August 2, 2012

United Methodism’s U.S. Spiral

The United Methodist Church in the U.S. lost at least another 78,000 members in 2011, with 4 U.S. annual conferences yet to report, bringing U.S. membership probably down below 7.5 million.  Only 3 annual conferences reported both membership and attendance growth.   Two of the three can perhaps be credited to Bishop Lindsey Davis, an evangelical who now leads Kentucky and previously lead North Georgia.    Both conferences each gained over 1000 members.

 

There were also 240 new members in Greater New Jersey.  The Northeast Jurisdiction otherwise is among the fastest declining areas of United Methodism.  Central Texas was the fourth annual conference that gained members though it declined in attendance.

United Methodism has now fallen numerically to where it was in 1925, when its predecessor bodies combined had about 7.5 million members.  The U.S. population then had only about 118 million, compared to today’s over 300 million.  If United Methodism today retained the same population share as 1925, it would have about 20 million members.

The good news is that United Methodism continues to grow globally.  Most overseas membership numbers evidently are not yet available for 2011.  But Burundi and East Africa conferences together gained 68,000 members last year, growing by nearly 30 percent in one year.  So the gain of just those two relatively small areas almost compensated for total losses in the U.S.   Those two regions together comprise only about 7 percent of African United Methodism. In recent years African United Methodism has been growing about 200,000 members annually, compared to typical U.S. losses of 50,000 to 100,000 annually.  At the current rates, United Methodists in Africa may outnumber church members in the U.S. within a decade or so.

Does United Methodism in the U.S. have a future?  I predict the U.S. church will decline for another 25 years or so and will lose at least another 2 million members.  Eventually the growing African influence will begin to influence our church agencies and seminaries.   The Africans and other internationals almost got proportional representation on oversight of church agency boards at this year’s General Conference until the Judicial Council overturned the restructuring plan.  They will get it next General Conference.  Currently Africans only get about 3 or 4 percent of church agency board membership even though they comprise over 35 percent of total church membership.  

The implosion of membership in the U.S. is also an opportunity for evangelicals.  Liberal regions will implode the fastest, and evangelical churches may be the last ones standing.  It’s also inevitable that more conferences will have to be merged.  The Desert-Southwest Conference, until recently headed by liberal Bishop Minerva Carcano, is now down to 37,000 members, compared to North Georgia’s 358,000.  The entire Western Jurisdiction, the church’s most radical region, now comprises less than 3 percent of United Methodism. In fact, it’s now about equal in size to just the North Georgia Conference.  Probably it will eventually have to be disassembled into the North Central and South Central Jurisdictions.

United Methodism in the U.S. is a laboratory illustrating the failures of liberal theology.  “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” as an advertising slogan, appeals to liberal church elites.  It does not  convert non-believers or excite most believers. Of late, some liberal religionists, seeking consolation, have claimed that nearly ALL churches in the U.S. are in decline.  But their claim is not true.  Some conservative churches are declining or, like the Southern Baptists, have leveled off after decades of dramatic growth.  But the only growing denominations, like the Assemblies of God, are conservative.  And the fastest growing churches are nondenominational and evangelical.  All liberal denominations are in decline.  Overall church attendance in the U.S. has remained stable for 80 years, but Americans now attend different churches. 

Almost none of the current U.S. United Methodist bishops will or can admit this reality.  It will take another generation to lead the renewal of United Methodism in America. Meanwhile, give thanks for our African church members.  And prayerfully encourage evangelical vitality wherever it exists in the U.S. church.


17 Responses to United Methodism’s U.S. Spiral

  1. jschrack says:

    The Desert-Southwest is so libreal it makes it hard for conservative Methodists to find a church where they know their family will be fed and grow spiritually. This is especially true in Tucson.

  2. KEGriswold says:

    I think within 50 years the UMC, along with other mainline denominations, will be on par with the ethnic Orthodox churches currently in the USA. They/we will be around but so small and insignificant that no one will pay attention to them. (BUT there is also the possibility that the UMC will explode into two or three groups; over homosexuality, and then who knows what will happen to the more orthodox/evangelical group.)

  3. Dan Trabue says:

    You all continue to seem to conflate decreasing numbers with bad theology. Consider this: young people are increasingly rejecting church (your churches) because of your position on marriage equity and how it seems so objectively immoral. If you lose the young people, how much longer will conservative churches last? One generation?

