The economy is in chaos, the environment is in collapse, the church is in crisis. All around us, the stage is being set for catastrophe. Amid this cacophony of decline, more than a thousand United Methodists gathered at Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, Oct. 23-25 for a conference called “Change the World.”
The premise was a simple one: it’s not about getting people into heaven, but getting heaven into earth.
The line-up of speakers included men (unfortunately just men) with significant ideas.
The Rev. Adam Hamilton is pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, named by The Church Report of 2005 as the most influential mainline church in America. The Rev. Brian McLaren, one of the founders of the emerging church movement, was named by Time magazine as one of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals. Best-selling author Jim Wallis is one of the founders of the Sojourner’s community and the Rev. Mike Slaughter built the 90-member Ginghamsburg UMC in a dying city to one that has more than 4,000 in worship each weekend.
These were men with ideas, who possess the gift of irritation and of vision. Their careers, in many ways, have been measured by the number of people they drew into pews, the amount of books they sold and the size of the crowds they enlisted in their causes.
But during this Change the World weekend, they stood up and said the numbers shouldn’t matter – or at least the numbers that the church measures its decline with – and they need to be discarded. Membership rubrics, they said, are a thing of the past. What matters is crafting an environment full of meaningful and authentic experiences that connect people with what God is calling them to be.
In a moment of exasperation, Slaughter leaned out and chastised his audienced. “It’s not about getting butts in the seats, but getting the butts that are already there into the world,” he said.
Hamilton agreed and expressed equal exasperation that United Methodists may be losing a whole generation of young adults who, national surveys reveal, see the church as anti-homosexual, judgmental and hypocritical.
“Post moderns are saying, ‘we haven’t find a God big enough to account for the world as we experience it,’” Hamilton said.
“Jesus didn’t give altar calls,” he continued. “He said, ‘let your light so shine before others so that they can see your good works and glorify God.’”
This idea of missional church – providing people with a way to help clarify what matters most to God and then working to make that what truly matters in their own lives, may be what is needed to truly save the world.
“We must speak with the voice of God,” Hamilton said.
At Ginghamsburg UMC they did exactly that with their “It’s Not Your Birthday” campaign, in which the congregation has raised more than $3 million by giving the same amount they spend on themselves at Christmas to provide humanitarian relief in Darfur, Sudan.
Pointing to Luke 7:22, Slaughter stressed that Jesus is not about worship and Bible study. With Jesus, the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed and the dead are raised.
It’s about the Kingdom of God, Slaughter said. “We need to become a Kingdom of God movement and not just play church.”
Too many churches today, he said, resemble cruise ships when they need to be mission outposts.
Like cruise ships, churches are self-contained, intensely well organized, hierarchical, staff-driven and centered around the personal interests of an aging and middle class population.
Mission outposts, on the other hand, are about going outside to engage the world. They involve networking, creating partnerships, are team- and gift-based, and reach out to connect with others, especially the poor and marginalized.
The church needs to shift from the attractional model, which focuses on numbers, to the missional model that looks to help people become more authentically human.
To accomplish this, Slaughter said, congregations need to minimize mortar and maximize mission. They should also move:
- beyond bigger crowds to better connections,
- beyond performance to participation,
- beyond paid staff to the priesthood of all believers, and
- beyond excellence to experience.
Good leaders are builders of hope. To change the world, the church needs to stop coaxing people into its doors and begin offering the hope of Christ in ways that allow people to be healers, bridge builders and doers of God’s word.