I was reading Frank Schaeffer’s most recent article on Huffington Post and was stopped in my tracks by these statements:
“Why aren’t the mainline denominations pitching their churches’ tolerant and noble humanistic and enlightened views about individual empowerment, community and spiritual rebirth to the spiritually disenfranchised on a larger scale?”
“If the mainline churches would work for the next few years in a concerted effort to gather in the spiritual refugees wandering our country they’d be bursting at the seams.”
I wanted to shout at my iPad, “Yes, and that is what we are seeing happen in The United Methodist Church when we intentionally reach out to people in our communities.”
If fact, I feel so strongly that mainline denominations have lost their voice in the ongoing media revolution that I recently penned a book called “We Must Speak: Rethinking How We Communicate Faith in the 21st Century”.
Mainline denominations, each for its own reasons, decided to withdraw from the media in the 1980s, at the same time these media were becoming the most influential shapers of attitudes and values in human history. Amid a revolution in thought and conversation, many of the mainline churches left their place in the discussion to others.
This retreat has caused faith communities to lose their voice in the ongoing conversations that are shaping moral and ethical values. The result is disastrous. It is not merely accidental that an image of God is being projected by some religionists that is judgmental, vindictive and the cause of human suffering.
When the church loses its capacity to engage in conversations about faith, it diminishes its capacity to be relevant in an increasingly secular culture. And we’re seeing how harmful this can be.
The irony is that many young adults are seeking a Christianity that is more progressive, less defined by blue state/red state politics and more concerned with the needs of their community, and re-defining who is our neighbor. They want to hear about healing, hope and redemption. And they want to act on these values, not just talk about them.
The mainline denominations offer that message and the opportunity to act on it, but without a voice in the media landscape, we are destined to obscurity.
In The United Methodist Church, we are reaching out to young adults through a call to Rethink Church, our invitational media campaign. We are asking young adults to rethink church, not in terms of what it is, but what it could be. Not just a place to go, or a particular politics, but rather something we do. By using a variety of media in partnership with local congregations and general church agencies, we are calling young adults to join us in acts of mission. In 2011, some 4500 churches mobilized more than 500,000 volunteers, serving 4,000,000 people in 16 countries. Up to 40% of these volunteers were not members of a United Methodist Church, and through this association were more inclined to visit these churches.
Communicating strategically in the global media environment in which we live today is an act of theology. I think we’re answering Schaeffer’s question and a movement is building, but that he is asking the question means we must do more.
For more information on “We Must Speak” and our voice in the culture, click here.