Extending Disaffiliation Options

By Thomas Lambrecht

The main agenda items for the Renewal and Reform Coalition at the 2024 General Conference meeting in Charlotte, NC, April 23-May 3 relate to providing new disaffiliation pathways for churches and annual conferences that have not been offered a fair opportunity to disaffiliate so far. This will be an uphill battle. United Methodist bishops and other leaders want to turn the page on disaffiliation and put it behind them. UM leaders are aghast at the high number of congregations that have disaffiliated in the U.S., particularly in the South and Midwest. They do not want to lose any more.

So, the UM establishment is putting on a full-court press to prevent any more disaffiliation pathways from being enacted at the 2024 General Conference. It is important to understand why these pathways are needed and what the two pathways submitted by African delegates are designed to accomplish.

Why New Disaffiliation Pathways?

United Methodists outside the U.S. have not been allowed to consider disaffiliation under the Par. 2553 pathway provided by the 2019 General Conference. This arbitrary decision by bishops without obtaining a ruling from the Judicial Council has disenfranchised the majority of the church that lives outside the U.S.

Some congregations and one annual conference outside the U.S. have been able to disaffiliate. They did so either by ignoring the requirements of the Discipline or by a negotiated pathway with their particular central conference. Such a negotiated pathway is not realistically available in all the central conferences, and it is never a good idea to foster ignoring of the church’s Discipline.

The Judicial Council has ruled that annual conferences may not disaffiliate unless the General Conference provides a process for them to do so. Several annual conferences in Africa or elsewhere may desire to disaffiliate. Therefore, it is necessary for the General Conference to provide a way for annual conferences to do so.

In the U.S., nearly a dozen annual conferences (out of 53) imposed extra financial and other costs on churches desiring to disaffiliate. These costs ranged up to 50 percent of the congregation’s property value, additional financial fees, and in some cases an outright ban on traditional congregations disaffiliating. Whereas, denomination-wide about 26 percent of congregations disaffiliated, in these conferences requiring extra costs only about 13 percent of congregations disaffiliated. And in the most extreme examples, less than five percent of congregations disaffiliated because the cost for doing so was nearly impossible for most churches.

At least two bishops and several district superintendents that we know of lobbied their churches not to disaffiliate in 2023. They said that the General Conference had not yet met, and that one could not be certain what actions it would take. They assured their congregations there would be a way to disaffiliate after the 2024 General Conference, if it took actions they disagreed with. In order to make good on those promises, the General Conference needs to enact a disaffiliation pathway for local churches that want to respond to the likelihood that the 2024 Conference will allow same-sex weddings, the ordination of non-celibate LGBT persons, and repeal the Traditional Plan.

Simple fairness and justice demand that the General Conference provide a realistic disaffiliation option for those outside the U.S., as well as those few congregations in the U.S., that have not had that realistic opportunity.

Annual Conference Disaffiliation

Right now, there is in the Discipline a way for an annual conference outside the U.S. to become an autonomous Methodist Church (Par. 572). It requires that the conference write its own new Book of Discipline and obtain approval from the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, from the central conference in which the annual conference is located, from two-thirds of all the other annual conference members in that central conference, and from the General Conference. Due to the lengthy process and all the approvals required, the process can take years and is not certain to succeed.

In addition, the process requires the annual conference to become autonomous. But those annual conferences that might seek disaffiliation in response to General Conference action desire to join another Wesleyan denomination, not become autonomous. They should not be forced to go through the process of becoming autonomous in order to move to another denomination.

The Renewal and Reform Coalition is supporting a proposed new Par. 576 that would allow an annual conference outside the U.S. to transfer to another Wesleyan denomination. They could adopt the Discipline of that other denomination, rather than having to write their own. It would require only a two-thirds vote by the disaffiliating annual conference and the majority approval of its central conference. Local churches and clergy in that annual conference desiring to remain United Methodist could do so, with provision made by the central conference for a continuing UM presence where desired.

This much shorter and less laborious process would allow annual conferences outside the U.S. to determine where their most faithful future of ministry lies. They would not be forced to remain in a denomination that has changed its teachings in ways they cannot support. And they would not be subject to the uncertainty of a years-long process that may or may not bring about their disaffiliation.

Local Church Disaffiliation

The Coalition is supporting a proposed new Par. 2553 to allow local churches to disaffiliate, both outside and in the U.S. It would maintain the current requirements of Par. 2553 for two years’ apportionments and payment of pension liabilities. But it would prevent annual conferences from imposing additional financial costs on the disaffiliating church. It would also clarify the timelines for churches to disaffiliate, so that annual conferences cannot impose lengthy disaffiliation processes designed to discourage disaffiliation.

This new Par. 2553 would provide a realistic possibility for local churches to disaffiliate where they have not had the opportunity to do so. It would allow local churches outside the U.S. whose annual conference does not disaffiliate to make the decision that over 7,500 local churches in the U.S. have made.

In a recent fundraising piece for “Mainstream UMC,” the Rev. Mark Holland – self-proclaimed centrist – writes, “Seriously, in this day and age, what organization stays together through coercion?” We agree. Churches should not be forced to remain United Methodist if they do not want to do so. The failure to allow non-U.S. churches to disaffiliate and the imposition of draconian costs on churches in the U.S. amounts to coercion. A coerced covenant is no real covenant at all. A coerced and unfair remainder of churches in the UM denomination is not healthy or good for a denomination that wants to move in a different direction. Hopefully, the 2024 General Conference delegates will consider fairness and provide the needed opportunities for realistic disaffiliation that have been lacking outside the U.S. and in some conferences in the U.S. Future historians and a watching world will see if they do the right thing.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. Photo by Pexels.  


  1. How about considering the churches who had an opportunity to disaffiliate but did not do so? I know of several churches who did not want to consider it (literally kept the entire issue a secret from their congregations) and when the people brought it up the Council voted not to consider it. Now their Annual Conference took actions in 2023 that changed the opinions of the leaders of the churches and now they want to educate the people and take a vote. Those folks would like a path to leave too, ASAP.

  2. The members of Unity UMC Kannapolis NC took a straw vote in June of 2023 about disaffiliation and voted by around 80% in favor of disaffiliation. The church council then voted against the will of the church thinking they would have another chance to vote after General Conference. Most of the council now wants to disaffiliate. The Church is very upset they are not being allowed to do so now. Over 75% of the attending members have left Unity UMC and started their own church but most would return if allowed to disaffiliate.

  3. After General conference Bethlehem UMC Claremont NC many in the congregation are considering leaving the church. We been told things would not change, But now that General Conference did the opposite We would like the opportunity to disaffiliate the same as other churches. I hate to leave friends and family but the lord leads me Not the people. We need to keep praying for what the Bible says and adhere to it. Please let us have that opportunity.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join Our Mailing List!

Click here to sign up to our email lists:

•Perspective Newsletter (weekly)
• Transforming Congregations Newsletter (monthly)
• Renew Newsletter (monthly)

Make a Gift

Global Methodist Church

Is God Calling You For More?


Latest Articles: