Reasons for hope
It is difficult to assess the state of the church at this moment because different criteria will yield different conclusions. Too many things are going well to declare the church dead or irrelevant. However, with significant challenges before the church, it would be inaccurate to suggest that our bright spots make us strong or healthy. I believe the state of our denomination is fragile, but the people called United Methodist have many reasons for hope.
The primary reason for this optimism is that the church is starting to see the fruit of the vital congregations' movement. My annual conference and my city have examples of churches that are transforming lives by authentically living the mission of Jesus. This story is happening in similar ways throughout the connection. Seeing some positive outcomes does not mean that we have solved our problems, but seeing congregations producing results because of this work is a reason for excitement and hope. Helping ineffective churches move toward vitality or end well is critical to the future of the United Methodist movement. The habits that led to our declines could easily counteract this progress.
Other challenges threaten our denomination's very existence. Unless brothers and sisters embrace the truth of discipleship, our churches cannot minister to communities effectively. For too long, some members of our congregations have embraced the entertainment or fellowship church life offers without answering their calls to ministry. Additionally, we must strive to make the church truly global, allowing brothers and sisters from outside the United States opportunities to participate fully in denominational life while honoring their cultural and national contexts. The debate over church teaching and policies around human sexuality continues to drive many away, no matter what decisions we make.
I trust that God's eyes and hands are still on us. Remembering the core truths of who we are and listening to the leading of our Lord will guide The United Methodist Church through these challenging times. For that reason, we should always have hope. The world will respond to a church that glorifies and reflects its Lord, going to the hurting and the lost with relevant help and the truth of a loving God. This is how we will move beyond our current state of fragility to the place of strength.
Scott Johnson has served as lay leader of the Upper New York Conference since 2010 and is a delegate to General Conference 2016. An administrator and professor at SUNY-Buffalo State, Johnson is a member of First United Methodist Church in Buffalo, New York.