Membership figures show strength outside U.S.
5/5/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
DALLAS (UMNS) - Numbers might never lie, but in some cases they say different things to different people.
data on church membership trends drew divergent reactions from the
United Methodist Church's bishops during their April 28-May 2 meeting.
Some bishops, focusing on the U.S. figures, expressed a sense of urgency
about reversing the downward membership trend. Other bishops, noting
the lack of global data, said the U.S. research didn't necessarily
reflect the strength of the denomination as a whole.
percentage of U.S. congregations not receiving at least one member on
confession of faith or "restored" status increased from 37.8 percent in
1984 to 40.7 percent in 2000, according to the report, "Making Disciples
for Jesus Christ." Bishop John Hopkins, who leads the church's
Minnesota Area, presented the report on behalf of the Council of
Bishops' committee on pastoral concerns.
The committee's Bishop
Warner Brown, leader of the Denver Area, proposed that the council
suspend its committees except the executive committee in the last year
of the quadrennium to focus on making disciples. The executive committee
would oversee the other committees' work for that period. "We need to
make priorities in how we lead the church in terms of turning around the
trend of a 20-year decline," Brown said.
While acknowledging the
need to address the issue, the bishops had reservations about
suspending their committees and referred the proposal to the executive
The report also showed that in 2002, the
denomination's membership rose over the 10 million mark for the first
time since 1979. That increase was due to growth in numbers outside the
United States, particularly in Africa.
Two African bishops
offered a different perspective on the vitality of the church from that
reflected in the U.S. membership data.
"Why are we talking about
the decline of membership?" asked Bishop Emilio DeCarvalho, retired, of
Luanda, Angola. "Thousands and thousands of children are attending
Sunday school in Africa."
Bishop Joao Somane Machado, who leads
the Mozambique Area, said he was disappointed in the proposal to suspend
the committees, noting that the bishops whose areas are growing in
membership have not been asked how their churches are growing while
others are not.
"In Africa, we are evangelizing," he told the
council. "It's like you don't want to hear that word anymore." How, he
asked, can the bishops exchange and share information so the U.S.
bishops can benefit from the experience of the African bishops?
data shows that the central conferences have nearly 20 percent of the
church's membership, with Africa accounting for 16 percent, Southeast
Asia, 2 percent, and Europe, 1 percent.
Jurisdiction has 28 percent of the members; South Central, 18 percent;
North Central, 16 percent; Northeastern, 15 percent; and Western, 4
The report drew criticism from some bishops for its lack
of data on churches outside the United States. "The strategy has to be a
holistic strategy," said Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the Los Angeles
The church's General Council on Finance and Administration
has indicated there are challenges in terms of collecting some of the
information for the central conferences, Brown explained.
percentage of local churches not receiving anyone on confession of faith
in 2000 was largest in the Southeastern Jurisdiction and smallest in
the Western Jurisdiction. The breakdown: Southeastern, 43.5 percent;
Northeastern, 42.3 percent; South Central, 40.1 percent; North Central,
36.6 percent; and Western, 26.8 percent.
Southeastern and South Central jurisdictions were the only two in the
United States that had increases in the numbers of people received on
confession of faith in 2000 compared with 1984. The breakdown:
Southeastern, up 17.4 percent; South Central, up 14 percent; Western,
down 11.3 percent; Northeastern, down 14.4 percent; North Central, down
As of 2000, United Methodists represented 3.7
percent of the U.S. population, compared with 7.1 percent for the
Southern Baptists and 22 percent for the Catholics.
also noted that the denomination has a widespread presence. "Out of the
3,171 counties in the United States, the United Methodist Church has a
congregational presence in 3,003 counties, more than any other
denomination in the United States."
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