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United Methodist attendance rises, but membership continues down

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A UMNS file photo by Jay Mallin

Though membership declined in the past year, worship attendance increased.
July 12, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

Two United Methodist annual conferences grew by more than 7,000 members during 2004. In addition, average attendance at morning worship grew by a small margin while membership in the denomination in the United States declined by more than 71,000 from the previous year.

The Wyoming and North Georgia annual conferences led the way in reported membership growth for 2004. The two conferences collectively reported an increase of 7,576 members in local congregations.

The church’s General Council on Finance and Administration will give a definitive report on membership statistics for the denomination later this year for 2004, but unaudited reports supplied by conference communicators and others indicate that although 15,138 new United Methodists were added to the rolls, U.S. membership continued to decline, falling by a net figure of at least 71,518 people for 2004. Figures from one conference were still unavailable as of July 12.

Membership declined by 69,141, to a total of less than 8.2 million U.S. members, in 2003, reported the GCFA in February. That figure reflected a continuing decline in U.S. membership that has been ongoing for at least three decades. About 1.9 million additional United Methodists live in Europe, Asia and Africa, but those statistics are not complete because some conferences had not reported or met for annual sessions by July 11. The fastest growth in church membership is occurring in Africa.

Of the 62 annual (regional) conferences that provided reports to United Methodist News Service, 14 had membership increases. Those with the largest increases were North Georgia (3,971); Wyoming (3,605); North Carolina (1,509); Western North Carolina (1,140); Central Texas (1,099); Texas (974); North Texas (903); and Alabama-West Florida (800).

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Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey
Annual conferences had membership declines ranging from 79 people to 6,581, with West Ohio posting the largest decline. Other conferences with large losses were Baltimore-Washington (5,694); Northern Illinois (4,674); Minnesota (4,618); Wisconsin (3,669); Florida (3,409); Central Pennsylvania (3,405); and New England (3,372).

The average weekly attendance at the main Sunday worship service in 2002 was 3.49 million, the most recent figure from the denomination’s General Minutes.

Fifteen out of 61 conferences reported increases in average weekly worship attendance, for 2004. The worship attendance in the Nebraska Conference stood at 36,369, up from 33,279 in the previous year. The Tennessee Conference reported an increase of 3,836 people, bringing average weekly worship attendance to 49,143.

North Georgia United Methodists charted a net gain of 3,971 members in 2004, for a total conference membership of 337,635. While the gain is not as large as in past years, the conference continues a record of growth for the past two decades.

Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey of the Western North Carolina Conference reported that the conference has experienced membership growth for the 15th consecutive year. Membership was up 1,140 from the previous year’s 293,735. The annual statistical report highlighted that since 1969, membership had increased 4 percent, while population in North Carolina increased by 68 percent.

The three missionary conferences of the church also reported growth. Alaska grew by one member, while the Oklahoma Indian and Red Bird missionary conferences grew by 21 and 18, respectively.

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Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr.
The Texas Conference continued its six-year trend of membership growth with a net gain of 974 members in 2004, making the total 290,855. While the conference experienced growth in five ethnic areas, it continued a third year of decline in average worship attendance.

Throughout the past 12 years, overall membership in the Florida Annual Conference has steadily decreased by 18,000 members, and worship attendance has increased by slightly more than 10,000. Conference membership stands at 325,609, down 3,409 from the previous year.

Of the 257 churches in the Rocky Mountain Conference, 52 have shown consistent growth in worship attendance and membership. Bishop Warner Brown Jr. pointed out that the conference has 12 churches with memberships greater than 1,000, which is more than any other conference in the Western Jurisdiction.

Forty-seven percent of the churches in the California-Nevada Conference grew or stayed the same in membership, and 298 congregations in Iowa reported an increase in membership.

United Methodism’s rate of decline in the United States slowed during the late 1990s, but it increased again in the first two years of the 21st century. A loss of 36,500 members in 2000 followed a drop of 34,000 in 1999. Previous annual declines from 1998 back to 1995 were 40,500, 44,000, 43,000 and 49,000, respectively. From 1990 to 1994, annual declines varied from 55,000 to 67,000 members.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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North Georgia United Methodist Church

The Wyoming Annual Conference

2005 Annual Conference Reports

General Council on Finance and Administration