The United Methodist Church is set for some notable restructuring after a vote during the denomination's 2012 General Conference determined that representation of the UMC should be increased in Africa, Europe and Asia – a decision that may help counter the body's dwindling membership in the U.S.
Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion & Democracy who is attending the conference taking place from April 24 to May 4 in Tampa, Fla., called the vote "historic."
"Significantly, representation on church agency boards will increase from 10 percent to over 30 percent, reflecting overseas growth. U.S. church membership has fallen to 7.5 million from 11 million 44 years ago. The overseas membership, almost all of it in Africa, is now 4.5 million and fast climbing," Tooley shared in a statement emailed to The Christian Post.
"The big story of this General Conference is the ascendancy of growing, evangelical African Christianity," he added.
The UMC's General Council for Strategy and Oversight will be in charge of four agencies – the Boards of Discipleship, Global Ministries, Church and Society, and Higher Education and Ministry. The vote, cast 567-384 in favor of the restructuring plan, paves the way for emerging Methodist churches in Africa, Europe and Asia to gain more recognition within the broader Methodist community.
"This is something I've been working toward for 17 years," said the Rev. Andy Langford, a Connectional Table member and delegate from the Western North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference. "In this legislation, we focus on the adaptive challenge (to increase the number of vital congregations), and it brings people into alignment in a way we've never done before."
"I think we are moving in the right direction," said Victor Howard, a first-time lay delegate from Liberia after the vote. "What we need now to move forward as a church is to unify. We have different cultures and disagreements. But our common denominator is the church."
The plan is yet to be finalized, however, and faces two tests before it can become church law – it must go before the full General Conference for a vote again after the General Council on Finance and Administration analyzes the plan's costs. It will have to be determined whether the legislation will actually save the UMC money.
The Methodist's Judicial Council will also have to decide on whether the legislation passes muster under the denomination's constitution, although no date has yet been set on when to expect those reviews.
Those who were not fully on board with the plan, however, expressed concerns that the legislation was drafted too quickly and that not enough time had been given to consider all of its ramifications.
"We are being told this is necessary to address an issue in this country – the decline of the church," said Christine Schneider-Oesch, a lay delegate from Switzerland-France-North Africa. "Whether this is the proper measure to take, I don't know. Many of us who are not native English speakers are being asked to just put trust in what people are telling us that this is good."