The following was originally posted on the
Methodists in New
Directions website and is used with their permission.
Want more people in your church?
February 8, 2012
Welcome more people into it
It turns out that inclusiveness is attractive and helps churches grow. Prejudice and discrimination, not so much. That’s the lesson learned by one congregation in Ohio, reported in the news last week, which began welcoming LGBT people in 1998 and more than doubled its weekly attendance. Reconciling churches in our own conference, which make their welcome to LGBT people explicit, have also gained members as a direct result. And the excitement and renewed energy that the We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality initiative has generated are further revitalizing the church, attracting new attention and new members from LGBT communities.
It’s a lesson the UMC [United Methodist Church] seems hellbent on not learning. The church lurches from one desperate program to another to stem the decades-long loss of members, but nowhere in its marketing strategies does it occur to anyone to examine the effect of official prejudice and codified discrimination on its attractiveness to newcomers. Rethink Church offers “Five tips for welcoming visitors,” but having a welcoming theology is not among them. And while they provide “free marketing kits,” apparently no one told them that marketing a defective product doesn’t work. Study after study has documented that the unchurched, particularly young people, are turned off by the hypocrisy and homophobia of anti-gay rules, but these findings are excluded from the marketing advice. The most recent effort, Vital Congregations, delves into the world of so-called “accountability,” requiring congregations to report on supposed measures of inviting and successful churches, but once again refuses to look at how uninviting institutionalized bigotry is.
Perhaps one day UMC officialdom will look the energy, vitality and relevance of the Reconciling movement and conclude that exclusion of God’s LGBT people is not only bad theology, but also bad marketing. Until then, the church seems destined to become “an irrelevant social club,” in the words of Martin Luther King. And in the meantime, MINDful Methodists will simply BE the inclusive church, no matter what the institution says.