didnt take her allowance from the church i know that every pastor have allowance from the church of 4,000 to 6,000 it is big help to the church if the dont take her allowance from the church and aks to the other member continuing praying to god for his new site or church the most of thenm is to sacrifice of every pastor dont take any amount from the church . may good lord blees us and keep us @ tolits garcia

  27. 27A Local Pastor
    Mar 1, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Church advertising is a waste of money. Very few people are motivated to visit a church based on advertisments of any kind. Most come in response to personal relationships formed with members through ministry and community involvment. Pay attention to this if you’re one of those who made this lame decision: Advertising is NOT ministry! The millions wasted by the UMC could have been used in ways to train and field more pastors who want to revitalize existing churches or plant new ones.

  28. 28Steve Pichaske
    Mar 7, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I’ve been a United Methodist pastor for the past 7+ years, and have to admit that I’ve had my share of moments where I have been critical of the denominational decision-making. I have certainly been disappointed in our relative inability to birth new churches while focusing so heavily on trying to rescue dying congregations. It’s never seemed like the best use of either our financial or people resources…

    That said, I’m willing to defend the Rethink Church initiative. Yes, it cost a lot of money. If there’s one thing I’m proud of as a United Methodist, however, it’s the amount of financial resources the denomination puts into worldwide missions, relief work, AND evangelism. In fact, I think the denomination’s worldwide missional focus certainly represents a “cause” that represents a bridge to faith for many.

    Moreover, the Rethink campaign was designed as much to help the churches of the denomination rally around a common purpose as it was about providing television commercials for the unchurched American population. Adam Hamilton for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection preached a terrific sermon series focused on the principals from the Rethink campaign. If more United Methodist Church leaders and parishioners “caught the vision,” we’d consider this $20 million money well spent.

  29. 29Pastor Charlie
    Mar 18, 2010 at 9:41 am

    I for one think this campaign is good. I perceive in it a focus on social causes, with the denominational “plug” kept in the background. What I particularly like is the way that it addresses venues attended by people who appreciate noble causes (e.g., NPR & National Geographic). Also, I find it interesting that the lectionary for this week includes John 12:1-8, in which Judas asks “Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor?” Yes, the UMC spent $20M on “advertizing”. But how much does it give to various needs throughout the world? In 2008, UMCOR alone provided $93.3M in relief aid. Throw in other organizations the UMC supports (e.g., Society of St. Andrews), and the direct aid provided by local churches, and I suspect the number would be rather large.

  30. Mar 20, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I’m form “the other” much less known Methodist church, the Free Methodist Church. I liked the rethink campaign, thought it was well done; it didn’t really help any of the churches whose pastors I know personally. I am also a church planter, so I naturally agree with the thought of putting more into planting new churches :) I believe that those new churches would connect many more new Christ followers than the ads will. Nice article, Craig.

  31. 31Bro Stephen Webb
    Apr 22, 2010 at 7:03 am

    Hey I like your idea very much. I would like to read more of what you have to say. The Institution, which the UMC now for the most part needs to be laid to rest and go back to the movement it once was… I don’t think Mr. Wesley would like what he would see now as I don’t think it was his vision. Steve

  32. 32A Local Pastor
    Apr 22, 2010 at 9:01 am

    This is a more detailed post to one I posted earlier:

