The story goes that Methodists got their name because opponents of John Wesley, trying to deride him for his methodological approach to faith, call him and his followers, “Methodists.” Wesley liked the name and it stuck, and to this day the Methodist church is known to be one that has a method for just about anything. Want to be ordained? There is a very clear (and complex and long) method for that. Want to give to missions? We have a method for that. We even have a thick book of church law called the Book of Discipline which contains all the rules and regulations to being a Methodist and all our Methodist organizations. Yes, even after all these years the name “Methodist” still sticks!
This year, at the Texas Annual Conference, our speaker, Rev. Adam Hamilton of the Church of The Resurrection, a United Methodist church in the Kansas City area, presented some great strategies for churches to use to promote excellence and hopefully grow. For the most part his advice and strategies were sound and churches that follow it likely will see fruit. But what was disturbingly lacking from his presentation was any discussion of theology. His omission of theology seems to imply that with proper techniques (methods) any church can grow. The problem is that if we look at the largest churches in our denomination, this is not the case. The very clear majority of large, growing churches not only excel in methods, but also hold to a biblical, evangelical theology that focuses on sharing Jesus Christ and a call to holiness.
Methods without a proper biblical message are not enough for a church to grow. (And on the other side – having a strong biblical message with outdated or lacking methods will not bring growth.) The example above is just indicative of the larger issues we struggle with as a denomination. We spend tons of time, energy, and money to hone methods with no regard to message. But even with the best methods we will never grow if we continue to water down our message as a denomination. It is time for us to return to Wesley’s understanding of ‘methodist’ which combined strong methods and biblical, evangelical messages.
Methods are not enough to turn our church around – we must also restore our biblical, evangelical roots. Our message needs as much work (or more) as our methods.