I think Munger Place Church, a congregation of Highland Park UMC, is doing some great things. I want to share a few things I have experienced at Munger that I think could be instructive for the broader United Methodist Church.
A few weeks ago I attended the membership class for Munger with my wife. The class was two hours on a Wednesday night, and there were more than fifty people there – and this was the third membership class! Part of Andrew’s vision for Munger is that he wants it to be a place where everyone is welcomed with open arms on the one hand, but where there are meaningful standards for membership on the other hand.
Incidentally, I am in complete agreement with Andrew here. I think the best way to measure whether a church has meaningful membership standards is whether the average attendance is higher than the membership of the church. My guess is that most United Methodist congregations have a membership that is two times larger than the average weekly worship attendance of the church. When this is the case it reveals that the members of the church do not think something as basic as showing up at church is essential to being a member of the church. As Andrew said in the membership class, this is a model that a health club would love. You could buy one treadmill and have 10 million members!
Currently, Munger Place has four expectations of each person who takes the extra step of becoming a member of the church. 1) Attendance at weekly worship service; 2) Support the church financially with consistent giving; 3) Participate in a weekly small group, which Munger calls Kitchen Groups; 4) Serve others, particularly the last, the least, and the lost.
I appreciated the way Andrew communicated these four expectations in a way that showed that they really were expected of members, but avoided coming across as legalistic of Pharisaic. Andrew also stated explicitly that if people were unsure of whether they were ready to make these commitments, they were welcomed – and encouraged! – to continue to be active in the church without taking the step of becoming a member.
Just exactly how members will be held accountable for keeping these expectations remains to be seen. But Andrew has already raised the standards for the typical United Methodist Church by having a mandatory membership class. And if this Sunday is an indication, I am told that there were about one hundred people who joined the church the first time they were given the opportunity. (I was disappointed to miss worship, as I was in Atlanta for an academic conference.)
I have spoken with a few people who joined the church and have been thrilled to hear how meaningful it was to them. One person talked about how big of a step this was in their life. Another person said that it was so meaningful they had tears of joy as they made their commitment to ministry through and with the church. One person emailed me to celebrate becoming a part of Munger and joining the UMC for the first time. The email concluded, “Go Wesley!”
One of the things that excites me the most about Munger is that I have met several people who are captivated by the Wesleyan vision for the Christian life. These women and men do not have the anxiety about the future of our denomination that many lifelong Methodists have. In fact, they hardly seem to notice the decline, because they are too captivated by the God who is changing their lives.
And if this weren’t enough… this is all happening in a church that was closed because it was no longer financially viable. New life. Resurrection. Thanks be to God!