Last summer I had the chance to hear some of the most insightful leaders who are thinking about United Methodism. One of them was Reverend Gil Rendle.
Rev. Rendle worked his career as a pastor and is now on the staff at the Texas Methodist Foundation. I hung on every word he said for his entire hour presentation but I was really shaken by one simple observation.
He pointed out that the mission of the United Methodist Church is to make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The mission, he says, is not to make happy congregations.
In manufacturing parlance, too often our congregations believe that they are the end product, the widget rolling off of the assembly line at the end of the factory. Does anyone you know think the purpose of the church is to meet their needs, to make them happy?
Rev. Rendle says the congregation is not the end product, they are a tool in the process. The end product is the new visitor, the people who join by profession of faith, the unchurched who become rechurched, the poor who are fed, the lonely and sick who are comforted.
This does not mean your members should be ignored. It is a foolish factory owner who doesn’t take the time and resources to maintain his equipment, oiling joints and sharpening blades. But the purpose of Ford is not to have cool robots. The purpose of Ford is to make cars.
Imagine if Ford reported to its shareholders how much time it spent on equipment maintenance but never got around to making cars.
But we in the church spend time talking about how we care for and inspire our own, but a third of our churches haven’t had a single profession of faith in years.
Imagine if Ford hadn’t made a single car in years.
I encourage you to pick up Rendle’s book, Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches. It isn’t a particularly easy read and the graphic layout (or lack thereof) doesn’t help. But it is a very direct, left-brained look at how we can make our churches relevant and strong again.