United Methodist Church Membership Passes 12.5 Million Worldwide; Continues to Shrink in US

UMC General Conference
Delegates meet at the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. |

The United Methodist Church is growing globally while declining in the United States, passing the 12.5 million-member mark, according to recently released statistics.

Drawing from annual conference journals sent to the UMC General Council on Finance and Administration mostly from 2016, the UMC saw its numbers grow compared to five years earlier.

The statistics were used to determine the number of delegates each annual conference will send to the 2020 UMC General Conference.

Delegates for the denomination's 2020 legislative gathering will represent a diverse national background, according to the United Methodist News Service.

"The 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis will have 862 delegates — half clergy and half lay. Of those delegates, 55.9 percent will be from the U.S., 32 percent from Africa, 6 percent from the Philippines, 4.6 percent from Europe and the remainder from Concordat churches," reported UMNS.

The largest single delegation, according to UMNS, will come from the North Katanga Conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 50 people being sent.

The African presence in the UMC has become increasingly notable over the past several years. At the 2016 General Conference, delegates voted for the creation of five new bishops for the continent in response to the rapid growth. 

The African influence on the UMC has also been credited with preventing liberal UMC delegates from enacting legislation changing the denomination's views on homosexuality and gay marriage.

For example, at a September 2015 meeting, a group of African bishops signed a statement demanding that the UMC maintain its official position affirming homosexual behavior as sinful.

"We are deeply saddened that the Holy Bible, our primary authority for faith and the practice of Christian living, and our Book of Discipline are being grossly ignored by some members and leaders of our Church in favor of social and cultural practices that have no scriptural basis for acceptance in Christian worship and conduct," read the statement.

"The Christian marriage covenant is holy, sacred, and consecrated by God and is expressed in shared fidelity between one man and one woman for life. In this vein, we denounce all forms of sexual exploitation, including fornication, adultery, sexual commercialization, slavery, abuse, polygamy, etc."

U.S. membership has, meanwhile, continued declining. In 2016, the church body reported 7 million members in the U.S., dropping about 1.6 percent from 2015.

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