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L+L July 2015: Discipline or Decline

8 years ago written by

The church in the United States is having a rough time of it lately, according to the news media and pollsters.

Recent headlines include “Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian” (New York Times), “Millennials Leaving Church in Droves” (CNN), “Christians in U.S. on Decline as Number of ‘Nones’ Grows” (NPR) and “America Is Losing Its (Christian) Religion” (The Week).

The headlines resulted from a Pew Research Center survey, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” (, that found “between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4% to 70.6 %.”

The church isn’t just struggling to win new converts. It’s struggling with discipleship.

Definitions of “discipleship” vary, but I like the wording on the website of the Akron (New York) Free Methodist Church: “Discipleship is to become more like Jesus.”

We are called to be disciples of Jesus and to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). But how do we go about making disciples?

One answer may be found in the “Book of Discipline”: “Free Methodists today seek to continue the mission of first-century Christianity which was recovered by John Wesley and the early Methodists, who declared they existed ‘to raise up a holy people.’”

In this issue, you’ll learn more about the discipleship practices of early Christians and Wesley, an 18th-century British evangelist who spent time in America. You’ll also hear from Bishop Matthew Thomas, who will speak this month at General Conference 2015 about making disciples.

For evangelicals, the Pew survey wasn’t as bleak — only a drop of 1 percentage point since 2007 — as it was for other Christian groups. Still, we and our fellow evangelicals should stay committed to living out the Free Methodist Church’s mission “to love God, love people and make disciples.” ν

Downloadable PDF: Light + Life July 2015

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