RMN Causes a Decline in United Methodist UMC Congregations

March 28, 2018

“Reconciling” United Methodist Churches Lose Members

Sexual morality is one of the most controversial and most widely discussed issues in our society today. Churches are not immune from related controversies. Within the United Methodist Church, the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) has urged the denomination to stray from biblical teachings on marriage. The unofficial group of United Methodists now known as RMN emerged in 1982 to advocate for the gay and lesbian community. It alsolaunched a decades-long, unsuccessful campaign to get global United Methodism to abandon biblical teaching and officially allow same-sex union ceremonies and the ordination of openly homosexually active clergy. However, RMN’s efforts have taken a toll on their affiliated congregations.

RMN’s stated mission speaks of “resist[ing] evil, injustice, and oppression as we seek justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. It believes that all sexual orientations are a gift from God and fights to bring churches to recognize this and celebrate related non-traditional sexual practices, including same-sex unions, and sex-reassignment surgeries. Over the years, hundreds of U.S. United Methodist congregations (out of the denomination’s tens of thousands of congregations around the world) have declared themselves to be “Reconciling Congregations” formally supporting RMN.

I have often heard that once a United Methodist congregation joins RMN, it takes a toll on the congregation. To prove this theory, I have compiled data for most United Methodist congregations that joined RMN between 2008 and 2014. The denomination’s official online data directory, www.UMdata.org, does not include key information before 2007 or after 2016.

When comparing the membership and worship attendance numbers for the year immediately before a congregation joined RMN to the statistics for the year immediately after this decision was made, I found that most congregations declined in both attendance and membership. For example, First UMC in Ferndale, Michigan lost 20.55 percent of its members (from 219 to 174) and 21.18 percent of its average reported worship attendance (85 to 67).

However, it is helpful also to look at longer-term trends. When members are displeased about their congregation becoming affiliated with RMN,  it may take a while for them completely to drift away from that church, and it can take two or more years after their last appearance in worship before they are actually removed from the membership rolls (Per Paragraph 228 of the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline). Additionally, the actual decline may be far greater as the data is based on figures provided by the congregations. It is relatively easy for pastors to skew their numbers for membership and especially attendance.

Meanwhile, proponents of RMN sometimes argue that congregations that make decisions to conform to worldly views on sexuality can initially lose a number of people, but then eventually recover by attracting those who appreciate their liberal view of sexuality. A V-shaped curve is what the RMN supporters like to describe. Yes, it is true to a certain degree that some congregations have experienced growth in both membership and attendance some time after joining RMN. But often this was followed by another period of decline. Out of the 130 congregations who joined RMN between 2008 and 2014, only 14 eventually saw their membership and attendance rise to exceed the numbers it had the year before they joined RMN. That is only about 10 percent of “Reconciling” congregations experiencing a V-shaped curve.

In other words, what the readily available data shows is that when congregations affiliate with RMN, in most cases they lose people initially and do not fully recover.

In the big picture, for each of the UMC’s five U.S. Jurisdictions, I have calculated the average decline for recently RMN-affiliated congregations as a whole by comparing the TOTAL membership and worship attendance figures for all such congregations in each region the year before they joined RMN and comparing these statistics to those for the last year on record (2016). This allows us to observe longer-term trends of 3-9 years. For example, the total membership for the Northeastern congregations before they separately joined RMN was 10,034. The total membership for these same congregations in 2016 was 9,117. So this was an overall decline of 9.14 percent for the newly “Reconciled” congregations within that jurisdiction.

Without exception, in all five jurisdictions, membership and attendance for RMN churches dropped. Those in the Northeastern Jurisdiction dropped 9.14 percent in membership and 16.60 percent in attendance. Those in the Western Jurisdiction dropped 11.57 percent in membership and 21.29 percent in attendance. For those in the North Central Jurisdiction, membership dropped by 5.74 percent and attendance dropped 11.49 percent. Those in the Southeastern Jurisdiction dropped 10.56 percent in membership and 16.60 percent in attendance. Finally, those in the South Central Jurisdiction dropped 6.95 in membership but 3.75 percent in attendance. Although the decrease is more dramatic in some places than in others, the clear pattern is that congregations lose people after they join RMN.

