ORLANDO—While lighthearted presentations and uplifting music marked the Laity Session of the 2017 Florida Annual Conference, the underlying message for lay leaders attending the opening event was that inclusivity is critical to the future of the Church.
“I once had a preacher tell me that we are one generation away from faithlessness,” said Mark Becker, president of the United Methodist Foundation. “Christianity is passed down from one generation to the next. If we don't pass it down, we run the risk of seeing declining faith in future generations.”
His comments proved to be a fitting introduction for the succession of ministry heads who took the podium with appeals for increased participation.
Of the 48,000 men who regularly attend Florida Conference churches, only 120 signed up for last year's United Methodist Men's retreat, John Delaney, president of the United Methodist Men, told audience members.
|Conference Lay Leader Paulette Monroe addresses the Florida conference Thursday morning. Photos by Lance Rothwell.|
“We have a boy problem,” Delaney said, noting that 71 percent of young men in America who drop out of school end up in the correctional system. “Men have the power to change these statistics. We were created to be disciples. So, guys, it's time to man up.”
Kay Roach, president of the Florida Conference United Methodist Women, said her organization is equally determined to find ways to attract disciples and leaders, particularly young women.
“We're learning to be more inclusive and intergenerational,” she said.
She said that includes speaking out on issues that are particularly relevant to women today, such as equal rights, maternal and child health, human trafficking and global climate change.
Young adult representative Molly McEntire and youth representative Sophia Williams agreed that it's critical for the conference to not only attract younger generations but also place young people in leadership roles.
“All of our voices matter,” McEntire said. “We need to look for more ways to help young adults take the lead.”
As more churches close their doors due to a lack of members and money, Williams proposed a simple solution.
“We wouldn't have to close churches if we opened our doors and invited the community in,” she said.
If churches hosted more community events that appealed to youngsters, their parents would follow, Williams said.
Finding new ways to appeal to those who have never attended church or have left the church was the motivation behind the Florida Conference initiative called Fresh Expressions, said Matt Harrell, who is leading the project.
“No matter what you do, some people aren’t going to cross the threshold of churches,” he said. “Fresh Expressions is catalyzing new forms of church for new people in new ways.”
Among the 80 Fresh Expressions alternative churches formed over the past year is a church for kayaking enthusiasts in Jacksonville and another for yoga practitioners in Miami.
--D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer based in Valrico