    What amazes me is that there is plenty of research that shows that advertising is an ineffective means of reaching people for Christ. (With one giant flushing sound, $20,000,000 was wasted.)
    Most people become involved in churches, as you point out, because they want to be a part of a cause or a movement. I would revise this to say, that they want to be involved where there is life. And the life that is most effective at attracting people to the church is this: personal relationships made by mission minded members are the key to attracting people into church life. Mission minded members are those who extend hospitality/fellowship beyond their church doors on Sunday mornings. They don’t just invite people to come to the next potluck or special program. Rather than inviting people to come to church, they take the church to the people. They are the Church to the people. I would call this personal outreach, i.e. each of us serving as the ministers God has called us all to be. The old philosophy of “You build it and they will come,” no longer works. People are most attracted to our mission when the we—the People of God—are engaged in life beyond their walls and in a way that says to them that we care and want to serve you in love and grace.
    However, I don’t fully agree with your generalized observation that “Starting new churches is easier than revitalizing old churches.” This may be true in metropolitan churches. In the UMC the life blood continues to be the rural, small membership churches. Unlike metro-churches, smaller churches, which often cannot afford to pay full-time pastors, more faithfully pay their apportionments. I believe this is reflective of a deep commitment among rural people to their churches, communities and their way of life.
    The biggest problems confronting rural churches are aging populations, the declining ratio of children to adults (i.e. we are not having enough children to replace our population in US and western societies), and the lack of jobs. However, many urbanites and retirees are moving to rural areas in search of a quieter and less hectic way of life. Therefore, the UMC should focus its financial resources to helping the rural churches learn how to reach out to those who move into their communities and to cope with other demographic issues I mentioned. That is, $20,000,000 could be used to field mission minded full-time pastors into these areas—and not just the urban-minded ordained but those who have a heart for rural communities and the rural way of life—those who want to be a part of the land and the culture they serve. The leadership of the UMC needs to recognize that their own backyard is their mission field. If they don’t work to revitalize the rural churches, they’re essentially cutting off the hands that feed them, and the UMC will soon die on the vine.
    Jesus did not call us to go into world to build nice, comfy, expensive, debt laden church buildings. He didn’t call us to go into the world and become political activists for left or right wing causes. He did not call us to get involved in causes that promotes policies that get the government to do what we’ve been called to do. He called US—the CHURCH—to make disciples and to feed his lambs—spiritually and physically. The fact that those who made the decision to waste $20,000,000 on advertising is proof of just how out of touch with reality many of our Bishops and other church leaders are. We talk a lot about social justice in the UMC, as well we should. But not one of those 20,000,000 dollars wasted to advertise the Church has fed one lamb.

  33. 33Glenn
    Apr 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Craig, your thoughts on the UMC intrigue me greatly. I am in a denominational church, as you were. The name doesn’t need to be mentioned, but it’s draining me. 3 years ago, I graduated from a seminary that is outside of my current denomination and the hoops I am still jumping through before ordination are many. I feel like the denomination is grasping at straws, trying to figure out why we’re not growing and I feel like I’m growing weary. I love my church. I love the people God has entrusted into my care. But I feel so out of place in the denomination. I appreciate your thoughts in these few blogs on the UMC. Thanks for sharing.

  34. 34Gus Alfonzo
    May 2, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    I’ve never understood the concept of church advertising. What do you advertise? The facilities? The style of music? The size of the parking lot? The comfort of the worship area? The quality of the coffee? IMHO, if there were a need for a church to advertise, the most effective advertising from which a church can benefit is akin to the Samaritan woman’s reaction after meeting Jesus face to face (John 4): “Come and see a man…!” Is there really any better reason to gather in a building referred to as church? Indeed, Craig! People are more likely to want to see and experience for themselves the source of living water, of transforming power evident in those who have touched by the better Life Jesus offers (John 4:42), but we in the UMC are all about investing in the well, perhaps even making its water more accessible to everyone since it is so deep.

    The RethinkChurch campaign seemed to me more like a high-level PR campaign, aimed at changing the image of the UMC as being more “in tune” with current spiritual winds; even if it had succeeded at a denominational level, it does not seem to have had the intended effect on its own constituents. While there are some local UMC churches that are the exceptions, the majority of the local UMC churches continue to drink the well waters of status quo. I believe the $20 million would have had a far greater impact for the Kingdom of God if it had been used in retooling the local UMC churches in the lost art of making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded us. That’s the “organic advertising” of the first century church.

  35. 35Pastor T
    Jul 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I have been placed in an appointment that is killing me. I have had more headaches and sleepless nights since being appointed (three years ago) than I had in my whole life combined before the appointment. I want change, the church likes itself the way it is–so I have been very nicely and politely ignored. With the exception of a few people who want change and they are leaving. Sometimes Pastors can kill a church but sometimes a church can kill a Pastor. I wonder how many UMC Pastors there are who have been crushed by congregations that nicely and politely ignored them? It is so much less painful to start a new church than to change an old church comfortable and set in its ways.

  36. Oct 6, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Your post is really heaps informative for those who can’t understand at first, great post.

  37. 37Randy
    Mar 22, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Let us not forget that Christ gave life to those who were dead, stagnant, legalistic, old, etc. He can do the same for those types of churches if he so chooses.

    “People are more likely to join a new mission rather than an old denomination.”–>So what? Why are we always so quick to be pragmatic? I could say that crackheads are more likely to join a church that hands out free drug money but that doesn’t make it right or good. New isn’t necessarily better or old necessarily worse…and vice-versa. I’m truly not trying to throw stones, just want us to consider our source of power–Jesus, not human plans or strategies. Btw, I totally agree with you when you say that you ‘don’t think advertisements that promote a denomination are the best plan’. We should only be promoting Jesus Christ. Soli Deo Gloria