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 6 years ago


Amen. 23 yrs ago I was told by a DS that little 12 member churches were not really a part of the future. Consolidation, programs, activities were the keys to the future. Small congregations were made irrelevant and would assimilated into larger bodies.
I made the statement that As as a Lay Speaker I would stay there until I buried the last of the 12. Then I would turn out the lights,, lock the door and give umc the key and be done.
As a congregation we decided a few changes were needed for our survival. We got rid of everything that does not relate to 11:00 worship! No Sunday School, no choir, no debt, no committees , a 230 yr old Body of Christ we found freedom
And liberation. I’m 72 my wife is 70 and we are the youth group. But don’t be fooled. We have 21 grandchildren that come on occasion and stay in wordship to witness their grands and learn. We have the same lesson each week by using the next book of scripture and asking where is the story if Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit found?
We have become liberal in our giving. We spend a little over 50% of our tithe buying food or electricity or cutting cell phones back on for lots of folks we don’t know!
We take the tact that if you see hunger or darkness FIX IT and bring the receipt and you will be paid in Service the next Sunday. You don’t need approval to act for others in Christ Spirit. we have ministered to a fraternity at ga southern and they have liberally blessed us in both giving and serving as dates and partners in a rural Nite to shine. We believe in old style Faith and Healing Spirits. We sing old Hymns (usually off key). We have a Masonic Lodge that came home to where they were founded in 1853. ( we were initiated in 1790). We don’t do paper work cause we don’t have a phone or email account but we lead our district in per member giving in need circumstances. They can’t shoot ya if your #1 in something. What I know is we don’t fit in the current image and we aren’t convenient but those 10 of our 12 members present each week trust in what they are doing and are not shy about listening and then acting.
The real vulnerable in the turmoil today are these
Congregations.. i get more info on classes to take and programs and projects yet after 24?years I am not supposed to serve communion without the blessing of someone qualified. If I went on line for ordination I could legally marry a couple but yet it would not be recognized by UMC because I am not an Elder or Deacon. The scary part is very likely 40% of our body is in that same boat.
Thanks for the spot to vent but there’s not a lot of symptom of healing or improvement so these next few years may be like the Body in the Catacombs!!

Steve brown more than 1 year 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 6 years ago

US Stats

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

Deb Smith more than 6 years ago

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