Stories from the Spreadsheet: Ethnicity, Gender, Membership



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We Must Stop Being the Methodist Statistical Church

Back in Seminary, I engaged in a process of at least skimming the Journals of my own Annual Conference from 1900 until 1970. It was a story of the growth of our area, the starting of lots of new churches, and the beginning of decline.
However, that was not what struck me as the most surprising. What was surprising was the Statistical Reports turned in each year by every local church. It wasn't the numbers on the sheet; it was the columnar categories which intrigued me. Other than changes in our Statistical Report based on changes in names of groups in our church (Such as Women's Home Missionary Society to WSCS to UMW, for example), there was only one column which had a change in title: Column 2. Today it reads: "Members Received by Profession of Faith." in 1900, the same column title simply read: "Souls Saved." Those categories were the same in the reports of the Methodist Episcopal Church earlier than that.
Think about it: we are trying to measure the effectiveness of our denomination in the twenty-first century, using nineteenth century categories!
The statistic that really counts should be: how many people are worshipping in our worship services, on average, each Sunday. Membership has become a meaningless category. I can join the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, People for the American Way, the National Rifle Association, and the National Psoriasis Society (Plus any of thousands of other non-profit groups) simply by writing a check. I'm not really asked to do anything except occasionally signing a petition online. That's what membership in a group means today.
For years, I've said we might be smarter to eliminate our current understanding of Church membership and to replace it with an Annual Affirmation of Membership. Each member's membership would end on December 31 of each year. We could have the first Sunday in January, our celebration of Epiphany, to use something like the Wesley Covenant Service to invite people to re-up their membership. We could still have the Sacrament of Baptism and a Confirmation process. Our Columns on the Statistical Report would read 1) Membership at the Close of Previous Year; 2) New members confirmed or received during this year; 3) Persons who renewed their Membership; 4) Deaths of Members; and 5) Membership at the end of this year.
Yes, our membership might drop by a third. But it would be more honest. And, it would allow us to have the best of all possible worlds: a high percentage of our membership being with us, worshipping every Sunday. Some churches might even have a worship to membership ratio on excess of 100%! To me, that is the sign of a healthy church.
There is nothing to be celebrated in measuring today's church in nineteenth century categories. We need to stop being the Methodist Statistical Church!

Rev. Tom Griffith more than 3 years ago

Global or US?

You nowhere state that these are United States-only data, but from your list of ethnic categories, I have to assume you are looking at only United Methodist congregations in the United States. Is that correct?

Emily more than 3 years ago

US Stats

Yes, these are U.S. stats only. Global statistics are not available.

Deb Smith more than 3 years ago