Comparing GC2019 "Way Forward" Plans


February 11, 2019

Which “Way Forward” Plan is Best for United Methodist GROWTH?

There are lots of valid concerns about how the various plans submitted to the United Methodist Church’s special February 23-26 General Conference may affect those of us already in the denomination.

But which plans would put us in better or worse positions to reach new people for Christ and see our churches grow in areas where we have long been declining?

It is widely acknowledged that no matter what happens in St. Louis, some will be unhappy with this and leave the UMC.

But after the initial dust settles, which plan would then put our churches in a stronger position for growing again, bringing in new people?

This question is related to other questions on which we can evaluate the plans.

As you can read about here, either passing the One Church Plan or passing nothing would in many ways continue, worsen, and expand our current conflicts, while the Modified Traditional Plan would minimize voting in local churches and offer a realistic path for plenary sessions of future General Conferences, potentially as early as 2024, to no longer feature the same unpleasant, emotionally charged, dramatic debates over reconsidering our stance on human sexuality.

The more of our limited time and resources are devoted to internal conflict with other United Methodists, the less we will have for other things, like outreach and evangelism.  And the more we can have peace within our church, we will be a more attractive witness to a watching world (see John 13:34-35).

As and you can read about here, despite its name, the One Church Plan (OCP) would follow the very same pattern seen in other denominations to guarantee that the UMC would lose a large chunk of congregations and individuals, while the Modified Traditional Plan (MTP) can be expected to keep a greater number of us together.  Survey data and other factors indicate that the OCP would likely cause us United Methodists to lose a greater percentage of our American members than other denominations who split after liberalizing their standards on marriage.  And it is worth remembering that these liberalizing policies that split other denominations did not go nearly as far as the OCP in removing room for traditionalist dissent.

With fewer congregations, and many of our remaining congregations suffering large losses, this would mean less money available for mission in the USA and other countries, less money for planting new churches, and less money for supporting smaller-membership churches.

Again, the Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) is not my preferred outcome.  But an argument can be made that the way it creates genuinely protected spaces for different approaches on marriage (unlike the One Church Plan) could helpfully set different groupings of United Methodists free to pursue their different theologies of ministry, without being held back by the same internal conflicts within their new sub-group, allowing each to grow.  There would just remain the same questions of how sustainable this could be while all remaining under the same denominational umbrella.


What about other factors influencing our future ability to grow as a denomination?

The One Church Plan (OCP) is more explicit than the Simple Plan in how it would change our church’s official understanding of marriage to be more open to same-sex couples, allow United Methodist same-sex weddings, and affirm the good standing of United Methodist clergy in homosexual relationships.

I have seen no one seriously dispute the fact that doing this would greatly hurt our currently global denomination’s reputation in Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Philippines, so that we would lose a lot of people and also cripple our ability to later grow again in these regions.

But what about the United States and Western Europe?

It is true that in these countries, the general population tends to hold more liberal views on sexual morality.  So if our church would just follow the secular culture’s lead, and perhaps even go as far as the Simple Plan does in deleting disapproval of sex outside of marriage, then some claim that this would draw in new members in Western countries, especially young adults.

But such arguments seem to view churches as essentially businesses, and treat bringing in new people as a purely secular matter of marketing to reach a greater share of “customers,” while leaving little to no room for the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in leading people in, or for blessing faithfulness.

Furthermore, the actual evidence points to very opposite conclusions about “what works” for attracting more Americans and other Westerners to church today. 

Since 2003, we have seen several other large, U.S.-based denominations liberalize their standards on marriage and sexuality along similar lines to the OCP.  EVERY SINGLE ONE not only lost an initial chunk of people initially, but then continued losing people, year after year.  I have not heard of a single denomination in the USA liberalizing its standards on marriage like the OCP would do and then ever experiencing a “V-shaped curve” in which, after first losing some members, they eventually turned around and stopped their ongoing decline.

Not one.

On the other hand, we see other denominations in the USA, such as the Assemblies of God, which have been gaining members, which not only have clear traditional standards on the definition of marriage, but also do not have our denomination’s well-publicized conflicts of widespread clergy disobedience to these standards.  Even though this is a counter-cultural stand to take in America today, that is where we are seeing the most growth in American churches.

We have also seen the list of fastest-growing large American United Methodist congregations consistently dominated by those who take a more traditional theological perspective, with some exceptions, as reported here.

As for other Western countries, a report last year by European Christian Mission highlighted impressive statistics for the growth of more evangelical expressions of Protestantism in recent years in France and Spain.

As a member of the “Millennial” generation myself, I am deeply concerned that we have not done better in reaching members of my generation.  Having lived for the last two decades in three major urban areas where the culture is very politically and socially liberal, I have seen a consistent pattern, with some exceptions: the thriving, growing Protestant congregations, whose worship services are packed with people in their 20s and 30s, are those whose official stances on the core questions on marriage and sexual morality are unambiguously traditional, while churches with more “affirming” approaches have lots of empty seats and attract fewer young people.

