COMPARISON OF GROWTH OF THE BIBLE FELLOWSHIP CHURCH AND THE UNITED MISSIONARY CHURCH SINCE 1952

Harold P. Shelly


     We probably know a great deal in general about the Bible Fellowship Church and very little in comparison about the United Missionary Church. The approach of this paper, therefore, will be to introduce some statistical facts about the U.M.C. and then to compare some of these with similar facts about the B.F.C. After this there will follow some observations about the growth of the U.M.C., purposely generous, and some of the factors involved in its progress. It is necessary that each of us make our own mental notes and our own comparisons. Let us not try to rationalize and explain away facts we do not like, but analyze these facts for what we can learn from them.


     Much very valuable information was found in the History of the United Missionary Church by Everek Richard Storms (Elkhart, Indiana: Bethel Publishing Company, 1958). By request, Mr. Storms also very kindly compiled a statistical chart of the U.M.C. for the years 1952, 1957, 1962 and 1967. (Chart A) Additional information was gleaned from the Gospel Banner and the Ontario Oracle: Official Publication of the Ontario District of the United Missionary Church.


    One of the most effective means of scientific prevarication without detection is the skillful employment of vital statistics. The following statistics may do just that but the intention is otherwise, namely to stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance and creative thinking for the advance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Withdrawal, 1952


     The withdrawal of the Pennsylvania conference from the U.M.C. in 1952 caused deep distress among many of the leaders of the Church (both "out there" and here in Pa.). The reasons which can be found in the 1952 yearbook were largely concerned with organization and government, as well as with the doctrine of entire sanctification. Over the latter the M.B.C. Church had had a compromise statement since 1904. "At the time of its withdrawal" in 1952 "writes Mr. Storms, the Pennsylvania District had forty-four appointments with 4,489 members and owned $1,500,000 in church property. The Church had suffered a great loss, but the cause of unity had been given a big impetus, and for the first time in many years the denomination was in a place where it could begin to act as a unit." (History, P. 75).


      The denomination had lost over 30% of its membership and nearly 20% of its churches but by 1967 the U.M.C. had regained more than half its numerical losses in both categories.


Merger, 1968


    The withdrawal resolution of the M.B.C. Church of Pennsylvania also alluded to the fact that it was in disagreement with the proposed merger with the Missionary Church Association. After much delay this proposed merger, scheduled for July, 1968, will join these two similar denominations into the "Missionary Church." Both of these churches are members of the National Holiness Association. The Missionary Church Association, organized in 1898 at Berne, Indiana, claims to be a group of Evangelical churches cooperating for the establishment of churches which will support missionaries abroad and have a concern to deepen the spiritual life of its members. The Missionary Church Association stresses local autonomy but recognizes the authority of a general conference. The new church will have 354 churches with 21,000 members, an average Sunday School attendance of 35,000 and 200 overseas missionaries.


    Just recently an independent fully self-supporting church in York, Pa., known as the West York Gospel Church united with the M.C.A. When the merger is consummated, the new Missionary Church will have ten churches in Pennsylvania – thirty four to go.


Financial Status


    In 1966 the contributions of members of the U.M.C. to their denomination was $245.18 per member. Of the sixty-five denominations reporting they were sixth in the United States and Canada behind the Berean Fundamental Church, Evangelical Free Church of America, Pilgrim Holiness Church, Seventh Day Adventists and Wesleyan Methodist Church of America. (These are in alphabetical order) That same year the per capita giving of the B.F.C. was $211.93 (The Missionary Church Association per capita giving was $216.73, tenth in the U.S. and Canada) Mr. Storms notes that in the decade prior to the writing of his book the average church member doubled his giving.


Educational Progress


     In the field of education the; U.M.C. had been quite progressive. Its first attempt to found a school was 68 years ago in Elkhart, Indiana. The first school which is still in existence is the Mountainview Bible College in Didsbury, Alberta, Canada, begun about 1920. This school grants the B.Th. And B.R.E. degrees , The second school in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, is the Emmanuel Bible School begun in 1940, which grants similar degrees. This school has a course in "Church planting" and has been closely integrated with the Church Extension department of the Ontario Conference, Thirty-two students were graduated last month from these two Bible Colleges, 11 and 21 respectively.


     In 1947 feeling the need for liberal arts training, the U.M.C. began Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. From its inception it granted the A.B. degree in Bible, and since then has added the B.S. in Theology, Education, Nursing and Music and the A.B. in at least 6 liberal arts fields. In its first 10 years it had 200 graduates, one third of which entered the Christian ministry and another third, public school teaching. (Its operational budget in 1957 was over $150,000). From the schools of the U.M.C. have come a large number of pastors.


Numerical Growth Through Church Extension


    Statistics demonstrate that the U.M.C. has grown, but how? Mr. Storms lists four important steps which were taken in recent years as follows: “The changing of the Church name, the establishment of a liberal arts college, the setting up of a more centralized form of church government, and the writing of a new constitution." These steps all doubtless meant a great deal to the U.M.C. but there is something to which these lend support which may be far more significant. This is a vital and flexible Church extension program.


     The U.M.C. may have been rather slow in Church extension at one time. It was not until 1949 that the Indiana Conference appointed its first full time Church extension director, the Rev, Joseph H. Kimball, who soon became a key man in this conference, an architect and builder, he built numerous new churches and designed a parsonage church package later sponsored by Christian Life magazine. At present he is chairman of the denomination-wide Church Extension Committee, It is only since 1955 that Church extension has been approached on a denominational level.


