John Meunier takes issue with Thomas Oden's argument that a liberalization of UMC doctrine is a cause of the overall numerical decline of the denomination since 1968. John writes:
The connection from data to claim seems to be this: Doctrine is what drives church membership.
Here’s where I have several questions.
1) What evidence do we have that the “doctrinal problem” is a new problem? I seem to recall Karl Barth quite aggrieved by liberal theology long before 1968, for instance.
2) The 1968 figure is the peak for the UMC - since it was formed that year - but I’ve heard people say the peak for all the predecessor denominations was much, much earlier. Is this true? If so, what does this do to the argument?
3) There is at least one significant counter-thesis that says the big issue is that the UMC stopped building churches at just about the same time. These people connect the decline to our failure to build new churches where the new people were. If this is factually true, does that complicate the doctrine argument?
4) Do we have evidence about the role of doctrine in church membership or church choice among lay people?
5) Sociologists have remarked on the decline in membership and support for all sorts of institutions since 1968. Is there evidence that the UMC is caught in a sociological shift rather than a revolt over orthodoxy? If so, does doctrinal retrenchment offer the best possible response?
What do you think? Is there a causal relationship between a leftward shift in the UMC's teachings and numerical decline?