Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Methodist Death Tsunami in 2018

I once told a prominent pastor friend of mine last year that I thought the United Methodist Church in America was in deep trouble.  He never responded to that, so I guess he didn't want to hear it.

Now comes this email from one of our District Superintendents (pastors who supervise districts made up of 60-100 churches and pastors).  It appears my sentiments appear to be shared by others:
Last week I heard Lovett Weems at the DS Consultation. He is the head of the Lewis Center of Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC. I like him, for like Doug Anderson whom we had a few years ago, he makes mud clear.

On last Thursday, he had a session on "What's Ahead for the United Methodist Church." It was eye opening. Here is some of what I heard him say. We are in the middle not only of an economic recession. We are also in the middle of a worship recession. Worship increased until 2001. After 2002, there has been a major drop off in worship attendance. The definition of regular attendance has changed from every week to twice a month. How does that definition play in your church?

Looking at the larger context - everything having to do with money has increased since the merger in 1968.
• Net assets increased by 206%
• Giving per worshiper has increased by 178%
• Total giving has increased by 147%

Everything dealing with people has gone down since 1968:
• Churches - 87%
• Attendance - 82%
• Membership - 76%
• Profession of faith - 61%
• Children & Youth - 40%

What this means is that fewer people are giving more. This is where the year 2018 comes in. He calls 2018 the beginning of the coming "Death Tsunami." Deaths are going to increase in the United Methodist Church. First, he depressed me by pointing out that I am now in the category of "older United Methodist ministers." Second he reminded me of what comes after old...which is death. The GI generation is leaving the stage now at 1,000 WWII vets a day. Boomers this year will be retiring at the rate of 7,000 a day which then means we will be beginning the next step, which is the death tsunami. Cheery thought, isn't it?

What this means is that if we do nothing, we will be facing a financial burden that will drive everything else. Just think about your own church. How many people in your active membership are 65+? How much of your budget may be attributed to them? Now, think about that disappearing in the next 5 to 10 years? What will that do to your ministry and what your church can afford in the way of a pastor?

The good news is that we have 7 years to position ourselves to be ready. Some of our churches have less than 7 years. So what is the way out?
His answer was (1)get your budgets in order; and (2)attract more people.  Hmmmm....I wonder if this is going to save Methodism from a slow, grinding, painful decline?   Naa!  Where is Charles Finney,  Dwight Moody, and Billy Sunday (or, I would add, even Billy Graham) when we need them?


  1. I noticed the same trend at our church. Not too long ago we had the Stewardship Sunday and I was amazed at the amount of money that was pledged given the relatively few number of pledges compared to the number of members in the church. I told Shery that a few number of people are giving a allot of money. These are probably the older more successful folks. The younger generations, however, do not have the good jobs that their parents have and they will not be able to support the church at near the same level.

    Shery's dad was a UAW electrician and worked for Catapillar for 30 years. He was one of the last UAW electricians. Once he retired, he was replaced with a contract worker. He made 30 dollars an hour with retirement and benefits. The person who replaced him doing the exact same job earns half that with very little, if any, real benefits. And definitely, no retirement. His son, even if he was doing the same job, working at the same place that his father worked, would not be able to contribute to a church in no where near the same level as his father. Given this, it really is scary when we think of our kids as the church of tomorrow.

    Obviously, once this catches up with the church, without a substantial infusion of new and contributing members, the church will be in trouble. And, of course, you have to deal with the fact that the younger generation's ideas regarding "supporting" their church is a far cry from their parents ideas. It really is a case of handwriting being on the wall for many churches, not just the UMC.

  2. The organized church is going to be in a heap of trouble very shortly. Actually, it already is, due to the Great Recession. But, as always, the true (invisible) church will go on.