U.S. membership decline continues



By Walter Fenton

According to the most recent data, The United Methodist Church has lost 116,063 members – the stark equivalent to losing a 318-member local church every day of the year.

The recently released statistics are from the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA)  The loss from 2013 to 2014 reflected a 1.6 percent drop in total U.S. membership. The percentage of decline has accelerated over 1.3 percent of decline in 2013.

Total United Methodist membership in the United States stands at 7.2 million. There are an additional 5.2 million United Methodists outside the United States, primarily in Africa.

Only four of the 56 U.S. annual conferences experienced growth in membership. Two missionary annual conferences, Alaska and Oklahoma Indian, led the way in membership gains. The North Carolina and Texas Annual Conferences also saw slight gains.

The greatest membership decline was in the Central Texas Annual Conference, where a loss of 12,908 members resulted in a nearly 8 percent drop. The Yellowstone, Pacific-Northwest, Wisconsin, and Detroit areas all lost more than 4 percent.

The Western Jurisdiction continued leading the decline in U.S. membership with a 2.6 percent drop for a loss of 8,780 members. Two annual conferences, North Georgia (361,834 members) and Virginia (327,706 members) outnumber the eight annual conferences in the Western Jurisdiction where total membership now stands at 322,939.

The drop in overall worship attendance went from a 2.1 percent decline in 2013 to 2.6 percent decline in 2014. Average worship attendance went from 2.9 million in 2013 to 2.8 in 2014. On any given Sunday in 2014 there were 75,671 less people attending worship in local UM churches.

Just two annual conferences – Dakotas and Northwest Texas – managed increases.

Annual conferences with the steepest losses (all more than 5 percent) were New York, Detroit, Central Texas, and East Ohio.

The North Central Jurisdiction saw the largest drop among the five jurisdictions with a 3.7 percent decline. The Western Jurisdiction followed closely behind, where the decline in worship attendance was 3.4 percent.

Annual conference statisticians submitted their 2014 reports shortly after the 2015 annual conference season. The GCFA reviewed and audited their figures during this fall and recently released its full report.

Earlier this year, economist Don House, a United Methodist layperson, delivered a sobering statistical report to a joint meeting of the GCFA board and the Connectional Table, the denomination’s top administrative body. According to House, the denomination must adopt and implement a credible turn around strategy in the next five to fifteen years. If it fails to do so he projects average worship attendance will drop by over 35 percent by 2030, and will fall to less than a million in 2050.

A variety of reasons are given for the declines in membership and worship attendance. Aging church members and local churches located in sparsely populated areas are often cited.

While not dismissing these factors, conservatives maintain the declines can also be attributed to a church that has drifted from its core theological teachings, a lack of evangelical zeal, and the loss of members who have grown tired of the decades long debate over homosexuality.

Some progressives counter that the church’s failure to liberalize its positions on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage has repelled the youth and young adults necessary to replace aging members and worship attenders.

The GCFA is still collecting data for the central conferences in Africa, Europe and The Philippines. Should current trends continue, the majority of United Methodist members would live outside the U.S. by the end of 2016.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.



  1. “While not dismissing these factors, conservatives maintain the declines can also be attributed to a church that has drifted from its core theological teachings, a lack of evangelical zeal, and the loss of members who have grown tired of the decades long debate over homosexuality.
    Some progressives counter that the church’s failure to liberalize its positions on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage has repelled the youth and young adults necessary to replace aging members and worship attenders.” Yes all of the this. Stop it! Just both sides need to stop it! Quit chasing people away and just go to church praise God and do good work! Otherwise it will be just ya’ll in the pews. The rest of us will have decided to do church at home on TV or watching football.

    • A view from the pew: I wish it was that simple. Firstly, basic orthodox Christianity requires we acknowledge we are sinners and then with the help of God, we strive to walk away from those sins so that we can become the truly human persons God intended us to be when he created the earth and everything on it and called it good. Acting on same gender desires is a sin. The other, problematic and more pragmatic aspect of this divide, is that there is a very vocal, very radical, very fundamentalist pro LGBTQ contingent that insists they are right and everybody else is wrong–it has to be their way or the highway and they act on their understandings in ways that demonstrates a style of Christianity that I do not want to be identified with. I was given a rule of freedom that has served me well over my lifetime: My freedom ends where the next person’s begins and vice versa. Unfortunately this group does not buy into that understanding.

