Like a straw that finally breaks the camel's back, it hit me last night as Cindy and I conversed over dinner. Do you know that, for several years now, our church has encouraged membership by allowing new members to join in the church office---not in front of the congregation?
This is astounding. This is one symptom of many that the Methodist church is in trouble. Do you know that this church, with such a proud heritage, has seen its national membership fall to a level on a par with its membership during the 1940s? This, while the U. S. population has increased by well over 100% in the same time frame.
Our church---and many other Methodist churches---is now so desperate for membership that it does not require an appearance in front of the congregation by prospective new members. Apparently, standing in front of fellow Christians for two minutes and saying "I will" and "I do" is just way too intimidating for a whole lot of folks.
My questions are these:
---I know the church is a "business" and needs members, but what kind of members do you have when they are afraid to proclaim their faith in front of others?
---Does it matter that members of the church not know when someone has joined?
---What does this policy of "sneaking in the back door" say about our individual committments to our faith?
This policy galls me. It is a horrible thing. Apparently the church feels that it is important to get members any way it can, and making it "easy" is the way to go to achieve that.
The church is wrong (refer to the abysmal membership growth numbers above). The reason the church is dying is BECAUSE of this kind of approach. The church needs to stand for something, and needs for its members to stand for something.
The Muslim faith has exploded in growth. Agree with Muslims or disagree with them; the fact is that they KNOW what they believe and practice it and proclaim it loudly. We could all learn from their example in this regard.
To be fair, it is not just the Methodist church that is declining---basically, all "main-line" Protestant denominations are on the wane. And there are many reasons for that---but this business of joining the church on the sly is too much.
Contrast this with the fervor of the early disciples:
---Judas...suicide by hanging
---James, son of Alphaeus...stoned to death
---James, son of Zebedee...beheaded
---John...died of old age
---Thomas...killed by impalement
---Simon the Zealot (Jude)...died of old age
We know from various sources ( such as Paul's letters and Pliny's letters to Trajan) that all these Christians needed to do to avoid a horrible execution was to denounce their Christian faith.
And now you can join the church by sneaking in the back door, without even a public proclamation of your loyalty and belief.