I took part in a continuing education that was led by Brian Zehr. It was a great 8 month journey as we looked at ways we can multiply and create solid leaders in the local church. While at our last meeting we got into a discussion about multi-site congregations. It came to my attention that we, in the United Methodist Church, have really lost sight of what our connectional system is supposed to be about.
Connectionalism, from what I remember in seminary, is our polity, which links us together although we are at physically different locations. We are one body, the United Methodist Church, in different places around the world. We are linked together by our districts, conferences, and jurisdictions in order to build up the Kingdom of God. The means by which this is accomplished is through the local churches in those local communities. Although we have different areas, we are still all linked together as one Church.
My understanding of what the connectional system is seems to be is similar to a multi-site mega church style. From the outside looking in, a multi-site church claims to be apart of something larger. They are one church in 7 locations.
I was talking with a gentleman who was attends a multi-site church near me and he was doing some bragging on his church. He said his church has 10+ locations here in the area and one outside the US. They have over 17,000 people attending their worship services on a Sunday. He looked at me to gain my approval and ask "Not to bad for seven years, huh?" I nodded my head silently.
What struck me when I got into my car is that I should have responded, "Yes, and I am the campus minister at Indian Trail. My church has 136 campuses in this area and we have over 26,000 in worship. Heck if you look at just this half of North Carolina, we have 1,131 campus and over 285,000 worshipers. We have a campus on every continent except Antartica with 43,621 campus and almost 13 million people attending." [mic drop and walk away]
The reality is that since the UMC has become so mainstream we forget our connectionalism. We forget that we are a multi-site church that is now a denomination. We are all linked together with our polity.
We can do amazing things when we work together. This past week our Missional Network (a small group of local churches in our area of the our district) served over 1,200 students of our county and gave out backpacks, school supplies, socks and shoes. We washed the feet of students and prayed for them as they headed back to school. We came together, along with other people in the community to help students in our area. The connection at work.
When you look into the denomination and the great work UMCOR does, Africa University, the Black College Fund, mission trips and all the other areas and agencies. We should step back and be proud.
As more multi-site non-denominational churches pop up, I feel, as I guess many other small church pastors feel, ashamed they are not like them. Since their congregation is only 100 people on Sunday somehow we are less of a church then one who has gained 13,800 attenders in 7 years. In reality we are a part of something bigger and it is the small local church that is at the heart of it.
Let's reclaim the joy of our connectionalism and work together to bring about the Kingdom of God.