    And when people increasingly abandon you (as they’ve abandoned openly racist churches), will that be a sign of your infidelity to God or, when it’s you losing numbers, will you acknowledge that decreased numbers are not a sign of decreased fidelity to God?

    • PastorJ says:

      Where did you get this information Dan? Got any links?
      Wishful thinking does not equal true data. As a former youth pastor and now ordained minister, I think it is foolish to claim that the young people in our nation believe one way.
      Also, where’s God is this kind of thinking? Doesn’t Jesus claim that it is He – not the efforts of people – who brings people out of the world and into His Kingdom? Isn’t He the One who causes the seed of the gospel to grow and flourish?

      Go and find where the church is flourishing – where the fruit of the Holy Spirit is being manifest – and you’ll find the future of the UMC.

      • Dan Trabue says:

        Where did I get the information? Actual data, “Pastor J.” I didn’t/haven’t said “all the young people in our nation believe one way…” I said quite clearly that they are “increasingly rejecting” your position. And it is my opinion, based on observation, that you are losing this argument because your position seems innately immoral, unjust, irrational and based on religious prejudices.

        According to Pew, nearly two thirds of folks born after 1981 support marriage equity, and for good reasons: Opposition to it appears be based on religious biases, not rational, moral thinking. I can offer you more surveys and evidence to demonstrate how you all are losing this argument with young folk. My question was, why do you keep conflating “shrinking church attendance” with infidelity to the Gospel or God? Will it be your own infidelity to blame when your numbers shrink because you’ve lost 2/3 of the youth in our nation?

        where’s God is this kind of thinking? Doesn’t Jesus claim that it is He – not the efforts of people – who brings people out of the world and into His Kingdom?

        Amen. That was my point exactly. I was critiquing this repeated/ongoing demonization of shrinking congregations as being a godless and irrational position. Our fidelity may exactly cause our numbers to shrink, and saying “Look at those liberal churches, they’re teaching wrong, so they’re shrinking…” is human demonization, not Godly or rational thinking.

      • PastorJ says:

        Dan, saying that opposition to same sex marriage is based on thinking that is not rationoal or moral and that the position is inately immoral, unjust, irrational, and based on religious prejudices is ridiculous. Marriage has historically been between a man and a woman. And I’m sure you know the Genesis story with it’s statement that God created male and female and how they come together to be one. It’s a matter of language. Why do those who practice homosexuality want to redefine the traditional definition? Why not just recognize what the word “marriage” has always meant and seek similiar benefits under the name of “civil unions”? I know why. It’s because pro-gay groups are seeking to legitamize the homosexual lifestyle. It’s the same reason they spread the myth of the “gay gene” and the philosophy that our sexual desires determine our identity.

        I wouldn’t doubt it that same-sex marriage will one day be realized in this country. Will it be accepted in the church at large? No. The arguments have been put forth and they have failed to convince. Now, all the pro-gay groups in the church can do is call traditionalists names and label them as bigots and behind the times.

        And yes, there is a connection between fidelity to the word of God and church growth. God is the one who calls people out of the world and joins them flocks of His family. When the shepherds of those flocks become unfaithful, he raises up new shepherds and moves the flock (see Jer.). The pro-gay stance has failed to convince. The arguments for it have been soundly defeated by good scholarship and the overwhelming majority of the church throughout the world still believes that marriage is between one man and one woman.

  4. Maybe some of those concerned about the decline in membership should visit the Boston Avenue UMC in Tulsa and observe what is happening there. Success is possible.

  5. Donnie says:

    I guess it depends on who is leaving the church. From the sounds of things, it’s the “progressives” who are leaving, which is a very good thing.

    • Dan Trabue says:

      Hate, much?

      Increase the peace, my brothers/sisters, embrace grace.

      • PastorJ says:

        “Hate,” really? I mean really?
        Many of us will be glad when “progressives” do indeed leave the church so that we can quit investing time and money in this so-called debate that should have ended years ago and start investing it in caring for the weak and vulnerable and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. There is no telling how much good has been lost because people refuse to realize the purpose of debate – which is to come to a conclusion that best represents the truth.