It is worth thinking of the toll such losses can mean for a single congregation. For example, Good Samaritan UMC in the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the Western Jurisdiction originally had 435 members and 207 people in average worship attendance before they joined RMN in 2011. However, after this the congregation suffered a decline trajectory, losing 17.70 percent of its members (down to 357) and 34.78 percent of its worship attendance (down to 135) by 2016. Similar dramatic declines were the case with many other congregations all over the country. Again, with only a handful of exceptions, United Methodist congregations that RMN reported as joining its network between 2008 and 2014 declined and have never recovered.

Through my research of compiling the statistics for churches that joined RMN within the recent years for which data is readily available, I have found a clear overall trend, with only a few exceptions, of congregations declining after they make this change. Although the average decline varies somewhat between different congregations and regions, the fact is that the number of people leaving the church was almost always greater than the number of new people joining the church.

I strongly believe that the church should never turn away a lost sheep. In order to bring back those who strayed, I encourage churches to have grace, love those who are living a life that is displeasing to God, and to preach the Biblical truth fearlessly. Finally, I pray that all of the pastors and leaders of “Reconciling” congregations and that those who part of the LGBTQ community repent and come back to our loving Father’s arms.


25 Responses to “Reconciling” United Methodist Churches Lose Members

  1. Chet Klinger says:

    Given that UMC churches are showing declines across the board in every jurisdiction in the US, I’m wondering how much of that decline in RMN churches would have occurred had the churches not joined RMN. I believe across the denomination in the US, general declines, for whatever variety of reasons, are somewhere between 1% and 4% depending upon jurisdictions. This would show declines in RMC at maybe 6% rather than 10%, wouldn’t?

  2. SKipper says:

    One cannot emphasize too strongly how very very dangerous this “Reconciling” group is. A danger to the souls of mankind! They encourage people into sexual confusion, which is abuse, plain and simple. They want people to live in sexual perversion knowing all the while how evil it is. They destroy people’s relationship with God and build up their faith in their own self rather than in God. It is right to be offended that they call themselves United Methodists!

    I Samuel 2:9-10

    “He guards the steps of His faithful ones,
    but the wicked are silenced in darkness,
    for a man does not prevail by his own strength.

    Those who oppose the Lord will be shattered,
    He will thunder in the heavens against them.
    The Lord will judge the ends of the earth.”

    Wesley said “sin is a known violation of a commandment of God.” A right relationship with God inevitably brings with it obedience from the heart, highly valued by God. This obedience is noticeably absent in the Reconcilers.

    Christ may not be what they want, but Christ is what they need. It is not too late for them to turn back to God.

    • Cheri Mielitz says:

      I would agree completely. You can’t change God’s word to fit the world’s view. We must stand on and be obedient to the word of God. What are we reconciling to? I believe God loves us all the same. We are all sinners and we need to repent and turn away from our sins. God will not be mocked and it is stated in the Bible that we are not to change His word. Now all my life I have been taught from God’s word what is right and what is wrong . I’m a Methodist , but I’m not going to stay in a church that condones sin, marries it, and puts it in the pulpet. I want to love and have compassion for all. I want to know how we can help . I also want to follow Jesus, and do what he would do. I think he would love unconditionally, He would tell them what is wrong and right compassionately, and then He would say repent and go and sin no more. I am not homophobic, or a bigot. I just believe God’s words are true and that watering down the gospel , and condoning sin of any kind is wrong. I’m not as worried about the numbers or the money. I’m concerned that we do what is God’s will in this situation.

  3. Bill Ivins says:

    It is true that the UMC is loosing membership and attendance all across the board in the United States. What is most startling for me is that our nation is growing, while the church is in numeric decline. As a percentage of the population, the UMC is shrinking more rapidly than we want to admit.

    Leaders within the Progressive wing of the church insist that a full embrace of homosexuality is necessary in order to bring in younger generations who (they say) are more tolerant of homosexuality. But where is the proof? The UCC, ELCA, PCUSA, and the Episcopal Church have all embraced the gay agenda. Yet their memberships are in more rapid decline than the UMC.

    RMN congregations in the United Methodist Church are mostly old and white. They’re not living the diversity dream they profess to embrace. In other words, young people are not flocking to Progressive, gay affirming congregations in the UMC.

    Where one finds growth and age/racial diversity is among the various theologically conservative Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. What is more, younger people are flocking to conservative and evangelical churches too.

