How Do We Help Today’s Church?
by Cole Hamilton, Sara Wolfe & Patti Lou Parker
The 2019 Annual Conference came to an end yesterday, and our FUMC Delegates and other attendees returned home. At Conference, clergy members and delegates discuss budgets, mission opportunities, ideas and other various clergy matters. These delegates and clergymen vote on such issues and then go home and proceed to do nothing. Maybe a delegate or two presented a report to their local church in worship or a Church Council meeting. However, in recent years things have been different, at least for some.
In June 2018, the United Methodist Conference took place with clergy and selected members from 425 churches. The time was an exciting mix of voting on matters important to the district, worship, sermons, and fellowship. To address current concerns of sharing Christ’s message with a hurting world, Bishop McAlilly invited speaker Junius B. Dotson, the General Secretary/CEO of Discipleship Ministries, to lead training sessions focused on seeing all the people. These sessions focused on addressing the congregation on the matter of “fixing” the church.
The message Dotson disclosed stated that churches need to stop trying to “fix” the church, but instead focus on “equipping churches” with the proper tools (curriculum and training) to address this ever-growing distance between the people and the church. With proper “tools” the problem so many churches are currently facing in the United States, and the Western World as a whole, will solve itself. When churches see all the people and strive to reach and engage them, the pews will once again be filled.
In order to accomplish this, however, today’s church must be willing to “see” and engage people who don’t always look like, talk like, act like or live like us. We, as followers of Jesus, must realize that if we try too hard to “build the church,” we will rarely get disciples; but if we strive to build disciples, we will always get the church. Noting that church attendance in the US is at its lowest point ever, we must hear God’s call to start seeking out the unchurched and the unseen.
Those delegates at last year’s Annual Conference were excited about Dr. Dotson’s simple yet profound return to our core mission to see, engage and disciple all people. Because of their desire to share what they had learned, the change started right here in northwest Tennessee. Similar to their response when the speaker at the 2017 Annual Conference, Scott Crostek, leaders from Dyersburg First UMC began developing curriculum and lesson plans to share back at their home church. That group from 2017 found the willingness of two willing to teach and who shared with 3-4 classes. By the time our 2018 delegates shared ideas, they had eight teachers who taught 8-9 adult Sunday School classes plus their Youth.
This unique effort of one local church did not go unnoticed. When the UMC’s Board of Discipleship heard about the ideas of Dyersburg First, the Board gifted them over $800 in free books and materials to share with the members of their church. This act of the Board demonstrated the faith the worldwide Church has in God using local churches like Dyersburg First, and the larger church’s willingness to invest in those efforts.
While grateful for the free books, the main goal of First UMC leaders was well beyond a free handout, and more akin to reaching out and igniting a similar spark in others. If this small group of leaders does things well, it will affect not only its local church, but many throughout the UMC’s global connection.
If the hopes and dreams of those few—from Dr. Dotson, Bishop McAlilly and other Memphis Conference leaders like those at Dyersburg First UMC—are to ever have a chance of materializing, people must do more than simply hear a message and return back home. Instead the church must act, must strive to see, engage and disciple all the people. So as our 2019 Annual Conference comes to an end, our Dyersburg First UMC have officially begun to share their lessons, curriculum and even teach to help other churches begin to See All the People. Then the broader Church will be able to honestly repeat Dr. Dotson’s child-like simple message that he began a teaching session with by saying, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.”
We are very thankful for the work of Cole, Sara & Patti Lou in pulling together the pieces of this story and to the whole team of Delegates and Attendees to Memphis Annual Conference who, over the past year, have made this story come to life.
Sincerely in Christ: Ed, Will & the First UMC Family