The worship roll has been growing but membership has still been declining in the United Methodist Church. According to tentative statistics compiled by the denomination’s communications team, church membership declined by more than 71,000 in 2004 despite the addition of 15,000 United Methodists to the rolls.
The figures are based on unaudited reports by the church’s 63 regional conferences. These conferences – or districts – held annual meetings throughout May and June, and during it presented individual membership statistics.
The United Methodist News Service, which compiled the figures, reported that membership loss in these conferences ranged from 79 people to 6,581 people. Together, there were at least 17,518 members lost in the U.S.
The decline in membership marks a longstanding trend within historic mainline Protestant churches. For the last three decades, millions flooded out of these mainline churches, including the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, the American Baptist Churches, and the United Church of Christ. On average, mainline churches have lost about 10 percent of their members every five years.
Compared to those churches, the United Methodists are somewhat lucky – 71,000 is not even a one percentage point decline for the 8.2 million-member denomination.
The rate of membership decline slowed during the late 199’s for the United Methodists, but increased again in the first two years of the 21st century. Last year, the church lost 69,000 members.