The following story by The Associated Press appeared in numerous publications, including the September 1, 2010, edition of The New York Times. William B. Lawrence, dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology, provided expertise for this story.
September 7, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It's the conundrum Protestant denominations with declining memberships and shrinking budgets are desperate to solve: How to stem the decades-long losses and attract new worshippers.
The United Methodist Church, the third largest denomination in the country, thinks it could be closer to finding the answer. It commissioned an ambitious survey of nearly all its 33,000 U.S. churches to find out what its growing memberships are doing to keep congregations thriving.
Of those churches, the four key factors of vitality stood out as ''crystal clear findings that are actionable,'' according to the survey:
- Small groups and programs, such as Bible study and activities geared toward youth.
- An active lay leadership.
- Inspirational pastors who have served lengthy tenures at churches.
- A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services.
. . . William B. Lawrence, Dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, said he's not aware of other major denominations doing similar surveys.
''We are a denomination that still has the capacity to look at ourselves and ask some hard questions,'' he said. ''It's an attempt to examine seriously the challenges facing the church today and the opportunities facing the church in the future.''
What the Methodists do with the information gathered from the survey will be key, Lawrence said. It's going to require ''mobilizing the whole system,'' lay leadership as well as pastors, to get behind recommendations to turn around churches with sagging memberships and budgets.
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