Several weeks ago, Ed Stetzer posted results from a Lifeway survey on his blog on American’s perceptions of certain faith groups. The United Methodist Church was one of those groups. According to the survey, 62% of those surveyed had a favorable impression of the UM Church. Within a week, I found two more articles celebrating these results. I LOVE what Stetzer said in one of those articles: “If they will show and share the gospel with their neighbors and plant evangelistic churches … they can turn a good reputation into a gospel opportunity.” Many people in our denomination have worked hard to see renewal happen in our denomination, especially in regards to reaching the next generation. I am happy and proud to be a part of an event this March called Reclaim that seeks to do this very thing. But I am concerned that we might take the results of one survey as a sign of a ‘job well done’ and call it a day. Check out this quote from the Press Center of the UMC website.
Americans in the South were the most likely to have a very favorable opinion. Americans with a college degree were also more likely to have a very favorable opinion than those without a degree. Those in the West and Northeast were most likely to be not familiar with United Methodists. Americans who never attend a worship service are the least likely to have a very favorable opinion or a somewhat favorable opinion and the most likely to have a very unfavorable opinion.
Okay…let’s unpack this extremely significant statement.
Now it could good thing that Americans in the South find the UM Church favorable. It is the Bible-belt though, so shouldn’t they think highly of a church? Not sure if that is really news. I am making an assumption here, but I think the far majority of dying UM Churches are outside of the South. And yet, these are the regions that are not familiar with our denomination and Wesleyan approach to ministry. Further more, those who have never attended a worship service are most likely to be unchurched, and according to the survey, the least likely to have a favorable view of us. (TRANSLATION: Non-Christians do not like us very much!)
Call me a debbie-downer, but a 62% approval rating on one survey may not be enough to rest our efforts or even call what we have done so far successful. At the end of the day, our churches annual decline rate is getting closer to 10% every year. With the coming death tsunami, the last thing we need is a spin on statistics. We have tons more work to do.
What this survey does say is that United Methodists, by and large, are considered “nice people”. I guess that can be considered a good thing.Honestly, I did not become a United Methodist just so Americans could then report that I was ‘nice’. Jesus was not nice. John Wesley was not nice. And movements will never find renewal by simply being nice.