An organizer with a theologically conservative alternative to the United Methodist Church has predicted that nearly a third of congregations in North Carolina might leave the mainline Protestant denomination.
The Rev. Jerry Lewis, the North Carolina organizer for the Global Methodist Church, told The Carolina Journal earlier this week that he believed at least 226 congregations will leave the UMC North Carolina Conference.
Lewis, who's a church administrator for a Methodist congregation in Jacksonville, claimed that 180 churches have already voted to leave this year, while around 80 have indicated to the GMC that they might also leave the UMC next year. The 260 churches would make up around one-third of the regional body’s 779 member churches.
“We’re delighted at the sheer amount in what we called the ‘first wave,’” said Lewis. “To have 180 in this first phase is kind of mind-boggling in regard to everything they had to accomplish to reach this state in such a short amount of time.”
Of the 180 churches that have already voted to leave, according to Lewis, over 150 plan to join the GMC, while the remainder might either join GMC, another denomination or become nondenominational.
The Christian Post reached out to the Rev. Jerry Lewis for a comment, however, he was unable to return comment by press time.
The UMC annual conferences that cover the state are the North Carolina Conference and the Western North Carolina Conference.
Aimee Yeager, director of communications for the Western North Carolina Conference, told CP that 41 of their 990 congregations have “already disaffiliated,” while another seven congregations are undergoing the disaffiliation process.
“Seven congregations have had their church conference to begin the disaffiliation process,” explained Yeager. “They will petition for approval at the 2023 Annual Conference. We cannot estimate beyond that how many churches may vote to disaffiliate in the coming months.”
Derek Leek, director of communications for the North Carolina Conference, told CP that some of the regional body’s congregations “are still in the voting process” when it comes to disaffiliation.
“We had 784 churches at the beginning of the year. Two have merged with other congregations, and three closed. As of today, we have 779 churches,” Leek noted.
Leek also told CP that the North Carolina Conference plans “to release the official list before our special called session of Annual Conference on Nov. 19.”
Over the past several years, the UMC has been embroiled in an internal debate over whether to change its official stance banning same-sex marriage and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.
Although efforts to change the standards at the UMC General Conference have always failed, many progressive leaders within the denomination have often refused to enforce the rules.
In May, theological conservatives officially launched the Global Methodist Church, which was to be a new denomination that conservative UMC congregations tired of the ongoing debate could join.
Since then, large numbers of congregations in the United States have voted to disaffiliate from the UMC in order to join the GMC.
In April, before the GMC was officially launched, the UMC Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference voted unanimously to join the new conservative denomination; however, a later ruling by the United Methodist Judicial Council stated that annual conferences could not leave the denomination.