At the recently concluded South Central Jurisdiction Conference, Bishop Robert Schnase gave the Episcopal Address on behalf of the College of Bishops. At the five Jurisdictional Conferences I have attended (since 1996), I have had the privilege of hearing many outstanding Episcopal addresses. This address was at the very top of an excellent class! Parts are reprinted in a series of five blog postings with Bishop Schnase’s permission while I am on vacation. – Bishop Mike Lowry
South Central Jurisdictional Conference
July 19, 2012
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Robert Schnase, Bishop ©
Part I – Who Are We?
The people in this room represent 1,725,000 (1,725,081)1 United Methodists and 6,000 United Methodist Congregations (5,937) presently organized into fifteen Annual Conferences serving eight states with an immediate mission field of more than 49 million people. (49,073,767). We represent more than 5,200 clergy (5,229), including Elders, Deacons, Licensed Local Pastors, and Associate members, plus nearly 3,000 retired clergy. (2,902).
5 ½% (5.51) of our membership is African American compared to over 12% (12.26) of our neighborhoods that surround us; 2% (2.04) of our membership is Hispanic compared to 24% (24.06) of the areas we serve; and under one percent (.79) of our membership is Native American compared to nearly 1.4% (1.38) of the areas we serve. More than 90% (90.44) of our membership is White Anglo, while the areas we serve are 58% (57.66) White Anglo.
On any given weekend in our Jurisdiction, more than 620,000 (620,603) people attend worship, and according to the end of the year reports we submit so faithfully, nearly four million people (3,848,325) are served regularly through our ministries in our communities.
Now that I’ve numbed your brain with statistics, let’s look at what some of this means. The good news is how robust these numbers are, the size and scope and range and reach of the United Methodist Church in our Jurisdiction is amazing, and more than any one of us can comprehend. There’s something deeply satisfying to think that more than a quarter million children attend Bible School through our churches. A quarter million children! Think about it. That’s enough to fill five huge professional baseball stadiums with children. That’s a lot of lemonade to mix! How’d you like to be responsible for a Bible School program with 257,000 kids? Well, you are!
And yet, these numbers still reveal troubling trends. Attendance in the last five years has declined more than 7% (7.28). However, the decline in the South Central Jurisdiction has been significantly less pronounced than in other US Jurisdictions. That’s good news I suppose, in some qualified sort of way! Thirty percent (30.74) of our congregations have actually shown growth over the last five years. And the annual number of Adult Professions of Faith has increased more than 10% (10.78). On the other hand, 40% (40.45) of our congregations have reported no Professions of Faith over the most recent year.
We don’t report ages in our annual statistics, but we do have ways of estimating them through sampling and through pensions information related to our pastors.
Missionally, if the only statistic we could fully comprehend about the United Methodist Church in the US is that our median age is approaching 60 while the median age of our culture is 35, we would see with stark clarity the missional challenge we face. There is an age gap of nearly two generations between the average United Methodist in the US and the local mission field God calls us to serve. And across that gap lie significant differences in perception, spirituality, musical tastes, community, life experiences, use of technology, and cultural value.2
Reaching next generations. And reaching our more diverse neighbors that surround our congregations—these remain our most poignant, critical, and strategic missional challenges.
The full text of Bishop Schnase address may be found at gntv.info/live/scj2.