Methodists Continue to See Consistent Drop in U.S. Church Membership

Worship attendance has been on a consistent decline for the United Methodist Church in the United States, according to a report from the denomination’s finance agency. But for conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe, numbers have shot up over the past several years.

"In the central conferences, significant growth has been seen in Africa, with a growth rate of 30 percent in the last four years," said Scott Brewer, senior researcher for the UMC General Council on Finance and Administration, according to the United Methodist News Service.

In the latest report, The State of Our Connection, United Methodist members in the United States reportedly decreased by 0.81 percent, bringing numbers down to about 8.07 million. Worship attendance declined by 0.96 percent from 2003. For the last 10 years, members churchwide have seen a drop by 5.48 percent with membership declining each year since 1968 when the denomination was formed.

Membership and attendance numbers have landed under the scope in analyzation.
"Preliminary analysis has begun to make its way into dialogue regarding church vision and programming," said John Goolsbey, deputy general secretary of administration of GCFA, according to UMNS.

The report showed membership increases in 13 out of the 63 U.S.-based annual regional conferences in 2004 and attendance growth was reported in 16. Addressing the consistent drop, consultations began early March between the GCFA staff, the Council of Bishops Executive Committee and the Connectional Table.

"The 2004 membership and attendance data show declines in membership and attendance that are greater than projected," said Goolsbey. "These are continuations of long-term trends requiring thoughtful analysis and critical dialogue. We will continue to collaborate with the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table regarding the implications of these trends for the denomination's vision and future ministry."

GCFA reported congregations in 2,997 U.S. counties in 2004, more than any other denomination, it stated.

Overseas, lay membership has increased more than 68 percent between 1995 and 2004 to 1.88 million.

Numbers in Hispanic conferences rose 6.18 percent, the eighth consecutive year of growth, and Asian membership was slightly up for the fourth consecutive year.

"This report cannot provide the final word on the state of our connection, but it can contribute to a continuing conversation about what it means to be a strong, faithful and living church," stated the GCFA staff in the report. "Our goal is to raise some of the questions we believe are relevant in forming the vision that will lead our connectional church into its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

The finance agency noted that data reporting in the central conferences is limited, and efforts are being made to improve the exchange of information with church leaders.