Evaluation of “Welcoming-Worshiping-Nurturing-Sending” as mission strategy for the United Methodist Church
Getting a good start is extremely important. Sprinters know the difficulty of recovering once you have “stumbled out of the blocks.” Therefore, correctly establishing a first piece to a structured understanding of the mission of the church is extremely important. Statistics suggest that the very first part of the process (welcoming) is broken. Between 1995 and 2005, the church membership declined 5.86 percent. Among other things, this tells us that we are not even holding our own members. Our “welcome” may have become worn out.
There are, of course, several reasons that “welcome” may not work as a mission strategy. First, we may not welcome well. If we were friendlier, maybe more people would come. Perhaps, if we welcomed more like Disney World, every church would be packed. I, actually, don’t believe this is the problem. For years, the church has provided hospitality training and made hospitality a focus. While there are churches that have outstanding hospitality ministries which really do make a difference for the church, I do not believe that being unfriendly is the church’s problem.
Secondly, “welcome” may not work because of the cultural context and climate. There was a day that the church was trusted and understood. The steeple of the church was a symbolic spire, and the entire town knew what that meant. Therefore, if someone did not go to church, it could easily be said that it was her or his own choice. They knew what they would get when they went to church. Either they wanted it, or they didn’t. Things are much more murkey in today’s context. The church is regarded with suspicion. The message from the church is unclear. There are other culturally relevant ventures that seem to offer the same kinds of things: friendship (bars), meaning (education), service (local NGO’s), etc.
So, the question is “How can we welcome a person who does not even concieve of a reason to come to church?” We can’t. Therefore, a priority in mission strategy must be to “go.” When we think of “going” for mission, we usually think of international mission ventures. However, it’s clear that if the church is to impact North America in a profound way, the church must go out into the communities and neighborhoods to reestablish trust and to tell and retell the story of God’s love.
If “welcoming” is our primary point of contact with new people, then we are constantly failing to get a good start. The truth is that we aren’t just stumbling out of the blocks. We’re staying in the blocks and hoping that the finish line will come to us.