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.
Methodists in New
Directions (MIND) is a grassroots organization of United Methodists
working to end our denomination’s doctrinal prejudice and institutional
discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and
committed to living more fully into God’s radical Welcome right now and
right here. We work on a regional level within the New York Annual