One of the popular concepts in business and economics today is "valued-added." Sales and services are promoted by saying, "Our product/service adds to your value."
I have been thinking about that in terms of our United Methodist Church. Compared to being a part of other congregations or denominations or even civic groups, what is the "value-added" for being a part of The United Methodist Church? Without disparaging any other denominations or affiliations, I can offer these thoughts about the value-added characteristics of being a member of the UMC (in no particular order):
- We are both a local and a global church. Being a part of the UMC means individual members and all congregations are a part of something bigger ... Much bigger. Recently a lay person told me that his neighbor, a member of a large, independent, mega-church, was bragging about how his church had given $20,000 for disaster response to the victims of a recent storm. Our UM lay person said, “That’s nice. My church gave $4 million in disaster response.” When questioned about that number, our UM lay person said, “We are a part of the UMC and we work together through UMCOR to provide relief all over the world. We are not just the small congregation you see here in our town; we are a global church.” I wish more UM’s would feel that sense of pride (hopefully not arrogance) in the fact that we pool our efforts as both a local and a global church.
- Tax-exempt status, legal support, and group insurance. This one may seem mundane, but the fact is that every UM congregation is “covered” by our IRS tax exempt status as United Methodists – even if your congregation is not incorporated. If you are a UM congregation you are included in our UMC tax exempt status, and there are legal supports and advice provided, and we together can be a part of group insurance plans for medical and property insurance. For an independent congregation to put all of that together is expensive and can lead to unexpected liabilities.
- Third-party help in times of conflict. Nearly every congregation gets into conflicted situations from time to time, and being a part of the UMC means that there are persons to help a church deal with those – oftentimes the District Superintendent or others on the district or conference staff. Having such third-party help can avoid a church split.
- Evaluation and training of our clergy, including background checks. We appoint clergy to our churches who have been screened, evaluated, given background checks, and a variety of efforts to make sure they are the appropriate persons to serve a UM church. The famous case here in Indiana which illustrates the importance of such checks was the infamous Jim Jones. He tried to become a UM pastor and was turned down because of his psychological profiles. He went on to another denomination and was accepted and eventually led a cult of over 800 persons who committed suicide in Guyana. Our UM screening is not perfect, but we at least have a process to prevent such tragedies.
- Being a part of a mission/movement. While we often focus upon the “institutional” aspects of being part of the UMC, truthfully our UM is a movement, it is a mission-driven organization which was formed to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Sometimes our UMC acts more like an institution than a movement, but at least we have our mission and purpose clearly identified. No UM congregation has to spend any time wondering, “What is our mission?” As United Methodists we know our mission and we strive to fulfill it.
- A larger vision for the church. Every local congregation can tend to become parochial, self-centered, and internally-focused. It is human nature. So being a part of a larger church – a global denomination – helps to keep our focus “bigger” and beyond ourselves.
- Job security for clergy. In exchange for all of the screening, evaluations, and processes that our clergy must pass in order to be appointed, our clergy have job security. We call it “guaranteed appointments” and it means that a clergy member of the conference who is good standing is guaranteed an appointment with at least minimum salary and benefits. This means that our clergy covenant themselves to serve where needed, but they don’t have to wonder if they will have a job next year. That is a huge security compared to some clergy in other denominations or independent churches who can be “voted out” by their congregation for a disagreeable sermon.
- Discipleship opportunities, including camping, mission trips, Emmaus Walks, etc. While some UM congregations can generate their own discipleship opportunities, being a UM congregation provides access to a whole range of ministries which can enhance discipleship and service for our people. Every year our conference camping ministries, for example, report hundreds of young people making first-time commitments to Christ, along with dozens of young people accepting a call to Christian service. Those kinds of commitments happen through a partnership of the local UM church and the conference, and it is one of the real values of our UM connection.
- Resources like FCJ, Leadership Development, Rejuvenate for clergy, Church Development grants, Clergy Care Services, etc. In addition to job security, our UM clergy receive many forms of help in dealing with educational debt, growing in leadership ability, and access to our Clergy Care Services to help them deal with personal issues in a confidential manner. Likewise, our UM connection helps congregations with grants, training, leadership, and consultations as those congregations move toward excellence. No UM clergy and no UM congregation has to “go it alone” – we have resources and support for one another.
- Positive name recognition. All of the surveys and marketing studies show that the names "United Methodist" or "Methodist" are positive names in our US culture (unlike the term "Baptist” which, according to marketing studies, has more negative than positive connotations). While some of our individual congregations shy away from claiming their Methodist name, using our Methodist name can enhance a congregation’s image in the community. I have been in parts of the world where driving up in a vehicle with our UM Cross and Flame logo has been greeted by cheers from the people. It may not happen quite like that in Indiana, but being a part of the UMC is a huge boost of positive name recognition.
There are undoubtedly many other “value-added” aspects of being a United Methodist. And I know that I am biased because I love our UMC and appreciate its benefits (even as I am aware of our faults and failures). But I am convinced of the value-added for being a United Methodist.
So, in the words of my high school principal: “Stand tall. Be proud of who you are."