Of my peers, I have observed that even if their personal views on marriage are more liberal, they are more likely to either go to a church with a traditional stand or not go to church at all than to seek out a congregation flying a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag.

Over a decade after the Episcopal Church made its fateful 2003 decision to decisively turn towards a liberal approach to homosexuality, the leader of youth and young adult ministries for one of that denomination’s dioceses was surprised to see the Episcopal Church struggling to maintain the loyalties of gay Millennials.

Within our own denomination, you don’t have to dig deep to find plenty of United Methodist pastors who take a clearly traditional stance on the questions before us delegates, and who are also happy to welcome members of the LGBTQ community who attend their congregations, even when that means driving past one more “affirming” churches to do so.

Also, people’s views are not set in stone.  For a great many of us, we initially were influenced by our culture and had rather liberal views related to homosexuality, but then through continued Christian discipleship and studying what Scripture teaches about God’s good design for marriage and sexuality, we came to embrace traditional biblical teaching.  That is what happened to me.


If we are evaluating the alternative “way forward” plans solely based on which would put us in a better position for growth in the future, there is far more potential with the Modified Traditional Plan than the so-called One Church Plan.

10 Responses to Which “Way Forward” Plan is Best for United Methodist GROWTH?

  1. Even if the “Christian” Left plan generated growth (which it won’t), it should be eliminated from consideration because it is anti-biblical. The entire discussion of growth is so worldly, as if there was any other way to grow besides sharing the real Gospel and making real disciples.

  2. And the link about the “gay millenials” proves the point completely. The “Christian” Left isn’t just mocking God over sexuality issues, they do it across the board, opposing the divinity of Jesus, his exclusivity for salvation, the authority of scripture, etc. They are non-Christians.

  3. Scott says:

    Could it be that the reason churches that uphold biblical values in a world that is becoming increasingly liberal be that the Holy Spirit is calling those who would accept the word of Christ to the churches that uphold his teachings? John is right about the business model of church growth. It is a human model versus one that is dependent on the Holy Spirit to bring church growth. Which do you think will work better????

  4. William says:

    Liberal and orthodox Christianity is now an oxymoron. This new found brand of liberal Christianity seems to be evolving into a cult. It seems to be for those seeking affirmation of themselves, their self designed lifestyles, their narcissistic personalities, and whatever they choose to believe, if anything, about religion. So, if the liberal church so closely resembles the culture at large, then why go there when there are so many other like places to hang out? The orthodox Christian church now, and over the ages, is the one and only place for those seeking forgiveness from cult like sinful behaviors, including the sinful behaviors of sexual immorality, a place that they seek out as a response to God’s prevenient grace so as to experience God’s justifying grace and His sanctifying grace. Of course staying the course, renewing the course, and preaching the Good News Gospel is the essence of the Modified Traditional Plan. If the UMC can no longer grow by preaching the Good News Gospel to a lost and desperately seeking world, then perhaps we are entering the end time.

  5. Ron Kling says:

    You are losing people because you are compromising with the world and watering down the Word. You know it. So you know the way back if you choose to take it. And even if you were not losing people, your direction would still be wrong.

  6. Ron says:

    ““Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the Lord.” Jer 23

  7. Loren Stanton says:

    The “United” Methodists convene a convention on a power struggle to end the church as the constitution of the USA is put to the test and the world burns. I think of it like the orchestra continued playing as the titanic sank. (Member FUMC for almost 50 years)

  8. M Wright says:

    It is a sad time for the church in America. After so many have sacrificed so much to bring it forward, we now see this trend to dismantle it and cause it to flounder. For the leaders of this denomination (The Bishops) to renounce their responsibility to provide leadership in the midst of turmoil is something they each will have to explain to God someday. When many people in the world are suffering persecution and even death because of their faith in Jesus Christ and their belief in the Bible as the Word of God, we willing give up what God has so freely given. There is a general weakness in our faith when we fail to honor God.

  9. John Smith says:

    What is it about the UMC and its fetish of growth and unity? Why are these the main criteria for judgement in the UMC?

    Second, assume the preferred Mod Trad Plan is adopted. Why do you assume the people who wouldn’t enforce the old BOD will suddenly start enforcing the new? Why do you assume those who wouldn’t obey the old one will obey the new one or depart? The “gracious exit” provisions are not an incentive to leave but rather a method to push out people but it won’t work.

    If BOD finally gets enforced, if disobedience, disruptions of GC’s, and activist defiance are punished then you might get a semi-biblical UMC but I think passing of the MTP will just lead to business as usual. Call me when the first Bishop is defrocked and loses their retirement.

  10. Trish S says:

    In your article, you did not address the Traditional Plan. I believe if we are insisting to change, this is the only plan that I will remain a member of the UMC. There is more at stake here than homosexuality, which is a sin. What is truly at stake here, is the Word of God and if we are going to remain faithful to it. We currently have a liberal pastor and she said we should tear out the pages in the Bible with that we do not agree.

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