In a recent article entitled, “Where will the next decade take religion?” Ryan Burge* points out that if trends continue, by 2029 the “Nones” (those unaffiliated with any religion) will surpass other religious groups. He also says that Protestant churches, including The United Methodist Church, will see their percentage of the population, which was 30% in 1970, drop below 5% by 2030–again, if present trends continue.
Globally The United Methodist Church has been growing annually for years; however, in the United States, its numbers continue to decline, mirroring other Protestant denominations. Although it still is the largest Protestant denomination in Indiana, will that be the case in 2030? Presently 10% of Hoosiers are a part of The United Methodist Church. In ten years, will that figure drop in half as Professor Burge suggests?
I believe God is doing a new thing that has the potential of bucking the projected trend. That new thing is a growing missional movement taking place among Indiana United Methodist churches. For the past four years Indiana’s Bishop, Julius Trimble, and Conference leadership have been encouraging churches to become more missional.
In response, more and more churches are launching Fresh Expressions of church in order to reach and disciple unchurched people in their communities. Over 700 people have attended Fresh Expressions training events offered by the Indiana Conference the past two years, and more Fresh Expressions “Vision Day” trainings are being offered.
In addition, nearly fifty pastors are gathering in six cohort groups around the state to focus on how they might help their churches develop stronger multiplication cultures. It is anticipated that a number of these churches will start new faith communities in the coming months and years, and that they will inspire other churches to join them in multiplying too.
You see God is moving–in our churches, our pastors, in other denominations and organizations, and in our communities. We have a choice. Do we sit on the sidelines anticipating the future of a shrinking UMC, or do we get in the thick of what God is doing and help usher in a new era of the church, an era in which we take the church beyond our walls to those who desperately need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ? I know what I will do. How about you?
— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development