    The so-called “One Church” model that is currently being talked about sacrifices Truth at the altar of diversity. If the One Church model is embraced, it will plunge the United Methodist Church into the abyss and we’ll become an obscure, scarcely read footnote in Christian history.

  4. theenemyhatesclarity says:

    Excellent article, Ms. Chung. Thank you for your research.

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

  5. Jamie Hamrick says:

    This is just clear evidence! Thank you

  6. William says:

    Forget the bishops and what they appear to be planning to propose. Special General Conference 2019 so desperately needs to be turned into a Bible Conference — with the orthodox forces coming in with Scripture as their weapon and challenge the progressive forces to bring forth their Scripture that backs up their claims that the practice of homosexuality is not a sin, and their Scripture that supports same-sex marriage. Let the delegates then vote. If the vote turns out to be liberalizing the sexual ethics and definition of marriage for the church, then we will know for sure that Satan is in control and the necessary division of the UMC can commence. Otherwise, the progressives who refuse to repent and come home could be invited to exit voluntarily or involuntarily to a denomination friendly to their agenda.

    Turn this General Conference into a BIBLE STUDY and let the decision be based on that alone — not some secular driven “local option” or “three branches” structure that would be mostly devoid of Biblical support.

    • Christine Simcisko says:

      I completely agree with you idea of turning the 2019 General Conference into a Bible conference.

  7. MikeS says:

    For groups like this, shrinkage is not failure, it’s success. The goal is Power and Control. Taking control of a shrinking group is something they count as a victory.

  8. James Waugh says:

    This is a straw man argument if I ever saw one. Ms. Chung cherry picked the data that she wanted to use (RMN churches). The only way her article would have any validity is if she would have researched a group of similar non-reconciling congregations in each conference/jurisdiction and tracked them over the same period to see if they gained or lost members. This is nothing but a hatchet job and smear tactic on behalf of the IRD (why am I not surprised).

    • John Smith says:

      Then this is a great opportunity for you to show the errors and prove that RMN congregations don’t suffer greater losses. You won’t because we know the data won’t support it and cherry picking attacks on methodology simply show the weakness of the attack.

      • James Waugh says:

        This article has so many holes in it that you could drive a Mack truck through it. The author did not use any control data to back up her point. I don’t have to prove it, she does. It is really shameful to publish an article such as this. However, given the agenda of IRD, this is what I expect from them. Sad.

    • Donald says:

      I will eagerly await your providing documentation that refutes this article. Until then, you have simply demonstrated one more time that the so-called “progressive” wing of the various Legacy Denominations can only call names and provide unproven templates for their assertions.

      This pattern exists within every one of the Legacy Denominations. So far the PC(USA) is winning the race to see which one of them can get below 1M total members – but somehow no one is cheering that pattern.

  9. Daniel says:

    While I totally respect Christians who want to maintain the historic teaching on marriage, I think the language and ACTION around this issue must change to make any inroads among the LGBT community and those who are their friends and family. I have many friends who are in monogamous same-sex relationships, only one of the couples has married, even though it’s legal now. That alone tells me something, not that they don’t love one another, but that they don’t necessarily think marriage is the answer.

    I think the language needs to change is that instead of constantly attacking RNM or LGBT-affirming Christians, it would behoove to preach the Gospels and let the Word stand for itself. I think it’s already been made pretty clear that if UMC does change the BoD on marriage, that there will indeed be a split. I fully expect that to happen, but I believe if it needs to happen, it shouldn’t be primarily over LGBT people. It’s about sexual ethics more broadly. Those calling for changing the language of the BoD have not been absolutely clear what they want. Is it just marriage equality or is it a complete liberalization of sexuality. Unfortunately, I suspect it’s the latter, which will be absolutely unacceptable to pretty much everyone.

  10. Daniel says:

    Why didn’t my last comment get posted? Please email me the reason or please post. Thank you.

  11. Wade Arnold says:

    I really appreciate the effort you put into the research for the article; however, the statistics you generated are ultimately meaningless as presented. Could it be that RMN congregations had lower rates of decline than other churches in their jurisdictions, or better yet, in their districts? If your point is that RMN affiliation is bad for a congregation, then you have to show empirically that their rates of decline are greater than non-RMN affiliated churches, which you have not done.

    My point is this, without comparative data, the data you present is uninterpretable. If you would like some help in designing this type of research, feel free to contact me.

