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June 2009

Methodist Churches on upswing in global south

The Methodist movement is alive and well, and it is growing particularly in the developing world where evangelism is a priority.

This is the message the general secretary of the World Methodist Council Rev Dr George Freeman wants to convey to New Zealand churches.

George says the World Methodist Council (WMC) is the voice of churches in the Methodist/Wesleyan family around the world. There are 73 denominations in the WMC and globally the lives of more than 75 million people are touched by the ministries of their churches.

As is the case for other mainline churches, in developed Western countries Methodist Churches are showing uneven developments. Some exciting things are happening in developing countries, however.

"In the United States the Methodist Church is growing in certain areas but in most areas numbers are declining. The growing churches in the US tend to be Pentecostal, Charismatic or independent.

"While the Gospel doesn’t change, the way it is packaged and presented does. We don’t know what the situation will be in five years but we want to keep looking forward, not back. As the expression goes: adapt, migrate or die."

George says Methodist churches in Africa and Latin America face some big challenges but they are making some real achievements.

"The Nigerian Methodist Church is a very strong evangelical church. It has launched a ministry of evangelism under the leadership of a bishop whose responsibility is nothing but evangelism.

"A former prelate of the Church, Rev Sunday Mbang, has done a lot of work to develop relations with people of other faiths. His leadership has enabled Christians and Muslims in Nigeria to live together in peace. He has been outspoken against corruption in government and has been a leader in movements that seek to avoid civil strife."

Some African Chruches face pressure from Muslims who are better able to fund social programmes. George says in Zambia, for example, Islamic groups funded by Saudi Arabia have more resources to devote to education and day care for children

"Methodist Churches have always been eager to offer services when they are needed. In South Africa a lot of social structure has collapsed and the Church provides ministry to many different groups.

"The same is true in South America. The Methodist Church in Brazil is very much alive and growing and interested in evangelism. It has seen a lot of growth in the last decade.

"The Methodist Church is Cuba is thriving in spite of the repressive government. The Church is not allowed to build new churches or even improve its existing ones. So people meet in house churches. There are about 1000 house churches and they are growing."

George says the responsibilities of the WMC are to bring the Methodist/Wesleyan churches together for mutual support and education, and so they can share ideas and resources for ministry, provide a common witness, and hold each other accountable.