Asking the Tough Questions - 10 Points for the UMC to Thrive


Joe Connelly ran with the shift analogy, telling those gathered that if they have automatic, you just get in the car and go, and churches can run the same way.

“The pastor opens the church, the choir sings, and the church just does its own thing,” he said. “You have to manually shift, and if you leave it in first gear it won’t run right.”

Connelly is an elder in the Louisiana Conference, currently serving as the lead pastor of Wesley UMC in Baton Rouge. He has served as a consultant since 1994 for community nonprofits, emerging businesses and the United Methodist Church. He recognizes that his church is living off of the money of previous generations.

“I had 11 deaths in my church this year, and I would need 25 young adults to replace those 11,” he said. “About 80 percent of the money in the church comes from 55 and over. The Church of Jesus Christ will survive; the church of the North American culture may not survive. There is a difference.”

Connelly launched into a section where he shared from the book The Present Future by Reggie McNeal, and some of the questions McNeal asked of the church.

Wrong Question #1: How do we do church better? New programs aren’t getting it done.

• Church activity is a poor substitute for church vitality
• Activity = running in place, the result = burnout

Tough Question #1: How do we convert from Churchianity to Christianity? In North America, the invitation to become a Christian has largely become an invitation to join a church.

Wrong Question #2: How do we grow this church? (How do we get people to come to us?) Seeker sensitive services, contemporary worship, following the latest trend

Tough Question #2: How do we transform this community? (How do we hit the streets with the gospel?) Jesus’s strategy was to go where people hang out.

We need to have church in every mall, coffee shop, Wal-Mart, etc. Connelly asked those gathered that if their church were to close next week, who would care?

“If no one would care except your members, you should already be closed,” he said. Connelly said the pastor needs to prioritize their tasks, and not try to be involved in everything.

“I don’t go to all the church meetings – I’m clear on this. We prayed over nominations – and we need to empower people to lead,” he said “If you are a pastor and you have more keys than the front door and the one for your office, you have too many keys. I’m beating the streets during the day.”

“United Methodists are the greatest strategic planners in the world, but the worst one about going out and sharing our faith,” Connelly said. “We can create activity, but our brothers and sisters in other denominations are showing vitality. God has heard you’re prayers, and he’s sick and tired of your complaining. If God handed out pink slips for ineffectiveness, we wouldn’t have that many churches open.”

Connelly said he preached at a church and ended with an altar call, and the pastor told him after that he had never done an altar call before.

“I told him that even the devil comes to church,” he said. “My first priority is to make sure you have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

10 Points Necessary for UMC to Thrive by Joe Connelly

  1. Constantly strive to improve the quality of worship, education and outreach to meet the needs of the community.
  2. Adapt to the new age of economics and information. Be aware and respectful of the extreme pressures our society is placing on young families.
  3. Cease judging and controlling the efforts of others. Agree to spend resources and energy to provide high quality programming.
  4. Cannot fall into trap of valuing more affluent or talented members over others.
  5. Constantly improve different methods of worship, education and outreach. Use prayers, presence, gifts and service to meet the spiritual needs of the community and strengthen the body of Christ.
  6. Assign faith coaches to all new members and give each new member an opportunity to serve.
  7. Embrace and implement a new structure by allowing the involvement of more people in task force/ministry teams. Encourage new ideas and new methods. Assist in the implementation of new programs. Be risk takers and faith walkers.
  8. Break down the barriers between different styles of worship, between ages, persons living different lifestyles, between the local church and the denomination.
  9. Do not frustrate or impede the work of individuals or groups within the church, and those seeking to work with the church. Understand that we are all on faith journeys. Accept, welcome, appreciate and forgive each other. Trusting each other is key.
  10. Raise the missional expectation for the members to be involved in hands-on service. Eliminate judging the church on the basis of membership, attendance and financial commitment. Model faith in God. Everyone in the church works to transform lives.