Today’s news is about a United Methodist church trial for a Pennsylvania clergy who defied the church’s prohibition on same sex rites. But the push for sexual and theological liberalization is only a small part of what is happening in the 12.5 million member global United Methodist Church.
Recent membership numbers used to apportion delegates for the 2016 General Conference illustrate that United Methodism’s future is increasingly African and less and less American liberal Protestantism.
Between 2009 and 2012 United Methodist congregations in Africa gained over 662,000 members in just 3 years. Meanwhile, the U.S. church lost about 280,000 members during those three years.
In 2012 Africans rose to become 39 percent of the United Methodist Church from 35 percent in 2009. The U.S. church sank from 63 percent to 59 percent. African membership rose by 16 percent while U.S. membership declined by 4 percent. Reportedly membership in the Philippines rose by 49 percent, from 1.2 percent of the church to become 1.73 percent of the church. Europe’s membership declined by 7.5 percent, and its share of the church remains at just below one half of one percent.
The United Methodist Church globally gained 428,566 members or 3 percent from 2009 to 2012. The fastest declining areas were Europe, the U.S. North Central Jurisdiction, which lost over 6 percent, the Northeast Jurisdiction, which lost 5.6 percent, and the Western Jurisdiction, which lost just over 5 percent. The South Central lost just under 2 percent, and the Southeast lost under 2.6 percent.
At the 2016 General Conference 58 percent of the delegates will come from the U.S., compared to 61 percent in 2012. Thirty percent will come from Africa, 4.6 percent from Europe and 5.8 percent from the Philippines. Europe and the Philippines get disproportionate representation because they have more clergy per lay people and because each annual conference is guaranteed at least 2 delegates no matter how small.
Last year there were 7,390,691 United Methodists in the U.S., compared to over 11 million in 1969, signifying a loss of about 28 percent. Last year there were 4,852,976 church members in Africa. At the current rates of increase for Africa and decrease for the U.S., African United Methodists may outnumber U.S. United Methodists within 8-10 years. United Methodism in Africa has been gaining about 220,000 members annually while the U.S. church loses about 90,000 annually.
Total United Methodist membership in 2012 was 12,518,936, including 216,326 in the Philippines and 58,943 in Europe.