      • Donnie says:

        For the record, I have no trouble worshiping side by side with progressive brothers and sisters. But, I have a HUGE problem with my denomination when they use MY tithe dollars to further political agendas I find disgusting. And I have a REALLY big problem when Nancy Pelosi gets on nationwide TV and thanks the UMC for helping pass Obamacare.

        Many conservative Methodists feel their church is more in the game of politics than religion.

        And yes, I would have an equally big problem if my tithes went to the NRA, AIPAC or any other organization I support with my own money. God’s money should remain with God, not go to political agendas.

      • Dan Trabue says:

        Thanks for the clarification, Donnie. I’m glad to hear you say you don’t really wish they’d leave the church or go to hell or anything of that sort.

        And I’m at least partially with you on using church money to further partisan politics.

        On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with church members being involved in political issues or churches themselves speaking on political issues. The racism of the first half (plus) of last century had huge political implications and those churches who engaged in those political implications did so rightly, I’d say.

        Taking a stand against injustice and oppression is part of what God’s people are to be doing, seems to me. Wouldn’t you agree?

        But the further down the line away from oppression it goes, the more blurry I think the line gets. Is a lack of health care a case of injustice? Perhaps so, probably so.

        But is one political solution better than another? I’m less sure.

        I think it’s just not always an easy call to make. We certainly don’t want to stand with those churches which history showed to be on the wrong side of oppression, but neither do we want to be a political puppet to one or another political party.

        Tough calls to make and brothers and sisters from across the political spectrum can, in good faith disagree, it seems to me.

  6. Dan Trabue says:

    Yes, it sounds hateful to me when a follower of Christ says they’d like to see “them” LEAVE the church (or in the parlance of conservatives, who believe leaving the church equals rejecting God, “go to hell,”) sounds hateful.

    Do you think “I wish they’d leave God’s church and go to hell…” sounds loving? Christian?

    Or is it the case that you think by saying, “I wish they’d leave the church,” that you MEAN, “I wish they’d leave the church and find God and salvation outside of the church…”?

  7. Dan Trabue says:

    Pastor J…

    do indeed leave the church so that we can quit investing time and money in this so-called debate

    Why is it a “so-called” debate? Because people refuse to acknowledge that you hold all wisdom? We are reasonable people, brother pastor. We love God. We want to do right. We’re not stupid. AND YET, we honestly believe you to be mistaken. We honestly believe your arguments are lacking in moral judgment, biblical solidity and rational foundations.

    Just because we dare to disagree with you doesn’t mean it isn’t a real debate (or, as I prefer to think of it, “a real discussion to be had with my beloved family in Christ, not a debate to be won…”)

    You see, the difference between what you’re expressing and what I’m expressing is that, even though I strongly disagree with your opinion and think you are harmfully, morally wrong, I don’t wish you’d leave God or the church. I wouldn’t wish separation from God or the church on my worst enemy.

    Would you really do so?

    • PastorJ says:

      A debate in the church presents two sides and there is a process to conclude what side is the most truthful and the most faithful to the Scriptures. In the UMC (which this article is about), those arguing for a pro-homosexual stance have failed to persuade. And instead of persuasion through argument, many have resorted to manipulating church politics, ad hominem attacks (‘your a homophobe because you don’t agree with our stance” or “intolerant, a bigot, etc.” – take your pick), and using all sorts of underhanded tactics and bullying to get what they want. They lost the debate (even many pro-homosexual supporters now openly acknowledge that their stance cannot be predicated on a purely exegetical basis). So, instead of saying, “you’re right, we were wrong – we’re changing our stance” or honestly saying that “we possess different assumptions, values, and beliefs about the scriptures and faith and do not possess the needed amount of shared belief to remain in fellowship” many are hurling insults and using underhanded tactics (for example, my DS once showed a pro-homosexual film at one our our clergy meetings that was nothing but shameless propaganda. Propaganda is for Nazi’s, not Christians). They should separate and join a fellowship that shares their same values and beliefs – not acting like this. My belief is that they won’t do this because they don’t want to lose all of their benefits (it’s all about the Benjamins).

  8. Dan Trabue says:

    A debate in the church presents two sides and there is a process to conclude what side is the most truthful and the most faithful to the Scriptures. In the UMC (which this article is about), those arguing for a pro-homosexual stance have failed to persuade.

