“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:1-2
Do an internet search on the United Methodist Church, and chances are you will see the words “membership decline” in the results. Since the 1960’s the UMC has experienced a slow and steady decline. The news isn’t all bad for the UMC –– see this article about how they are growing in Africa. Still, is there anything positive to say about membership decline?
Lesslie Newbigin, an Anglican missionary and bishop, said we must consider God’s big picture. Read his words with my parenthesis:
“It may well be that for some decades the church will grow rapidly in other parts of the world (Africa), Christians in Europe (or the USA) may continue to be a shrinking minority. If this should be so, it should be seen as an example of that pruning that is promised to the Church in order that they may bear more fruit (see John 15 above). When that happens it is painful. But Jesus assures us, “My Father is the gardener.” He knows what He is doing, and we can trust Him.”
He goes on to say that this is not the time for anxiety (perhaps like the kind we see in denominational programs designed to turn things around). Rather, this is a time for self-searching, repentance, and a fresh commitment. And we can be sure of this: “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)