Church: Minnetonka UMC
District: Twin Cities
Submitted by: Dave Nuckols, Minnetonka UMC
At Minnetonka UMC, being fully inclusive of all persons – including lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer – is part of fulfilling the Great Commission. And the results prove that it works.
Minnetonka UMC is a healthy and growing suburban church. It offers a relationship with Jesus and healing for a broken world. In many ways it is a classical Methodist church with emphases on personal holiness, social holiness and social justice. Minnetonka was always known as friendly and very active in missions locally and internationally. Yet in supporting the Reconciling Ministries Network, it stepped outside of “what’s typical” and has become something truly special. The increased vitality flowing from living the Gospel has spilled over into other areas of church life.
The church was born in the 1970s and grew with its bedroom community situated west of Minneapolis, MN. Over time the town’s growth slowed, the population aged and kids left the family nest; the church mirrored these changes. Average worship attendance fell from the 250 to a low of 156 and church leaders prayed for a turnaround strategy. After intensive study and reflection, they announced a new vision to be “caring, inclusive and Spirit-filled in all they do.” The church embraced a “permission-giving” culture where new missional initiatives could begin with less red tape. No one could foresee how far these changes would take them. By 2009, a second worship service was re-launched, resulting in attendance rebounding to 210 people, followed by another plateau.
Several members visited an exhibit, Shower of Stoles at a neighboring Reconciling church in 2009. This sparked the formation of a lay-driven “Reconciling Task Force” to explore the questions and challenges concerning homosexuality and The United Methodist Church. After a series of monthly congregation-wide meetings – videos including "For the Bible Tells Me So", small group discussions, and Bible study – the Church Council felt the congregation was ready to take a stand. The church voted overwhelmingly to accept a new welcoming statement embracing LGBTQ persons fully and to support the efforts of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) in 2010.
Turns out Minnetonka’s decision to join the Reconciling movement wasn’t so much a “justice movement” as a powerful engine for evangelism and growth. Over the next five years, Minnetonka grew 6 percent per year to reach average Sunday worship of 284 and total membership of 519 in 2015. Now Minnetonka frequently breaks the “the 300 barrier” and is planning for the next stage of growth. While situated in a typical suburban neighborhood, 90 percent of new members say the fully LGBTQ-inclusive welcome was an important factor in joining. Whereas previous years’ new members were mostly UMC transfers that moved into town, increasingly new members are the “Nones” (those with no church affiliation) and the “Dones” (those who’d left the institutional church). Next year’s confirmation class includes a record 36 young people.
It is important to note that joining the Reconciling movement is not, by itself, a panacea for decline. Churches need to be well-rounded as well. Minnetonka’s leadership has been strategic in using the techniques of Natural Church Development. Still Minnetonka UMC can trace a direct line from its reconciling process to increased Bible study to increased spiritual vitality and growing small group ministry. For example, a new lay-led Domestic Abuse and Violence ministry was started in much the same way. And church youths led the Imagine No Malaria campaign with a goal of $20,000; final result more than $40,000 for Africa. So far, 223 persons – or three-quarters of average worship – have studied Adam Hamilton’s “Making Sense of the Bible.”
Pastor Jeanine Alexander says, “My ministry is ‘both progressive and evangelical’ and Minnetonka UMC benefits from the denomination’s ‘big tent’ philosophy. Minnetonka UMC values being part of a connectional church that makes disciples and transforms the world.” Her hope for General Conference in 2016 is that we live into our connection by freeing pastors to ministry fully to all person and cites the Connectional Table Third Way Plan as a good solution for conferences such as Minnesota, which has a mix of affirming and non-affirming clergy and congregations.Dave Nuckols is co-lay leader at Minnetonka UMC and serves on the Minnesota Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and also in Minnesota delegation to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church