A UM Missional Future: Vision Pathway 1

Part 11 of 21...

A Brief Introduction to the Vision Pathways:

Throughout this quadrennium, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has been discussing and refining a set of seven basic approaches to describe and define the work and leadership of the United Methodist Church. They have called these seven approaches "The Seven Vision Pathways."

Here's the latest summary list of those pathways, as released by the Council of Bishops in their November 2007 meeting at Lake Junaluska.

All of these require a significant degree of fleshing out-- both by the bishops themselves in their leadership within the areas they serve and by others who will seek to live into them with their bishops. So it would be premature to offer any analysis in detail of most of these pathways-- since the detail work is still very much left to be decided.

Still, each of these has the potential to support or be supported by a truly missional approach to our life as people called United Methodists-- and it's that potential, and in a few instances some challenges to that potential-- I hope to explore in this and the subsequent six posts.

Path 1: Developing New Congregations
There is a vision coming to institutional life, and perhaps "on the ground" reality, that in the next decade United Methodists may be in a position to be planting one new church per day, as at least one of our predecessor denominations (The Methodist Episcopal Church) had done in the late 19th century. A good bit of the institutional leadership for this effort has been centered in a new division of the General Board of Discipleship which has been named "Path One" and is led by my colleague, Tom Butcher-- who has been instrumental in helping major church planting initiatives in the Desert Southwest get off the ground and do well.

There is no question, from a missional strategy perspective, that right now the United Methodist church as a denomination, if only for its institutional future, must plant new churches, and indeed many of them. At this point many many of the UMC congregational spaces are located in what might be described perhaps best by the Dodgers shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, when he was asked to describe how he got good at hitting. "Simple," he said. "I hit 'em where they ain't."

That's where a large portion of our current congregations are located-- where the current and emerging populations centers of the US "ain't."

That this is the case should come as no surprise. Church planting by Methodists in the US fell off sharply after the first two decades of the 20th century, and in many places even more after the Unions that followed (1939-- creating the Methodist Church out of the ME, the ME South, and the Methodist Protestant Church-- and 1968-- creating the UMC out of the EUB and The Methodist Church). After all, they reasoned, why do we need to start new churches when we now have so many thanks to these new unions?

Well, population patterns through the mid and later twentieth century quickly proved that inclination to be ill-advised. Why? Not only were Americans moving rapidly and in large numbers to places they had not lived before (not just suburbs, but major new influxes into newer population centers), but the churches that formed the unions were also located where the people increasingly were not and were not likely to return. The population centers changed and boomed; our mission strategy to reach PEOPLE (not just HAVE CHURCHES) declined.

So yes-- we need to plant new congregations.

But is that the best or only way we, as Methodists, or as missional Christians, know to witnesses to and be catalytic in participating in God's kingdom, or forming others to be disciples of Jesus on mission with God?

Our mDNA from early Methodism is always both-and. So yes-- congregations are part of it-- but attractional congregations less so. AND, and perhaps especially and, AND at the heart is the basic missional unit, the class meeting and society meeting (in Wesley's day) or something like networks of organic missional groups (in ours)-- not standing apart from the congregational format, but rather alongside it.

Or perhaps even better in many instances-- those networks of organic missional groups as the engine of transformation WITH congregationally formatted embodiments of church as well.

The point-- just planting more congregations may not get us as far as we might like down a transformative missional future as our mDNA can allow us to be.

Here's to praying and working and talking with folks in leadership at all levels to help us do both...

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards