It could happen this way…
In 2024 there will be three denominations that include the 12 million people who currently comprise the United Methodist denomination.
There will be the Wesleyan Covenant Church (or some such name). They will have a thoroughly Wesleyan theology, though they will emphasize the Scriptural authority part a bit more. They will not allow gay people to get married or ordained, and will be explicit about stating such.
There will be a Progressive Methodist Church (or some such name). They will have a thoroughly Wesleyan theology, though they will emphasize the grace part a bit more. They will allow gay people to get married or ordained, and will be explicit about stating such.
There will be a United Methodist Church (or some such name). They will have a thoroughly Wesleyan theology, and will constantly wrestle with the tensions that inevitably arise when Scripture is read through the lenses of tradition, reason, and experience. They will remove sexual orientation and gender identity as barriers to marriage and ordination, leaving authority to make those decisions in the hands of pastors and Annual Conferences.
The three new denominations will be in “full communion” with one another. This means that they are unified in the essentials of the faith but recognize clear differences of opinion regarding how a holy life is to be lived. We will be able to celebrate Holy Communion together. There will be a way to recognize ordination among the three, though I’m sure there would be extensive discussion as to how that would look. And most importantly, we will share a common commitment to the mission of the Church.
At some point, maybe in 40 years, maybe in 60, these three denominations will merge again.
… or it might not. Who knows really?
What I know for certain is that I am not in the least bit anxious about the future of the church. I believe Jesus when he says that “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” I believe in resurrection. I believe in something eternal, something that exists beyond my ability to comprehend it, that will outlive me.
And even if it looks nothing like it looks today, there will be a church.
As long as there are people who need to know they are worthy of the deepest love imaginable, there will be a church to tell them.
As long as there is evil, injustice, and oppression to be resisted in whatever forms they present themselves, there will be a church to resist them.
As long as there are widows, orphans, and immigrants in need of help for their journey, there will be a church to walk alongside them.
As long as there are people who need the transformative power of grace to flip their lives around so they might become the people they are created to be, there will be a church to offer it to them.
As long as God’s mission is unfulfilled, there will be a church working to realize it. Yes, even if it looks not in the least bit like it does today, there will be a church.