The U.S.’s majority status in The United Methodist Church is coming to an end — and may be there already.
That’s according to projections from the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration — based on the continuing decline in U.S. membership as much as growth in Africa.
According to the agency’s forecast, total membership in the central conferences — church regions in Africa, the Philippines and Europe — will exceed that of the U.S. jurisdictions in 2020.
“Based on trends that have occurred over the last several years, we are annually averaging a decline of 2.0% overall for the jurisdictional membership,” Kevin Dunn, the agency’s director of data services, told the GCFA board at its November meeting.
“We may fall below 6 million (U.S.) members by 2025.”
It’s a significant development for a church whose governance and history have both helped shape and been shaped by the United States, where the denomination got its start in 1784.
Dunn said the U.S. decline has largely resulted from members’ deaths — people leaving The United Methodist Church for the church triumphant.
However, starting in 2014, he said, the overall drop has exceeded the number of funerals. U.S. worship attendance also has been shrinking as a percentage of overall membership for the past decade.
Dunn noted that United Methodist numbers are in keeping with overall U.S. religious trends. In October, Pew Research Center reported losses across Christian groups while showing the religiously unaffiliated rising to more than a quarter of U.S. adults.
Even with shrinking U.S. rolls, The United Methodist Church is still the country’s third largest denomination — behind the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention.
The most recent data GCFA actually has on hand is the U.S. membership and attendance figures for 2018. Unequal infrastructure and technology typically mean that membership reports are usually out of sync between the U.S. and the rest of the globe.
On its website, umdata.org, the agency reports the U.S. church had just under 6.7 million members at the end of 2018 — down from about 6.8 million in 2017. In the U.S., average weekly attendance was under 2.5 million in 2018, a decline of about 3.6% from the previous year.
The agency’s most recent data for the central conferences is from 2017, when the denomination counted more than 6.4 million members in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. That’s up from about 5.7 million members in 2015.
However, the central conference total comes with an asterisk. On its data services website, GCFA notes that the 2017 numbers reflect the most recent submitted. Where conferences have not reported any new data, the agency carries over numbers from previous reporting.
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Source: Church Leaders