Offering a new perspective on the reality of aging denominations, The United Methodist Church studied the death rates of Methodists and the general American population and found that the church is dying faster.
The death rates for members of the nearly 8 million-member denomination are about a third higher than the national average, according to the "Pockets of 'Youthfulness' in an Aging Denomination" report.
In 2005, the United Methodist death rate was 134 percent of the U.S. death rate among those 15 years and older.
Among UMC's 62 annual conferences, or regional bodies, in the United States, 34 of them (representing 41 percent of UMC membership) reported death rates 20 percent or higher than their general population.
"There is no future for The United Methodist Church in the United States unless we can learn to reach more people, younger people and more diverse people,” said the Rev. Lovett Weems, director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, which compiled the report, as reported by the United Methodist News Service.
The graying and declining membership has led to numerous multi-million dollar ad campaigns in an effort to reach more people, particularly young ones.
"Rethink Church" is the United Methodist Church's newest campaign targeting 19- to 34-year-olds who may not be familiar with the church or who are seeking to make their lives more meaningful.
More than $20 million in ads are being launched over the next four years.
"Reaching new populations – which tend to be younger and more diverse than traditional United Methodist constituents – needs to be a high priority," Weems told UMNS.
According to the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, members in mainline denominations were younger than the general U.S. population in the 1960s. But over the last several decades, membership has continuously grown older.
While death rates may not be exact indicators of age, the Center – which set out to examine age trends in the United Methodist Church – pointed out that they do help show patterns that should correspond generally to age, considering that 75 percent of deaths in recent years occurred among people aged 65 and older.
The Lewis Center recommends that United Methodist churches not only reach new populations, but also begin new congregations as they tend to reach younger people at a higher rate than existing churches.