Membership dips in U.S. but increases in other countries
April 21, 2006
Tenn. (UMNS) — U.S. membership in the United Methodist Church decreased
by less than 1 percent in 2004, and worship attendance experienced a
similar dip, according to a report from the denomination's finance
The number of United Methodist members in the United
States decreased by 0.81 percent, to about 8.07 million, and worship
attendance was down by 0.96 percent from 2003, according to the General
Council on Finance and Administration’s report, The State of Our Connection.
Membership has declined annually since the formation of
the denomination in 1968. During the last 10-year period, the number of
members churchwide decreased by 5.48 percent.
Countering the U.S. decline, United Methodist lay
membership in the central conferences — regions of the church in Africa,
Asia and Europe — increased more than 68 percent from 1995 to 2004, to
"In the central conferences, significant growth has been
seen in Africa, with a growth rate of 30 percent in the last four
years," said Scott Brewer, GCFA senior researcher. Europe, particularly
in the former Soviet Republics and Eastern Bloc areas, has also
experienced expansion, reporting a growth rate of 3.5 percent during the
same period, he said.
The finance agency noted that data reporting in the
central conferences is limited, and Brewer said GCFA is working with
church leaders in those areas to improve the exchange of information.
Of the 63 U.S.-based annual (regional) conferences, 13
reported increases in membership in 2004. A slightly higher number, 16,
reported attendance growth.
Tool for planning
The agency said it is consulting with the Council of
Bishops and the Connectional Table to analyze the membership and
"Preliminary analysis has begun to make its way into
dialogue regarding church vision and programming," said John Goolsbey,
deputy general secretary of administration at GCFA. "In early March,
GCFA staff discussed the report with the Council of Bishops Executive
Committee. We have shared the report, as well, with members of the
"The 2004 membership and attendance data show declines in
membership and attendance that are greater than projected," he said.
"These are continuations of long-term trends requiring thoughtful
analysis and critical dialogue. We will continue to collaborate with the
Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table regarding the
implications of these trends for the denomination's vision and future
GCFA also offers annual conferences an expanded analysis of trends and customized reports for use in planning.
"This annual report is a significant tool for the church
in planning at the general, regional and local levels," Brewer said. The
report is available at http://www.gcfa.org/State%20of%20Connection.pdf.
By the numbers
The 13 U.S. conferences reporting membership increases
included Alabama-West Florida (0.54 percent), Alaska Missionary (0.02
percent), Central Texas (0.52), Kentucky (0.15), Louisiana (0.17), North
Carolina (0.63), North Georgia (1.19), North Texas (0.57), Oklahoma
Missionary (0.34), Red Bird Missionary (2.41), Tennessee (0.57), Texas
(0.34) and Western North Carolina (0.39).
|Image courtesy of GCFA
1.3 from 'The State of Our Connection' shows membership levels in the
central (red) and jurisdictional (blue) conferences.
Percentage decreases ranged as high as 4.33 percent,
posted by the Yellowstone Conference, followed by 3.5 percent in
Northern Illinois and 3.3 percent in New England. Fifty conferences
posted membership declines from 2003.
The 16 conferences reporting attendance growth in 2004
included Alabama-West Florida (up 2.35 percent), Alaska Missionary
(0.58), Central Pennsylvania (0.67), Florida (0.02), Holston (0.73),
Missouri (0.57), Nebraska (1.72), New York (1.0), North Georgia (0.22),
North Texas (0.25), Northern Illinois (0.66), Oklahoma (0.57),
Peninsula-Delaware (0.27), Tennessee (1.03), Western North Carolina
(0.96) and Wyoming (2.28).
Worship attendance dropped 17.39 percent in the Troy
Conference, followed by 8.43 percent in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary
Conference and 5.13 percent in the Pacific Northwest Conference. A total
of 47 U.S. conferences posted drops in attendance between 2003 and
Hispanic membership was uHispanic membership was up 6.18
percent, the eighth consecutive year of growth, according to GCFA. In
addition, Asian membership was slightly up for the fourth consecutive
year. Of all churches reporting statistics in 2004, 35.9 percent
reported membership increases, the agency said.
The largest U.S. conferences in terms of membership were Virginia, 341,850, North Georgia, 337,635, and Florida, 326,272.
Other findings in the report:
- The church had congregations in 2,997 U.S. counties in 2004, which GCFA said is more than any other denomination.
- The percentage of churches that did not receive
any members — on profession of faith or restored — rose from 37.8 in
1984 to 42.1 in 2004 (see the UMNS report "U.S. churches face crisis,"
March 21, 2006).
- Since 1994, the number of United Methodist
churches in the United States has decreased 4.9 percent, while the
number of pastoral charges has risen 1.8 percent. The denomination had a
total of 34,966 U.S. churches and 26,327 charges.
- Between 1993 and 2004, local congregations have
seen increases in expenditures for capital and debt (up 30 percent),
local church needs (41.7), connectional clergy support (7.5) and annual
conference support (32.3). In the same period, expenditures for general
church and for World Service and conference benevolence needs have
declined 22 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.
"This report cannot provide the final word on the state
of our connection, but it can contribute to a continuing conversation
about what it means to be a strong, faithful and living church," GCFA
staff noted in the report. "Our goal is to raise some of the questions
we believe are relevant in forming the vision that will lead our
connectional church into its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ
for the transformation of the world."
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.