    • Will Davis says:

      I understand what you mean but there is also a preponderance of anecdotal evidence that the gay issue will cause a loss of members in the long run. It caused a complete split in the local Presbyterian Church in my city. One group wanted to adopt the stance that PCUSA ordered but more than half didn’t so the church was cut in half with a lot of hurt feelings.That coupled with the move by many mainline churches toward minimizing the belief in the Resurrection is causing many to look elsewhere. The Resurrection is, after all, the reason we are Christians.

  12. Darren Wertz says:

    Sadly the picture this brings to mind is of A fleet of empty ships, carrying no one to heaven.

  13. Brendan says:

    Interestingly, (except for the South Central, strangely enough) the decline in active worshipers was always higher than the decline in membership.

    This would likely be a much larger hit to a congregation than the simple numbers reflect. In a church, as the old saying goes, “90% of the work gets done by 10% of the people”. Losing an active and involved worshiper, who attends every week, regularly donates to the church, and likely holds a volunteer position or two, is going to hurt a congregation much more than losing someone who is carried on the membership roles, but only shows up at Christmas and Easter.

  14. John Smith says:

    My problem with this article is one of the major problems I have with the UMC. The focus is on bottoms in the pews and coins in the plate.

    If RMN is correct it doesn’t matter if its losing members. If the conservatives are wrong but gaining members it doesn’t matter. Which one is right, not which one gets more members, should be the question.

    • Skipper says:

      Had they upheld the truth it wouldn’t matter if losing members, but they present a false message. Those “rightly dividing the Word of God” will recognize same-sex relationships as evil and inappropriate. Unfortunately, many will make that choice anyway. As followers, Methodists are here to help turn them back to God.

  15. Rev. Laura Schultz says:

    My experience is that every church I have seen that a has become reconciling has lost members and has lost diversity.

    When I attended Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., it was the most diverse church that I had ever been too with an interesting and companionable balance between liberals and conservatives. Those who were gay were openly loved by all who were in the congregation. Once it became reconciling, those on the conservative end felt that their values had been pushed aside and their theology no longer was allowed to be part of the conversation because the other voices quieted down their contribution to the dialogue. Most of the conservatives left the church, reducing it to about half its size. What a shame.!!

    Even more disturbing was the fact that those who had witnessed healing from sexual confusion and change, were very harshly shunned and quieted without the opportunity to share the restorative gift, the transformation, that true reconciliation could bring.

    Real dialogue was stifled, and evidence of real healing was severely censored.

    This also became true of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the UMC, where those with voices of healing and restoration were shut out and refused a voice in the public forums such as annual conference and editorial participation in the conference news paper. Those in charge made sure that debate was limited by forming small groups to express feelings, not theological depth.

    And despite the General Conference rulings and admonition against using funds to support the RMN, the conference news paper and email announcements were regularly used to promote the RMN meeting and causes.

    In addition, the rules of the annual conference in regard to exhibits at annual conference specifically prohibits the exhibits that go against the Book of Discipline, yet the RMN was allowed prominent display space at each annual conference. Appeal to the Bishop and organizers was dismissed without resolution.

  16. Edie says:

    Your argument starts from the false premise that people don’t like Reconciling, your second is that church membership has dropped, your conclusion is that churches that are reconciling will lose members. Let me show how silly this argument is. I propose that church members do not like population growth, church membership has dropped, therefore population growth is the cause of church membership decline. I belong to a Reconciling congregation that has become more Christ centered as a result of becoming Reconciling. I would much rather be part of a smaller Christ centered church that is as inclusive as Jesus was than to be in a mega church that unlike Jesus hates a lot of people.

  17. Julie says:

    I believe it is safe to say all UMCs have lost worship attendance and members in this period in the US. I don’t think it fair to single out churches affiliated with RMN without comparing them to comparable size conservative congregations. Furthermore, I’ve never heard of a congregation affiliated with RMN to leave the denomination yet at least 2 congregations in Mississippi and 1 in Pennsylvania have done so in less than 2 years. I look forward to an updated version of this claim when 2017 numbers are in and those decreases are counted.

  18. Julie says:

    Oh look, 2 more conservative (NOT Reconciling) UMC’s lose whole congregations of people. http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/2-churches-vote-to-leave-denomination#.WsQ0dk-87F8.facebook

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