Behind all the clamoring of the decline of the UMC and mainline Protestantism in general there are conversations happening about the future of the UMC. Some feel that if we could just get back to some earlier form of Christianity then the church will recover numbers. Some feel that if we got our theology straight then we will see the pews swell. These conversations about what the #NextMethodisim will look like are interesting and worth considering.
As interesting as these conversations are, I would like to offer up at least one way the UMC will grow if we continue doing what we are currently doing. The UMC will grow in our monoculture.
Monoculture is an agricultural term used to describe when one crop is grown in a field at a time. In Texas, many ranches are massive, but they are only raising cows. While there are clear benefits to the monoculture of raising cows, there are also so great drawbacks. Rampant disease in monoculture ranches forces cows to require a good amount of antibiotics in order to live and grow to a healthy weight. These ranches are efficient in some respects but also highly problematic in others.
When we focus exclusively on growing our churches we will more than likely be interested in working with the populations that will give us good outcomes. A church has only so many resources that churches are incentivized to direct those resources to areas where there will be a "big bang for the buck" or a decent ROI (return on investment). We see this in the amount of time and resources churches direct toward children verses what is directed to prison ministries. One group is easier to work with than the other. It also happens that we can count children in worship and when they are baptized, but counting prisoners is much more difficult.
Efforts to grow a church are well and good, I am in favor of growing church! The point is not to turn a blind eye to growth but to say that eyeing growth as the paramount value leads to monoculture. And monocultures are not very sustainable.
So what does more sustainable growth look like? Maybe it looks like the "three sisters." Who are the three sisters? Answer coming soon....