The General Secretary of the Methodist Church has encouraged Methodists to rise to the challenge of falling membership figures.
Presenting his report to the Methodist Conference yesterday (30 June), the Rev Dr Martyn Atkins highlighted the Church's latest statistics, which indicate a significant drop in Church membership over the last ten years.
"However the Statistics for Mission report is understood and interpreted it does not make for easy or comfortable reading," said Dr Atkins. "If ever we needed any encouragement to continue to focus on those things that make for an ever better Church which is a discipleship movement shaped for mission today, then these statistics provide that."
In light of the figures, Dr Atkins urged Conference members to consider how the Church might best use its resources, especially its church buildings, saying, "There was – and remains still – a generally held view that we have too many church properties, not all in the best location or condition to enable us to engage as effectively in God's mission as we desire."
The Statistics for Mission report itself is due to be debated by the Conference on Wednesday 2 July. It shows that, although Methodist membership is in general decline, there are some areas of growth, particularly where churches are trying something new.
The New Song Network in Warrington became Methodism's newest church on Sunday 22 June, when more than 40 people became new members. What began as a small group of people meeting in a coffee shop in 2009 has now grown into a 170-strong monthly congregation meeting for cafe-style worship and praise.
"New Song Network is an example of what great things can happen when we listen to God's call and are willing to do things differently," added Dr Atkins.
"As I travel around the Church, I sense a growing desire to reclaim evangelism as a crucial part of God's mission. The main thing is not merely the survival of an institution, even a wonderful institution like our beloved Church. Rather we are realising afresh that the best thing that anyone can do, whoever they are, wherever they live, at whatever time and in whatever circumstances is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. And consequently seeking and finding apt, relevant, sensitive and effective ways of presenting Jesus Christ to the world in which we live with so many and so different others, is the critical task of the Church today."