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COMMENTARY: Large-church pastors, U.S. bishops meet on revitalization strategy Adam Hamilton, Sep 15, 2010
By Adam Hamilton Special Contributor
The senior pastors of 89 of the largest United Methodist churches in the United States met Aug. 31-Sept. 2 with 32 of the active U.S. bishops in Park City, Utah, to discuss ways the two groups might work together to reverse the decline of the United Methodist Church.
First, a word about the history of this gathering. Four years ago, the pastors of 10 of the largest churches in the denomination gathered at my home to discuss how large churches could work together to be a part of the revitalization of our denomination.
This group did not organize around theological poles or to support one side or the other in the issues that divide us as United Methodists. Among them were progressives and conservatives with differing views on issues like homosexuality.
Instead we sat down to get to know one another and to discuss what we might be able to do to help reverse the 40-year decline in our denomination.
As we sat down together at supper, we shared the stories of our call, why we are followers of Jesus Christ and what we value about the United Methodist Church. We found there was much more that united us than divided us.
Out of that meeting came a vision of bringing together the pastors of the 100 largest churches (by worship attendance) in our denomination for Christian conferencing. We wanted to pray with one another, learn from one another and look for ways that large churches could be a part of the revitalization of the United Methodist Church.
In 2008, we held our first gathering of this group, tentatively called the Leading Edge. At that time, the 100 largest churches in the denomination averaged a weekend worship attendance of between 1,200 and 7,500.
This year was our third annual gathering, and we invited the active U.S. bishops to join us.
A joint planning team designed the schedule, and most sessions were led by both bishops and large-church pastors.
For instance, Kansas Bishop Scott Jones led a session on improving preaching in worship, with input from the Revs. Jorge Acevedo, pastor of Grace Church in Cape Coral, Fla.; Junius Dotson, pastor of Saint Mark UMC in Wichita, Kan.; and Mark Beeson, pastor of Granger (Ind.) Community Church.
Denver Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and the Rev. Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg (Ohio) Church, led a session on creating missional churches. Texas Bishop Janice Huie and the Rev. Kent Millard, pastor of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis, Ind., closed the event.
The discussion at each table of two bishops and six-to-eight pastors centered on strengthening the church’s ministry with young adults; helping young adults hear a call to ordained ministry; how large churches can help start new faith communities; improving the quality of preaching across the church; and missional outreach.
Participants also discussed how technology could change how United Methodists “do church” in the coming decades. It was suggested that if Wesley and the early Circuit Riders were alive today, they would use video and the Internet in their efforts to develop churches and to supply these churches’ needs in their absence.
Forty percent of the pastors present had already launched additional campuses. Some used live preaching and others preached at their central campus with sermons sent by video, DVD, satellite or over the Internet.
Several of the churches have already become multi-point churches—yoked with smaller churches that had been declining or near death—and seen remarkable results.
A late-night conversation was held with bishops and large-church pastors in which the questions were asked, “What in our current structure inhibits vital ministry in local churches?” and “What in our structure, if changed, could promote vital congregations?”
We ended the gathering with a call that pastors and bishops be “prophets of hope” within the United Methodist Church—leaders who recognize the problems that need to be solved, who personally devote themselves to being part of the solution, and who proclaim and work toward a “future with hope.”
The Rev. Hamilton is pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.