Global Church Membership Tops 12 Million
While The United Methodist Church’s
The church’s membership in Africa, Europe and
In that time, worldwide membership increased from almost 11.6 million to nearly 12.1 million.
“The major growth has been in Africa and the
The Rev. John H. Southwick, research director at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, asked an African colleague her take on the rapid growth. She told him the people in
That growth has occurred despite further slippage in
“There is no future for The United Methodist Church in the
The decline did not start yesterday.
Other denominations reflect similar trends
Weems, who also directs the
Mainlines include the American Baptist Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ.
Weems attributed United Methodist losses in part to the
Other factors, he said, include “the retreat for many years from starting new churches where the people were moving and the failure to reach the emerging younger and more diverse population.”
The trend of emptier pews is not limited to mainline Protestants.
Most Protestant denominations reported declining
For example, the evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second largest religious group, reported a 0.4 percent decline to about 16.1 million members. The
According to the yearbook, The United Methodist Church saw the smallest declines of any mainline denomination.
The Roman Catholic Church, the nation’s largest religious group, is an exception to the shrinking trend, reporting nearly 0.6 percent growth to 68.5 million members. Likewise, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh-Day Adventists and two Pentecostal denominations — the Assemblies of God and the
Church thrives in Africa, the Philippines
Meanwhile, United Methodism outside the
Weems likened church growth in Africa and the
“While United Methodism in the U.S. shows signs of a mature and struggling denomination,” he added, “many central conferences outside the U.S. reflect something more like the early stages of a movement.”
From 2008 to 2009, average
But the Council on Finance and Administration sees signs of hope.
“This data tells an exciting and compelling story about the impact our churches are making in the world,” said the finance council’s Brewer. “In the church, as with many organizations, we struggle with how to make our administrative structures and processes truly support our mission. I hope this new data can help support that mission more effectively.”
Although membership was down for the
The conferences reporting membership growth in 2009 included Central Texas, North Georgia, Red Bird Missionary,
Conferences with the largest membership declines were Alaska Missionary,
Congregations use new data in to support mission
“Some of the acceleration in declining membership could be a result of changes in the statistical forms,” Brewer said. “These changes allowed churches more easily (to) reconcile their statistical reports with their membership records and may have contributed to the greater decrease.”
Deb Smith, best practices director at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, said the denomination loses most members by death and removal by charge conference. However, she added, the denomination is receiving more new members from other denominations than it is losing. Between 2008 and 2009, The United Methodist Church received 56,000 members through transfer, while about half that number transferred to other denominations.
“We added by profession of faith almost one and one-half times those who withdrew,” Smith said.
“We have to always ask ourselves if the things we count and the frequency by which we count them meets the missional needs of our church,” Brewer said. “A lot of changes were made to the statistical forms this quadrennium to provide a more complete picture of congregational ministry. I expect we’ll have a number of changes in the next quadrennium as well.”
Brewer has been excited and gratified to see how conferences are using their data in new and creative ways to support their mission.
“The statistical data of the church gives us a wealth of historical data going back, in some cases, as far as the late 1700s,” he said. Brewer pointed out, however, that the role and meaning of many of these measures — and membership in particular — have changed over time.
“We must continue to change and adapt our statistics while balancing the need to measure what we do with the time and effort that pastors, staff and volunteers spend reporting the information.”
The racial/ethnic breakdown for U.S. United Methodist membership indicates 91.2 percent white, 5.9 percent African American/black, 1.1 percent Asian, 0.9 percent Hispanic/Latino, 0.4 percent multi-racial, 0.3 percent Native American and 0.2 percent Pacific Islander.
Relationships attract seekers
“Areas where the presence is new can learn from conferences (that) have been in this type of ministry for decades. Providing places where immigrants can worship in their native tongue is yet another opportunity for our conferences to share the good news of our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Often, the best way to draw people, especially young adults, to the church is not by inviting them to worship.
“The increasing ranks of the unchurched will very likely not encounter the congregation first in worship because that is the last place they would want to go on their own, no matter how ‘cool’ it is,” said the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources at the Board of Discipleship.
“They will encounter Christians they know through relationships with them and perhaps through groups or mission efforts they become involved in outside the congregation. They may eventually be invited to worship and, maybe, over time, grow to be disciples. But most of that actual growth remains more likely to happen outside the congregation proper rather than within it.”
He often asks people to describe a time in their life when their discipleship to Jesus radically deepened. Most describe something that happened outside, rather than inside, a congregation.
“The assumption that congregations are primary venues for discipleship seems unsupported by what I'm hearing,” Burton-Edwards said.
“John Wesley planted exactly zero congregations. The Methodist societies were not congregations, nor were class meetings, bands or field preaching. They were para-congregational groups that helped disciple people, send them in mission and connect them to congregations.”
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.