Earlier this year, we reported how the fastest-growing large United Methodist congregations in the USA are overwhelmingly led by evangelical senior pastors.
In this new series, IRD’s UMAction Director John Lomperis interviews some of these leading pastors about why their churches are growing while the rest of our denomination shrinks in this country, and about what other churches can learn from them.
The first interview is with the Rev. Talbot Davis, pastor of the massive, diverse Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC. He serves on the board of directors of the Western North Carolina Conference Evangelical Movement (WNCCEM) and blogs at The Heart of the Matter.
John Lomperis: Why does your congregation exist?
Talbot Davis: We are INVITING ALL PEOPLE INTO A LIVING RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST.
We say that mission statement so much that anyone who has been at GSUMC more than a month can repeat it.
JL: Please share about your congregation’s recent history with growth. To what do you attribute this growth?
TD: From 1999 to the present: 500 per Sunday to 2000 [in attendance].
From 2010 to today: 1500 to 2000.
We are the most racially and ethnically diverse UMC in Western North Carolina & one of the most in the country. On a given Sunday, there are people from 38 different countries here.
Why? Modern worship and ancient teaching. In an era in which many UMCs have the exact opposite (ancient worship, modernist teaching) this has helped our strength.
JL: Why do you think the United Methodist Church has been facing such steady membership decline in this country for half a century?
TD: Ancient worship, modern teaching, and a mindset both locally and globally that “every voice needs representation at the decision making table.” That is a recipe for turf building AND DEFENDING on the one hand and inertia on the other.
JL: Many other United Methodists around the country would look at your congregation and wish that their own was experiencing such growth. What would you say to them? Are there specific principles, practices, and programs you would recommend?
TD: Remember: Chick Fil A doesn’t sell hamburgers. They do ONE THING — chicken — and do it brilliantly. In the same way, we don’t try to do a TON of things. We only have one style of worship, for example. If a UMC is traditional, I’d recommend making it the best traditional possible rather than adding an anemic “contemporary for Methodist” service that many in the church don’t want to work anyway.
Celebrate that you are not smarter than those who wrote Scripture.
JL: Has your congregation implemented any particular practices for the process of receiving new members or for the selection and training of leaders that have been especially helpful for your ministry?
TD: Bless This House is a high touch, low threat neighborhood evangelism tool. We have membership groups that go well.
All staff members are required to sign the following Staff Code. We use this covenant to remind ourselves on staff of who we are and Whose we are. We use it as a way of clarifying expectations UP FRONT and, when needed, of disciplining or removing staff when necessary. It’s a way of making sure we have a lot of “odd” people representing Christ at Good Shepherd. As Flannery O’Connor said, “Then you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”
We expect that the staff of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church will embody the same living relationship with Jesus Christ that we urge the congregation to embrace.
Because of that high calling, there exist certain parameters around our behavior as Christians and as staff.
We list below some of those parameters. This list is not exhaustive but deals most specifically with behaviors and actions that have been the source of both confusion and concern in the modern church. We provide this list not in a spirit of legalism but for a heart of clarity.
Our Social Selves
- The most important part of your job at Good Shepherd is not your job. It is helping the staff team be the best staff team possible.
- With that goal in mind, we will have a gossip free workplace. We will deal with differences and difficulties face to face rather than going on end runs with other staff.
- Our words to the congregation regarding other staff will be unerringly positive. We will use every opportunity to build up fellow staffers to the church as a whole. We will NOT criticize staff teammates to the people of Good Shepherd. Your staff leaders will deal with violations of this part of the code swiftly and decisively.
- We will neither serve nor consume alcohol when part of official church functions. Those who do drink on their own time will not drink to the point of inebriation.
Our Sexual Selves
- Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are not our own; we were bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:18-20).
- Because of that theological truth and because of the bible’s insistent claim that “the marriage bed be kept pure” (Hebrews 13:4), we will uphold the standard of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage.
- This standard does not apply to people’s past. However, it does apply to our present and future as ministers of the gospel.
- Staff supervisors cannot and will not be monitors of this intimate part of your life. We ask that if you feel you cannot or will not live by our standard that you have the honesty to step away from employment in this Christian ministry.
- Staff will ensure appropriate safeguards and accountability when interacting with members of the opposite sex. This includes:
a. Any counseling/prayer time will be in a windowed room or public place.
b. Not driving in a car alone with a member of the opposite sex except in cases of medical emergency.
c. Informing other staff of potentially vulnerable situations.
d. Avoiding every “appearance of evil.”
Our Digital Selves
- The internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other forms of digital media have power for great good and great harm.
- Here is our Social Media policy at Good Shepherd:
a. Staff will use Social Media to advance the mission and programming of Good Shepherd.
b. Staff will not post anything on Social Media of a derogatory, critical, or inflammatory nature regarding church policy, church direction, or church personnel.
c. Staff will not post anything on Social Media of a sexually suggestive nature. This includes personal comments, photos, videos, and web links.
d. Staff will limit time spent on the internet during work hours to ministry matters only.
e. In professional role, staff will neither endorse nor condemn any particular political party or candidate.
f. Staff will not visit web sites of a sexual nature on either church or personal computer. In the event that such behavior exists and/or becomes compulsive, professional counseling and support will be the pattern of treatment.
Violations of this code may be grounds for suspension, counseling, and/or termination of employment.
Signed: ___________________ Date: ___________