A church in recession
Editorialby Everett J. Thomas with Gordon Houser and Anna Groff
For Mennonite Church USA, the year 2008 has had parallels with the developments within the United States. As our editorial staff reviewed the top news stories for the year, we discovered some striking similarities:
• We now know that the U.S. economy formally entered a recession in December 2007. About the same time we were learning through the work of Conrad Kanagy that Mennonite Church USA was in a period of contraction.
• Through a wearisome election season, U.S. voters opted for a change in leadership in Washington. In the middle of the primary elections, Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board signaled it also wanted major changes for the structure of our denomination.
• With President-Elect Obama selecting elected officials for his cabinet and staff, there are two high-profile positions open in the Senate, one seat in the House of Representatives and the governorship of Arizona. In the last three months we have also learned of four high-profile positions to be filled within Mennonite Church USA in 2009.
A church in recession: In February 2007, we introduced the church to the findings from a 2006 survey of Mennonite Church USA members. It took about a year for those findings to wend their way into the concerns and actions of leaders across the church. We noticed increasing attention to those findings in 2008.
Released as the book Road Signs for the Journey (Herald Press, 2007), the “signs” point toward an aging membership, increasing cultural assimilation, increasing political identification and declining church attendance. The good news: Membership in growing racial/ethnic congregations is younger than in white congregations. Nevertheless, Mennonite Church USA is in a kind of recession similar to our country’s.
Calling for change: In March, the Executive Board stunned most leaders in churchwide agencies and their boards of directors by announcing that our denomination’s vision and call “is not adequately supported by our present relationships, behaviors and organization.” This assessment was followed by a proposal to do away with the Executive Board itself and the boards of directors for Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Education Agency, MMA and Mennonite Publishing Network. In its place would be a new “Leadership Board” responsible for the programs and staff of all Mennonite Church USA agencies.
Although the Executive Board deferred the plan after a June meeting, the signal was unmistakable: Our current course as a denomination is untenable; radical changes are required to get where we want to go.
Positions open: Four high-profile positions within Mennonite Church USA structures will be filled in the next year. We learned of these openings in this order: J. Nelson Kraybill, president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., will leave his post next summer. Jim Schrag, executive director for Mennonite Church USA will retire in November 2009. Ron Byler, associate executive director for Mennonite Church USA will leave that position some time in late 2009. The next moderator-elect (who will follow current moderator-elect Ed Diller) will be selected next summer by the Delegate Assembly in Columbus, Ohio.
Just as the downturn in the economy causes us to rethink our priorities, so does the downturn in people’s commitment to Mennonite Church USA. Both presidential candidates called for change. The Executive Board also determined that many people in our church want change. We are called in both cases to reflect on our basic commitments and how best to serve God with our resources.
As we wind down an eventful—perhaps watershed—year, uncertainties remind us that our real security is in the providence of God. For a people that assumes too often that we are in control of our own destiny, this reorientation becomes the soil in which seeds of change are planted.
News stories, digests and Meno Acontecer
- WEB EXCLUSIVE: A modern Christmas story
- Preach-off raises $2,994
- Top 10 stories for Mennonite Church USA in 2008 include rescue, student deaths
- MCC braces for coming economic storm
- Online registration soars for Columbus 2009
- CPT begins three-month project in Congo
- MEDA expands service for microfinance
- Vietnam Mennonite Church legalized
- MCC launches Seed program for young adults
- MC USA leaders visit two Congo groups
- We can be self-critical without disdain
- Are other Christians Mennonite?
- A seat at the table
- Involve young adults this month
- Mennonite church is not Evangelical
- What kind of denomination?