Membership in the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church Ã¢â‚¬â€ which includes New York Ã¢â‚¬â€ dropped from 1.82 million in 1985 to 1.43 million in 2005.
Church membership increased only in the Southeast during that period, according to a new “UMC report”:http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.2733523/k.258/State_of_the_Church.htm on the state of the denomination.
The UMC is still the country’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, with about 8 million members. But it’s been slowly shrinking in the U.S. for decades.
As I wrote in a feature about New York Bishop Jeremiah Park a few months back, 41 percent of the nearly 500 churches in the New York Conference (NYC, Lower Hudson, Long Island, western Connecticut) did not add a single new member in 2004. Many NY churches face financial difficulties.
According to a summary of the report, “At one point in the history of the United States, one in four persons was a Methodist. Today it is one in 400.”
Things are much better, interestingly enough, overseas.
The new report stresses that overall UMC membership increased by 34 percent between 1995 and 2005, thanks mainly to a 236 percent increase in Africa (960,000 members to 3.2 million).
Chances are, United Methodists in Africa are not doing battle over basic beliefs and social issues like homosexuality, as they are in the U.S.
Regarding the UMC’s position that it “does not condone homosexuality,” United Methodists in the Northeast are quite divided: 45 percent of clergy and 48 percent laity “agree strongly or somewhat” with the church’s position; while 48 percent of clergy and 34 percent of laity “disagree strongly.”
How hopeful are United Methodists about the future of their church? In Africa, 88 percent are “extremely hopeful.” In the U.S., 54 percent. In Europe, 42 percent.
Does God expect United Methodists to welcome all into the body of Christ? In Africa, 98 percent say yes. In the U.S., 81 %. In Europe, 54%.
Two conclusions in the report stand out to me:
“The United Methodist Church is too much like other denominations. It needs something to make it stand out in this new era.”
“The church must find ways to feed a wide-ranging hunger for spiritual growth.”
Most mainline denominations face the same identity crisis and the same challenge.