Sunday, September 24, 2006

State of the Church

Update: Chuck Niedringhaus from UMCom commented to say: "Please check the survey again. An age category for 12 to 17 year olds was added last week. Members of the Connectional Table noticed the error and authorized a change." Thanks, Chuck, for stopping by! Of course, Natalie also commented that she was confirmed at age 11 (I was confirmed before I was 12 as well.) But I'm glad the change was made to the survey.

Recently the UMC has been conducting a survey to establish the "State of the Church." I saw the link in a UMNS article. Natalie, who blogs at Take My Hand, found the link at Natalie is a high-school student, and noted, in taking the survey,

"Here's the kicker, though. At the very end of the survey the question "What age group do you fall into?" was posed. The age group options only began at 18. So, apparently while I am being discussed in this survey I am not included in participating. And I thought I was a member of the UMC? Wasn't I confirmed as a "full and responsible member of Christ's Holy church"? Didn't I pledge to "be loyal to the United Methodist Church..."?
Those of us who are members of the UMC and under the age of 18 aren't included in our denomination's survey to gather 'State of the church' statistics. And folks wonder why we young people aren't "present" ... I think this sort of illustrates a larger point: Young people won't (always) be involved in the church if there isn't a place for them. They'll find that place somewhere else."

I think she's right on. I didn't find the questions particularly helpful myself. I didn't notice the lack of an under 18 box. I was just too busy worrying that the box I checked is getting farther down the list these days ;). But I did think that the questions in general weren't ones I would ask to help me determine the state of the church.

So...what would I ask? What would you ask? What would you generally want to know from folks to determine if the church is being the church? I'm not sure. I guess I would want to know something about how often folks actually attend their local church. I'd want to know if they felt the church impacted them outside of weekly worship, directly and/or indirectly. I'd want to know how the church nurtures disciples and makes disciples, and how the church serves members and the community. What is the presence of the church in the community? I'd want to know what kind of people attended the church - age, ethnicity, socio-economic class - and how this compared to the make-up of the place the church was. But all these things still seem superficial too. How do you really know the state of the church?

I'm reminded of the passage from Matthew 11 where John the Baptist asks if Jesus is the Messiah, or if he should be waiting for another:

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah the Christ was doing, he sent word by histwo of his disciples 3and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 4Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers terms leper and leprosy can refer to several diseases are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

I guess we could say the state of the church is known by the fruit. But what fruit, exactly, are we looking for?
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