    Mr. Storms evaluates briefly the hindrances to church extension. Some he suggests were organization, basic conservatism, negative preaching, the name Mennonite, the fear of growth lest purity of doctrine be lost, and the greatest hindrance of all, the lack of a proper vision concerning Church extension. Closely related to this last reason is what he calls territorial difficulties by which he means, the failure to follow the population into the city. Speaking of the Pennsylvania district Mr. Storms remarks, "Churches were built in new centers, many of them in cities where the opportunities for advancement were unlimited. During the thirty-five years, 1912-1947, church membership more than doubled rising beyond the four thousand mark. One reason for this was the fact that three-quarters of the Churches were located in cities of over fifteen thousand population, and only one-fifth were in rural districts or small villages."


    One of the more successful attempts at Church growth within the U.M.C. has come through the Mother Church plan. "These new congregations grew rapidly and were self-supporting almost from the beginning" (Storms History, p. 258).


    The Indiana district is the largest in the U.M.C. Mr. Storms attributes this to three factors: (1) “The district has been blessed with good leadership almost throughout its entire history.” (2) “In no other district is the work so consolidated," And (3) “To a certain extent, the Indiana District has maintained a progressive spirit throughout a large part of its history." (Storms, History, pp. 107-109) On the second factor Mr. Storms observes, "It is always easier to do church extension work where the denomination is well known." (p. 109) (Here one might ask himself, could this be a factor working against our distant outposts in the past?)


    Many constructive ideas seem to have been put to good use by the U.M.C. In recent years the denomination has closed certain churches. Mr. Storms says in a letter to me, "The number of churches has not grown the last five years because we have been closing all the smaller churches--those that are 30, 40, or 50 years old, or older, and still struggling along with ten members or so, You will notice the increase in members these five years is approximately double any previous five years."


Summer Service Program


The U.M.C. has an outreach called Summer Service Program by which they challenge young people over 17 to do V.B.S. work in home mission churches for the summer. They especially encourage school teachers to share in this program.


Men 's Missionary Fellowship

     In addition to Women's Missionary Fellowship, the U.M.C. also have a Men’s Missionary Fellowship. This fellowship was begun in 1952 under the inspiration of the Rev. Kenneth E. Geiger, then Indiana District Superintendent, now General Superintendent, "to challenge Christian men to be personal soul winners; and to promote home missions in a definite way just as the U.M.F. promote foreign missions," (Storms, History, P. 192) Notice the important emphasis on lay involvement. Since its inception the M.M.F. has also contributed funds for extension and assisted young congregations in canvassing the neighborhood of the new church.


Flexibility and Relevance


    At least one district also owns a portable Chapel, 30 ft. by 50 ft., which it rents to beginning congregations so that they have a more church-like structure to meet from the beginning without being limited over-long with inadequate facilities.


     The U.M.C. is vitally concerned about new areas to enter and begin new works, according to an article in the Ontario Oracle, "When new works have been opened, it is because some individual or group of individuals, has felt a sense of compulsion to propagate the gospel in some definite area... Large cities such as Guelph and London with their bursting subdivisions still have no Gospel witness from the United Missionary Church.


     "Only God knows the dozens, and perhaps hundreds of towns and villages where we can go with the Gospel of Christ. It is not so much where the Church should go, but where it should go first." (Ontario Oracle, Jan. '68 p.2).


    The same issue of Ontario Oracle has an article expressing concern for city people especially "Apartment Dwellers." This very perceptive article concludes- "Can and will the United Missionary Church find a way to reach these souls for whom Christ died? The answer will only be found on our knees as we forget our traditional concept of evangelism and seek God's answer to this special problem." (p. 5) U.M.C. leaders recognize that we live in a revolutionary age and the Church of Christ needs men of holy boldness who will break with tradition and try new exploits for Christ.


     The U.M.C. seems to make a very real effort to be relevant and speak to our age. A recent issue of the Gospel Banner published an article entitled "A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King" as well as an article "How Well is Your Pastor Paid?" – Both very relevant topics to some people.


Confession and Challenge


     By way of conclusion, it appears to me that the organized flexible church which is growing; however, it too being human has weaknesses and shortcomings. Mr. Storms writes, "It is a healthy sign when a Church acknowledges its failures of the past and seeks to correct them in order that greater progress may be made in the future. The United Missionary Church has made... mistakes in its past history, errors which have hindered its progress and have been costly in other ways as well, but the denomination has sought to profit from its former failures and build a better and greater Church for the future." (p. 259)


     "Ours is a great heritage. Ours is the privilege and responsibility not only of preserving this heritage but of propagating it also. In our hands lies the future of the Church. And no Church can stand still. It must either grow or die. The United Missionary Church of the next generation will be entirely what the members of the present generation make it,'" ( Storms, History, p. 261)


     Brethren, what shall we say to these things?


[Chart A]


Growth of the United Missionary Church, 1952-1967

 

1952

1957

1962

1967

Churches

185

206

213

212

Ordained Ministers

182

235

259

299

Baptism

267

342

490

580

Children Dedicated

372

512

522

476

Church Membership

9582

10200

10760

11948

Sunday School Enrollment

20,461

25,540

29,724

30,393

Average Sunday School Attendance

14,152

18,766

21,129

21,145

Gospel Banner Subscriptions

3,000

4,400

5,700

7,600

United Missionary Society

(Foreign Missions)

$133,680

$268,061

$362,513

$450,479

Total Offerings

$1,129,970

$1,611,062

$2,141,902

$3,096,552

Per Capita Giving

117.93

157.96

199.06

259.17

Church Properties

$2,900,000

$6,000,000

$9,700,000

$14,700,000


Note: In July, 1968, there will probably be a merger of the United Missionary Church and the Missionary Church Association. The new church, known simply as the Missionary Church, will have 354 churches with 21,000 members and an average Sunday School Attendance of 35,000 and 200 overseas missionaries.


(signed)

Everek R. Storms

Kitchener, Ontario

May 11, 1968