We Need a Conversation on Evangelism, Discipleship, and Church Growth

This article was originally published at The Filipino Magazine.

As a church, we are good at in ministering to and educating children through Sunday School, Vacation Bible Church, Children’s camps, and many other ministries. When these children enter puberty and youth, they naturally attend the Christmas Institute ad join the United Methodist Youth Fellowship. A lot of these youth then become trained and serve as leaders in local churches, districts, annual conferences, in the national level, and even globally.

Young People Leaving the UMC

But something happens to our young people as they transition out of the UMYF age and into young adulthood. A lot of them leave the church. In the past few years, I have seen a lot of friends and batch-mates in the UMYF leave the UMC to join other churches, particularly those whose acronym end in _CF.

These young people are not just mere church-goers. When they transfer to a CF, a lot of them have the skills to lead bible studies, play in a band, lead worship, plan for events and programs, and participate in a church team. In short, they are leader materials!

I also know some friends who remain active members of the UMC. They go to a UMC worship service, participate in congregational life and yet on other days of the week they would go to a non-denominational church, attend worship services, and participate in small groups in these churches.

I have also heard that some of the leaders of these CFs are the children of prominent United Methodists. It’s easy to blame the parents, right? But as a Pastor’s Kid who has known that sort of expectation since I was a kid, the faith of our parents can kindle our own faith, but what we do with it is our personal choice.

Why Do They Leave?

Speaking of blame, it is easy to get angry and resent the folks who leave the UMC. It’s easy to say “but this church nurtured you, why leave?”

Why do Methodist young people leave our church? Beyond collecting anecdotes and stories of people who leave, have we, as a church embarked on a study to understand why? Do we know how many members left our ranks to join these CFs?

Don’t get me wrong, seeking to understand this phenomenon should not be in the spirit of a loyalty-check–so we can prevent people from leaving our church.

I, too, have had my share of church-hopping during college and when I was starting out with my career in the big city. I confess that the combination of dynamic, practical preaching; cool music; and airconditioned venue in convenient locations probably has something to do with the CF’s appeal.

But it is more than that. Two or three years ago, I read “Wikichurch: Making Discipleship Engaging, Empowering, and Viral” by Steve Murrell, the founding pastor of Victory Christian Fellowship. I really enjoyed the book as it told the story of how their movement started with the Maranatha Campus Ministry in the University Belt area in Manila. I would like to quote from the book and from my blog post about this.

“Pastor Murrell said that there are top 3 reasons why VCF attracted Christians from other denominations. He wrote: “The Shangri-La debacle taught us that excellent worship, decent preaching, and a cool venue would attract Christians looking for a more meaningful church experience. It also taught us that non-Christians really do not care about those things, and they proved it by staying away.”

Here’s some context from the book. Pastor Steve Murrell told the story of how they started the 2nd campus of victory at Shangri-La in Mandaluyong. He called it debacle because that campus attracted Christians from other denominations instead of non-Christians. For a startup church, that will get it in trouble with other churches in the Metro. Moreover, Pastor Murrell knew that the call of this new church is to the non-Christians and not to those who already believe in Christ. So, that was definitely a debacle and an unsuccessful project.”

If you want to read my blog post about this and see the many different comments from readers, please visit http://mightyrasing.com/why-filipino-young-people-leave-traditional-christian-denominations/.

This is the short and easy answer: a lot of young people get drawn to CFs because of

  1. excellent worship,
  2. decent preaching, and
  3. a cool venue.

But these reasons are too easy, right? Perhaps. But a lot of these upstart churches are clear on the people they want to target. They intentionally set up shop in emerging cities. They have aggressively expanded to cities up north. Tuguegarao, Santiago, Laoag, Tarlac, even down South, they are present where the people are. Usually, they are able to target young professionals who are starting to build their careers, young couples starting a family, even celebrities who have deep questions about love, life, and faith.

As the United Methodist Church in the Philippines, we need to have a conversation about evangelism, discipleship, and church growth. Perhaps, understanding why people leave is one of the first steps we can take.

Missed Opportunity

During the central Conference session in Pampanga in 2016, our young leaders, through the Young People’s Address, brought this matter to the attention of the Central Conference. It would have been great for the whole conference to talk about it in plenary, but it had been referred to a body of the central conference–the National Council on Young People’s Ministries.

We should be asking questions and seeking answers–not just to study for study’s sake–but our questions and answers should prod us to directions in ministry that serve the people in the many ways that we can.

Perhaps, we can start with a few questions.

  • Why do young adults leave our church?
  • Who are the people we want to reach out and be in ministry with?
  • Do we need to explore new models of church and ministry to reach them?
  • What can we learn from the CFs?
  • What are our strengths as a church?
  • How do we employ new models and strategies while remaining true to our Wesleyan roots, traditions, and emphases?

Thoughts and reactions? Please send them to mightyrasing@gmail.com or message me on https://www.facebook.com/mightycrasing/

Mighty Rasing served as the National President of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines from 2006-2008. He currently serves as Program Development Director-Central Conferences of Young People’s Ministries, a unit of Discipleship Ministries. He lives in Nashville, TN USA with his wife Charina and their son Coco.

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