GBHEM Hears Economist Don House
Pulpits filled with young, passionate people who are called to make disciples for Jesus Christ and in love with the denomination are the key to saving The United Methodist Church.
One economist has crunched the numbers and he says if a turnaround doesn’t start soon the denomination will be “toast” in 37 years.
The economist, Donald R. House, is a devoted life-long United Methodist who holds a Ph.D. in economics and chairs the South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee. He calls his plan, “A Strategic Plan for Growth in The United Methodist Church.”
His plan depends on good leadership to inspire donors to invest money above and beyond their current church budgets to build up membership.
It also depends on an ample supply of elders. At this time, the denomination is facing a shortage, House said. House delivered his message to GBHEM’s board of directors and staff. GBHEM is the agency charged with developing and educating ordained leaders for the church. He spoke to the board of directors during their August meeting.
“Somebody has to do something about clergy supply and effectiveness. That somebody is GBHEM,” said the Rev. Kim Cape, top executive of the board. She made the remark during her state of the agency report saying House was invited to address the board on clergy supply “to help us ask the right questions.”
Bishop Jim Dorff, president of the board and episcopal leader of the San Antonio Area, said House’s presentation was “sobering but also filled with hope.”
House is making the rounds offering a plan that he says needs to start now if the denomination’s membership decline in the U.S. has any hope of reversing.
His plan has the church growing enough by 2021 to reverse the denomination’s decline in membership which has been slipping dramatically since the 1960s.
His research has also found that younger pastors equal faster growth. Investing scholarship money in young people who then will go on to 30 plus years as pastors means a greater return on investment, he said.
“There needs to be growth in the applicant pool and for that we need help from local churches,” he said.
He warned a substantial shortage of United Methodist ordained elders is looming. By 2020, the deficit will be 4,143 clergy and 5,041 by 2030.
The shortage is linked to the membership decline. It is time to start spending money on growing the denomination, he said.
In order to attract “the best and the brightest” they need to know the denomination they are investing in will still be around by the time they are ready to retire. They also need to graduate without crushing debt, with a promise of financial security and with faith and support from their congregations for their entrepreneurial ideas.
House first unveiled his plan to leaders in the South Central Jurisdiction; he also plans to bring it to other United Methodist agencies.
House talked about a memorable meeting with United Methodist bishops in January 2010. At that meeting, he asked the question: What were the major mistakes made as a United Methodist denomination that contributed to the downturn in membership beginning in the 1960s?
A retiring bishop, whom he did not name, said, “We have not been recruiting the brightest and best.
“Many of our present clergy were drawn from the middle and bottom of our classes. We do not have sufficient numbers of talented clergy. God is calling talented leaders into the Christian church, but they are not choosing United Methodism.”
At least one young pastor on the board was fired up by House’s plan and wants to bring it to his church.
The Rev. DJ del Rosario, pastor of Bothell United Methodist Church in a Seattle suburb, said even though he already has a church that is growing he believes House’s plan would be welcomed by his congregation.
Not everyone was so impressed. Forbes Matonga, conference secretary of the Zimbabwe West Conference, said the plan was “too focused on the dollar and not on the making of disciples. First come the disciples then the money will follow,” he said.
He also pointed out that the denomination is growing in Africa. “You cannot say if the church dies in the U.S. that it will be dead everywhere.”