      • 1. Where/when did Jesus say that acting upon one’s sexuality in sacred covenant, is a sin, same-gender or otherwise?
        2. Where and when, even in the epistles or OT, does such a “sin” (which remains debatable) become higher grounds than any other “sin” as disqualification from full communion in the church body?
        3. Where, in the Christian texts or Methodist Discipline, is God’s grace (your, and everyone’s “freedoms”) a zero sum equation? Is it not the antithesis of zero-sum in every single red-letter word?
        4. From whom did Jesus the man or Jesus the Christ EVER deny God’s unconditional embrace?
        5. What do you actually gain or lose by eliminating bans on anyone who wishes to join membership or leadership in the UMC?

    • Most of the conservative churches which have taken strong stands against homosexuality and progressive politics are still growing or remaining stable. Those that have not are the ones shrinking.

      • Very true, Henry. Some conservative churches have even gone so far as to totally leave the UMC altogether! The United Methodist Church will soon be the UNTIED Methodist Church if pro-gay resolutions are passed at Conference this year.

  2. This article contains the same old issues that have been prevalent for a very long while. In 1964 The Methodist Church put out a publication called “The Methodist Primer.” This publication said that we had 10,304,137 Full members, Lay and Clerical, plus 1,812,493 Preparatory Members,for a total of 12,116,630 members. Since that time we have dwindled down to 7.2 million people. The Methodist Church is in a Spiritual crises. We are losing because we don’t have many “professions of faith” in the U.S. We have a lot of transfer of membership increase. We must get back to our core values. Bret Schundler said it the best and the shortest; ‘It’s not about using the sharpest tone, but maintaining the clearest vision.”

  3. No one wants to be a member of an organization with declining standards. It’s just that simple.

  4. Jeff Mayhugh says

    Churches that replace Gospel Teachings with secular progressive views lose members and die.

    Put aside for the moment denominational affiliations. Look around your community. Chances are there is a church with a rainbow flag that has chosen to put aside Biblical morality in favor of inclusion. This church will also be pretty empty and will have only a fraction of the people it had during the days when it was a vibrant church that respected the Gospel. Now look around for another church, one that is full on Sundays and has a lot of screaming babies. You’re going to find that that church still teaches Biblical morality and expects people to actually live by Biblical morality. The further away a church gets from Biblical Teaching and the morality that flows from it the smaller they get. This is because Biblical Teaching is in harmony with the Law written by the Lord in the hearts of men.

  5. Thank you for the post. For more on early Methodism, I would like to invite you to the website for the book series, The Asbury Triptych Series. The trilogy based on the life of Francis Asbury, the young protégé of John Wesley and George Whitefield, opens with the book, Black Country. The opening novel in this three-book series details the amazing movement of Wesley and Whitefield in England and Ireland as well as its life-changing effect on a Great Britain sadly in need of transformation. Black Country also details the Wesleyan movement’s effect on the future leader of Christianity in the American colonies, Francis Asbury. The website for the book series is http://www.francisasburytriptych.com. Please enjoy the numerous articles on the website. Again, thank you, for the post.

  6. Taurai Frank Mazaiwana says

    The decline in most churches are are result of being “OLD” God doesn’t stay in Old churches. if a church starts loosing God then the relevance of going there becomes useless.

    Even if a church is formed today just a minute ago and it does not have God, it becomes OLD. Its therefore and OLD church.

    We need Jesus to lead a church and without Jesus involved it becomes ancient, old. New Churches they commune with God through the filling and decadency of the Holy Spirit. And the holy Spirit can guide the Church and also its members. So there is need to grow our spirituality levels and strive for righteousness, desist from sin and Jesus will take the Lead, through the Holy Spirit. The question is how do we then bring the Holy Spirit in. The Good spirit of God, The spirit of the truth, The Gospel. The Good word in the church and to the members as well

  7. Michael Peters says

    Bishop Sally Dyck in the December NIC reporter , responded to the African College of Bishops recent statement on terrorism and sexuality as follows. “I wish they could see the money that comes from LGBTQ persons who support ministries in Africa…” The same issue reported “…we are no longer a $7 million dollar conference but a $6 million dollar conference..”

  8. The acceleration in membership decline from 1.3% to 1.6% is worrying and seems to mirror the trend that has taken hold in the PCUSA. Membership declines there are now above 5% annually.

