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Communion. Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

Teaching the who, what and why of The United Methodist Church

If someone were to ask a member of your congregation, “What is a United Methodist,” what would you want them to say? Or not say?

We usually do not stop to think about what congregants may say as individuals, but when they talk about their church and faith, their conversations can have positive or negative effects.

For those who would like to know more about The United Methodist Church, the best place to get basic information about the denomination is the Basics of Our Faith and Frequently Asked Questions web pages at UMC.org. InfoServ, the official United Methodist information service, can also answer questions via e-mail or live chat. Our Wesleyan Heritage is another source of information about our beliefs, including the concepts of grace and good works.

Here are some suggested responses to share with your congregants to help them provide accurate and, perhaps, even persuasive answers to common questions that may arise in casual conversation.

  • What is a United Methodist?  A United Methodist is a Christian who is part of a global denomination called The United Methodist Church. The organizational structure is often described as “the connection.” When you participate in a United Methodist congregation, you make an impact throughout the world.
     
  • What do you do at your church services? United Methodists have a variety of worship styles from traditional to contemporary and beyond. You can expect readings from the Bible, preaching, singing and often Holy Communion, also called The Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. United Methodists believe that Christ hosts Holy Communion. All are welcome to participate. It is not for members only!
     
  • What does a United Methodist believe? United Methodists believe in actualizing their faith in community—actions speak louder than words. The three simple rules are: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.” Some beliefs we share with other Christians are the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and Jesus’ birth, death and Resurrection.
     
  • Do United Methodists have something like a pope? No pope, no central office and no archbishop. United Methodists have a structure that in some ways parallels that of the U.S. government. The church has a General Conference, its legislative branch; a Council of Bishops, somewhat like an executive branch; and a nine-member Judicial Council, the judicial branch.
     
  • Do you do missionary work? What kind? United Methodists serve the world over, showing Christ’s love through tangible means. From sustainable water systems to health care, micro-lending, advocacy and a plan to eliminate deaths from malaria by 2015 (Imagine No Malaria), United Methodists have many ways for people to live out their faith in community. Many United Methodists are active in both local missions and global efforts.
     
  • What do you do with financial donations? When you give to a local United Methodist congregation, you support ministries all over the world. While the largest percentage of your gift supports local church ministries, a portion (called an “apportionment”) goes beyond the community to make a difference throughout the world.

You can devise an endless list of questions and customize your answers to fit your congregation, community and style. However, you’ll also need ways to help members communicate the answers.

Focus on youth to ensure knowledge passes from generation to generation
Offer youth groups and older Sunday school students Flip video cameras or other inexpensive digital tools and invite them to make short recordings explaining various aspects of the church. Allow them to make up songs and dances, use costumes, tell stories and use film-editing software. Let them be creative, but supervise the process so the end product is something the church can actually use. You’ll have a collection of short videos to show the entire congregation during a service. Then you can create an online video library on your website. You also can post the videos on YouTube as a way to promote your church.

For younger children, have teachers or other volunteer dress as important figures in the history of The United Methodist Church (i.e., John Wesley and Francis Asbury) and visit Sunday school classes to tell the stories of who they are. Kids are attuned to costumed characters and certainly will ask questions. Be prepared to answer them with kid-friendly responses.

Tweet tidbits
Offer frequent and regular mini-lessons via Twitter to those who are interested. Send short-but-memorable tweets of simple facts such as these: “United Methodists believe: Do no harm; do good; love God.” “UMs believe: ‘The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social.’” “United Methodists believe: All creation is God’s, and we are responsible for the ways we use and abuse it. “United Methodists believe: Christ hosts Communion and all are welcomed by him.”

Make a game of it
Create common games based on church knowledge and hold a once-a-month pre- or post-service game hour. Use a catchy name such as “Beliefs Bash” and offer small prizes such as crafts or gift certificates to the winners. Serve seasonal refreshments and create a fun atmosphere. Hold a variety of games to attract different groups.

Offer FAQs, links
Methodism 101 is a free online course that makes it easier for church members to learn about United Methodism. Set up a computer station in your church library or welcome center where people can use this resource. Include a Frequently Asked Questions center with books, magazines and other materials geared toward various ages. This is a good way to personalize the teaching for your congregation. You can include your church’s history, member spotlights and community news tied to denominational history and beliefs. You also can make PowerPoint presentations that members can download from the church website to educate themselves or others. When you are ready to launch the education centers, have your pastor ask a few questions about church beliefs and history at the next Sunday service. Church members will realize the gaps in their knowledge and be encouraged to learn more.

Digital Guide to United Methodism
Our United Methodist Handbook, is a handy eBook with sections covering the concept of connectionalism, the Four Areas of Focus, gratitude and giving, a glossary of United Methodist terms, a breakdown of basic beliefs, and more. The digital format makes it easy to share and it is free to download and use.

Helping your congregation to learn and remember basic knowledge about The United Methodist Church will help them answer questions enthusiastically and honestly while creating an opportunity for growing spiritually and forming a deeper relationship with God.