    Pastor J…

    And instead of persuasion through argument, many have resorted to manipulating church politics, ad hominem attacks (‘your a homophobe because you don’t agree with our stance” or “intolerant, a bigot, etc.” – take your pick), and using all sorts of underhanded tactics and bullying to get what they want. They lost the debate (even many pro-homosexual supporters now openly acknowledge that their stance cannot be predicated on a purely exegetical basis).

    To the degree that this has happened (and I’m sure it has), I’m sorry that Christians on either side would do this. Name-calling and ad hom attacks are not of sound Christian behavior. I’ve seen it happen on all sides of these sorts of arguments and it’s wrong wherever it happens.

    In fact, many of my comments here at this blog have been in response to exactly that sort of ad hom, demonizing, demagoguing tactics. It happens on both sides and I pray (and work towards) seeing us change our behaviors, learning to disagree in love and with Christian respect.

    To that end, where you say…

    So, instead of saying, “you’re right, we were wrong – we’re changing our stance”

    It would be a false witness to suggest that those who disagree with you think they’re mistaken. While they may have failed to sway the majority in these particular UMC circles, does not mean that they are mistaken, only that they couldn’t persuade their fellow Methodists of the righteousness of their position. If someone truly believes they are in the right and are correctly following God, they absolutely should not change their position just to accomodate the majority of a particular denomination, agreed?

    You continued…

    …or honestly saying that “we possess different assumptions, values, and beliefs about the scriptures and faith and do not possess the needed amount of shared belief to remain in fellowship”

    It is always a difficult call to know exactly when the “right” time to leave your faith group is. For myself and my circles, the Southern Baptists made it easy and left us (literally kicking us out of our church building, which was owned by the local Southern Baptists). But the desire to want to stay with your denominational brothers and sisters and work out the differences is strong and I have a hard time faulting people for striving to work it out.

    So, Pastor J, I suppose you won’t understand how ironic I find it when you say…

    many are hurling insults and using underhanded tactics…

    And then immediately turn around and say…

    (for example, my DS once showed a pro-homosexual film at one our our clergy meetings that was nothing but shameless propaganda. Propaganda is for Nazi’s, not Christians).

    Comparing your brothers and sisters in Christ to NAZIS? That isn’t an insult? That isn’t an underhanded tactic?

    We all make mistakes in these disagreements. The greatest one is when we presume that “THEY” (those who dare disagree with us) are NOT part of the body of Christ, but they’re nazis, they’re heretics, they hate God, all because they disagree with us…

    Now, we see as through a glass, darkly, then we will see clearly. Now, we love in part, then we will love fully.

    Let us strive towards loving fully here and now and grow in the faith past this name-calling and misrepresentations. Slander, gossip and bearing false witness, after all, are not part of the realm of God. Whoever does it.

  9. PastorJ says:

    Dan, I didn’t call them Nazi’s and I am sure by the intelligence that you have displayed in your posts that you know better than that. Why did you insuate such a thing? My point was that the use of propaganda is wrong – it’s manipulative, it’s deceitful, and has been utilized throughout history by terrible people. The film she presented was hardcore propaganda. It belittled those who held to differeing views and misrepresented arguments. It presented false data (such as the “gay gene” which does not exist) and made false claims. That’s propaganda and should not be practiced by Christians – period.

    I’m sorry to hear your experience with the Southern Baptists. I graduated from a SB university (Union) and frankly, I don’t think you’re missing anything. I know what went down in the SBC when the conservatives supposedly “won the day” but it’s a totally different story in the UMC.

    And to your statement that people should not change their position if they believe they are being faithful to God – well yeah, but . . . somebody’s wrong. Somebody is not being faithful to God. And the practice of homosexuality is a big deal – especially the assumptions involved. I mean, a basic assumption is that our core identity is based around our sexual desires. Where do you find that in the Bible? How does that assumption jive with the notion of original sin? We are all broken by sin, so how can we rely on desires that arise out of ourselves to tell us who we are?

    I have a lot of colleagues who lean towards a pro-homosexual stance not because they are raging liberals but because they are very tender-hearted and loving. But, as I have said to them, promoting ans supporting these sort of false assumptions is not loving. In fact, they destroy peoples’ lives.

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