    The UMC needs to amputate the limb before the gangrene of liberalism poisons the entire body. We need an evangelical reformation within the United Methodist Church.

    • Very true, Mamat and the sooner the better. Otherwise, this denomination will be on life support at some point.

      • Daniel Kutrick says

        Very true indeed. Our church needs a reformation and a revival in the Holy Spirit. Jesus does indeed accept us where we are but then tells us to be transformed in the Holy Spirit, leaving our sin natures behind.

        Jesus does not tell us, “I’m OK…YOU’RE OK…keep on just accepting each other and you will be saved.” That is the false doctrine of the world–and we all know who is the prince of that.

        • At current rates of decline and increase, the LDS Church will surpass the UMC in three years and become the third largest church, behind the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Church.

  9. And what are OUR core theological teachings eric pone?, John Wesley?, United Methodist layperson?, United Methodist clergyperson?, Bishops? , LGBTQ persons?, General Council on Finance and Administration?
    And are WE talking about the teachings from OUR Schools or OUR General Council?

  10. The UMC needs to realize that while conference delegates vote with their ballots, parishioners vote with their feet. We were long-time members of a UMC church until 2014 and then we left for a contemporary church that is affiliated with the Wesleyan denomination, which we love. We became frustrated with the constant flow of internal consultant-inspired programs from the District HQ that were designed to stem the attendance decline, but that were not in any way effective. One thing that our church never did was to simply ask those who left the simple question “why?” Had they done so, they might have developed an understanding of what it would take to grow again.

  11. Garth Jones says

    Strange, Churches like Church of Christ and Presbyterian USA denounce homosexuality strongly and will not let them be ordained or have any leadership positions and, yet, they are growing rather well.

  12. Kevin Schwartzkopf says


    I’m sure those pushing a progressive, liberal agenda will chime in but I think the facts speak for themselves. The Christian church is about surrendering to His lordship and living a life dedicated to him. I think John Wesley is turning in his grave over the current state of methodism.

  13. Yes, I know this is a nearly “dead” thread, but here’s my chance to vent….

    “conservatives maintain the declines can also be attributed to … the loss of members who have grown tired of the decades long debate over homosexuality.”

    What members would those be? I have attended a Methodist church for most of my life, and I can count the sermons, lectures, meeting, Sunday school “lessons”, debates, letters that my local church has produced on one hand. Ooops, make that no hands. The subject of homosexuality is simply not addressed. Period. Your congregation may be different, but I doubt that statistics would bear this out as an overall truth.
    It’s only a small percentage of people like those reading this that actually realize that the UMC, as it stands, is in deep crisis. How many people in your congregation would be utterly surprised to learn that a possible schism is spoken about openly in higher UMC theological circles? Frankly, I assume that my local church and district are intentionally avoiding the subject…out of fear of further decreases in (already low) attendance, or the assumption that open discussion, intentional contemplation, and group prayer can only “negatively” influence the decision congregants will likely need to make in a post-United Methodist Church scenario. Not addressing subjects that we all deal with OUTSIDE the walls of the church remind me of the days when our denominational forefathers kept the Bible to themselves (via bans on translation)… with the rational that laity couldn’t be trusted to reliably interpret scripture. How’d that work out?
    Is the above a little “over the top”? Likely, but I grow frustrated that my lifelong Church is “fiddling while Rome burns.”

  14. Learn from mistakes already. Black people want civil rights, throw the Bible at them. Women want rights, throw the Bible at them. LGBT want rights, throw the Bible at them. God’s love does not end with your Biblical interpretation. I really feel sorry for the people feeding off people’s fear of change to line their pockets, while at the same time ignoring what Jesus taught us. They will be accountable to God.


  1. […] Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News. – See more at: https://goodnewsmag.org/2015/11/u-s-membership-decline-continues/#sthash.fyxVr2QR.dpuf […]

  2. […] is to have a sustainable future, an economist warned church leaders” (May 20, 2015). But U.S. membership decline continues (November 20, […]

  3. […] The 2016 United Methodist General Conference gathered in Portland May 10th-20th. This gathering of delegates cost the church over ten-million dollars. While the United Methodist Church planted over 100 new churches per year for the past several years; she still lost over 100,000 members. […]

  4. […] for some sort of ever-changing consensus about morality, it is nothing.  That’s why the Methodist church has been hemorrhaging members for decades.  And what is the answer of the Methodist church?  To become more and more inclusive, […]

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