Researchers complete first phase of 'State of Church' report
Nov. 2, 2006
NOTE: Photographs and a related report are available at http://umns.umc.org.
By Fran Coode Walsh*
FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS) - "What does it mean to be United Methodist?"
Researchers have asked 300 United Methodist members, lay leaders and pastors how they define the denomination, and their answers are compiled in the qualitative phase of the first "State of the Church" report.
Compiled by the Martec Group and commissioned by the Connectional Table, the research combines information gathered in face-to-face conversations and in-depth phone interviews. The Connectional Table, which met Oct. 22-24, is a 60-member group that coordinates the mission, ministries and resources of the denomination.
The Martec Group polled individuals in the United States, Europe, Africa and the Philippines. The goals of the process were to define current realities within the workings of the church; to honor the heritage of the church; and to examine areas for growth.
Connectional Table member Twila Glenn said this is the first time the denomination has attempted to produce a comprehensive overview of the life of the church. The information that surfaced in the early conversations was used to construct an online survey, which was completed by 2,600 people.
United Methodist Meera Buck, Martec's principal researcher for the project, organized the findings into six "frames":
* Personal identity: Many respondents consider the church as family, and the main reason they belong is they believe in its values. Many are proud of the church's focus and accomplishment. * Connection: The church plays an important role in many respondents' lives and provides a sense of belonging. All those polled agreed it is important to make the church relevant to young people, and many said young people relate better to young pastors. It was noted that in the Philippines and Africa, churches have a much more active youth base. * Balance: Finding a balance between traditional and more contemporary worship styles and music is difficult. Churches in the Philippines and Africa have greater success changing traditional music and worship to livelier forms. * Resources: Budgetary concerns are paramount for leaders. There is a dependency on volunteers and a need to involve more young people in volunteer work. * System: Most respondents said the church was open and welcoming of people with diverse ideas. There were a variety of opinions about the U.S. church's attitude about homosexuality, but the issue was irrelevant to respondents in other countries. * Future: There are different views on how the church should change, but most agree it needs to be more accommodating to young people. There was some resistance to change among longtime members.
These findings constitute the qualitative phase of the report. Glenn noted that the task force will also gather research about the church from other sources such as the Duke Pulpit and Pew Study and material annual conferences can provide.
"The next step is to analyze the quantitative results and put those together with the other kinds of research from other sources. We will begin to fashion those into a report ... in draft form that attempts to say, 'this is not only who we are, but what we are.' And what that means for where we're going ... and for the United Methodist Church and its role in the body of Christ in the world."
The completed State of the Church report is expected to be ready in time for the next meeting of the Connectional Table in May.
*Walsh is strategic project coordinator for the Media Group at United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or email@example.com.
United Methodist News Service Photos and stories also available at: http://umns.umc.org