On the surface, the United Methodist Church (UMC) appears to be in deep trouble. Recently released figures place current membership at 9.9 million—a loss of one million in the past seven years. Restructure years ago caused problems that still aren’t straightened out. These include a $1.4 million deficit for 1974 and 1975 by the important Board of Discipleship, budget-crunch layoffs, and disgruntled personnel. Last year the denomination was left without a general church-wide magazine when United Methodists Today was axed. (Subscriptions were declining—there were fewer than 140,000 at the end—and deficits were rising.) Controversies over doctrine and practice have been a source of distress for a number of the church’s 39,000 congregations.
But there are some bright sides to the situation. Average attendance at the main worship service is up (3.6 million nationwide), and total income for all purposes in the last fiscal year topped $1 billion, an increase of $74 million over the previous year. At the Board of Discipleship officials seem to be getting things under control. The UMC’s communication cause is being served well by the high-quality United Methodist Reporter, a national weekly newspaper published by the United Methodist Conferences of Texas. (Circulation is nearing 325,000.)
Several organized groups have been lobbying for doctrinal and policy reforms along evangelical lines. The reforms would affect curricula materials, emphases of program agencies, assumptions underlying missionary work, how money is spent, and the like. The best known of the reform groups is the so-called Good News Movement, based in Wilmore, Kentucky, home of Asbury Seminary, an evangelical Methodist school. A related group is the Evangelical Missions ...1
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