After the Christmas Institute season in 2014, I decided to look more deeply into the reason why a lot of United Methodist youth and young adults are leaving the United Methodist Church and moving to newer, more exciting church movements such as Victory Christian Fellowship (VCF), Christ Commission Fellowship (CCF), and Doulos for Christ Ministry among others.
I’ve heard a lot of stories from friends, former co-leaders in the National level of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines. The more I talked with friends in the ministry and young leaders in the grassroots, the more I am convinced that we are losing our most passionate young adults to these groups.
The big question is WHY?
But before attempting to answer this big question, I want to lay down some facts or perhaps assumptions (MY assumptions, that is…) would be a better term to use here.
1: The UMC has a strong children’s ministry from the local church to the national level.
We minister effectively to kids in the local church through Sunday School, the Vacation Church School (VCS) during the Summer, through Kindergarten education, and through Children’s Camps.
2: The UMC’s Confirmation Class strategy is not very effective.
Ideally, when children transition to becoming youth (age 11-13), they would undergo Confirmation Class. New members should also go through this. But Confirmation Classes depend largely on the commitment and passion of the local church Pastor. If the local church has a lay person who is passionate for the spiritual development of the youth, great! But that is the exception, not the rule.
3: The UMC has a strong youth organization and develops lots of youth leaders.
I owe a lot to the United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the Philippines (UMYFP). It helped mold me into the leader that I am today. Not only that, I came to know myself better and hone my skills and abilities for ministry through the UMYFP. The official age of the UMYFP is from 12-23 years old, sometimes extending to 24 or 25. But the majority of active UMYFP members fall under the 12-19 year bracket.
4: The UMC does not have a strong young adult ministry from the local church to the national level.
But the problem now, as I see it, is that the UMYFP’s influence tend to be the strongest during the high school years of a United Methodist youth. As they go to college and then proceed to become young professionals, the UMC loses its influence among these young people. That is partly because we don’t have an active presence in the campus and we do not have a strong, effective young adult ministry in the local church, and even in the national level of the church.
Some well-meaning friends told me that it’s all about ‘discipleship’ and the establishment of discipleship groups. They may be right, but I tend to be a big-picture, zoom out, kind of guy, so I want to analyze this from multiple perspectives, taking into account different factors why our young people leave the UMC, in favor of these newer churches. For lack of a better term, I will refer to these newer churches as CF’s.
Go Straight to the Founder
That’s why, early in 2015, I decided to finally read the book “Wikichurch: Making Discipleship Engaging, Empowering, and Viral” by Steve Murrell.
I wanted to understand the CF’s and what better way than to start with the founder of VCF, Pastor Steve Murrell. Overall, the book was a great read! It outlined the story of Maranatha Campus Ministry, which was the initial ministry that sent Pastor Steve Murrell, his wife, and other young American missionaries to the streets of the University Belt area to reach out to students and young people.
If you want to read my highlights and my notes, please visit this link. If you also want to read about the history of VCF and their discipleship model, I strongly recommend you read the book.
Top Three Reasons Why VCF Attracted Christians from Other Denominations
“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.” – Steve Murrell, from Wikichurch page 46 (emphasis mine)
- Excellent Worship
- Decent Preaching
- Cool Venue
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.
So if you’re asking for the top three reasons why the youth are leaving traditional Christian denominations, here is the immediate answer. (There is a deeper answer, also provided by Pastor Murrell, but I will present that in a future post.)
Three things: excellent worship, decent preaching, and cool venue.
This also means that the traditional Christian denominations: UMC, UCCP, JIL, AG, and others, are perceived to lack these three things. I say “perceived” because I know of traditional denominations who do have these things.
In the next posts, I will explore these three reasons individually.
Are you from a traditional denomination, too? Have you been observing the same trends?
Have you left a traditional denomination and joined one of the CF’s? Care to share why you left?