renewing the church united methodist church

2010 State of the Church Report for the UMC

I appreciate the work to produce the State of the Church Report for The United Methodist Church. You can find it online here or use this link to download a PDF of the entire report. Here are a few tidbits that I found to be of interest:

  • The median age of the population in the U.S. is 35; the median age of attendees in The United Methodist Church is 57.
  • When asked if their congregation had a clear vision, goal or direction for ministry, 35% agreed that it did and stated they were strongly committed to those goals.
  • Churches with larger memberships tended to grow, while smaller-membership churches tended to shrink.
  • Professing membership in the U.S. has declined every year since 1968.

The craziest of these stats is that 65% of congregations did NOT have a clear vision, goal or direction for ministry. Then, what are they doing? Where do these congregations find guidance to make plans for the future?

By Andrew Conard

Christian, husband, son, brother, homeowner

11 replies on “2010 State of the Church Report for the UMC”

It would be interesting to see if there is any sort of correlation between those churches who have a vision statement and the size of the church.

Also, is there a correlation between the size of the church and the age of the members.

I would suspect that part of the reason why the larger churches are growing is that they can offer more in the way of programs and opportunities.

DrTony – These are great questions. I don’t have access to the data, however I believe you might be right on the connection between a clear mission and vision and growth.

Andrew, Thanks for the summary. Not that it really matters, but in my opinion the scariest of the stats you cite is that the average Methodist is 22 years older than the average American.

just to clarify – by “not that it really matters”, i meant “not that my opinion matters”… not, “not that it matters that the average age of UMs is significantly higher than the average age of the population of one country within United Methodism”…

I think these numbers definitely do not bode well for the future of the UM church in the United States. If one considers that the median age is 57, that means that, according to the report, 76% of current UM members in the US are incapable of having children anymore. (As 76% of the UM’s in the US are over 45.) Couple that with the declining fertility rate in the US (especially among European descended Americans, whom I suspect comprise a majority of current UM members) over the decades in which the current over 45 generation were in their child-bearing years and it is clear the the UM church in the US had a significantly smaller ‘pool’ of young people in UM families from which to draw in the first place, thus probably inevitably guaranteeing that the membership in the UM church in the US would decline consistently over the last 40 years.

The most troubling figure is not the median age, but the fact the the US fertility rate is at present barely holding steady at the replacement rate but is still declining. This, unfortunately, cannot help but bring about diminishing returns for the UM church in the US in the future. As the number of child-bearing capable UM’s is only 24% of the total US UM population, if the UM’s within this demographic merely have children at the replacement rate (as the larger population as a whole does), they further decrease the number of UM’s capable of bearing children in the next 20 years, as 19% of those will be unable to in 20 years. Also, in 20 years nearly 1/4 of the current UM population will be dead. Thus, the massive (and to some extent inevitable) decline in the next couple decades brought about by death and lower fertility rates will only further escalate the problem. Although depressing, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the UM church in the US is in a death spiral from which, demographically, it cannot hope to recover. (Of course, the US population as a whole faces a similar demographic prospect- while the fertility rate is currently at the replacement rate, sustained dips below that- such as in some European countries- inevitably lead to population death spirals.

That seems to be the story I get from these stats. (If my analysis is incorrect in regards to statistics, I would welcome correction.) Obviously I have not taken into consideration evangelism, but, given the US population trends as a whole, (especially if the fertility rate continues to decline in the next 20 years) evangelism is not capable of outpacing Mr. Reaper. Not intending to be pessimistic, but it’s hard to get around the demographic inevitability.

deviantmonk – I appreciate your analysis on the statistics. It is troubling for the current state of affairs in the UMC. However, I believe that there is the opportunity to remake the structure of the UMC in the US and begin to address these issues. I don’t have the a clear idea about what to propose, however I have hope.

I would be interested to know if the median age data holds for all or many denominations in the US. Research has shown that the younger set, under 35, is not a big church joining demographic. Is there any denomination that is doing well among the under 35s in the United States? We could be looking at a significant change in the way Christian community is done…

I personally don’t like that trend, younger people not going to church. The Christian faith has to be practiced in community to really be done well. We support each other, love each other, serve together, correct and teach each other, and hold each other accountable. The Bible is pretty clear also: We really do need each other.

I think Jason has some significant Analysis here, Ill get back to that in a second.

SKC – I think its very dangerous for us to seem to suggest that this isn’t a uniquely mainline problem – Even if it is the case that there is some decline across all categories, the tendency is to focus outward and not inward thus absolving ourselves from responsibility. Anecdotal my experience has been that the more conservative church has been highly effective at reaching young people. For example here in KC the largest concentration of young people are at IHOP and Jacobs Well. Similarly you have the rise and strengths of movements like Campus Crusade, Inter-varsity, and more recently the RUF on campuses. These ministries tend to dominate the Campus landscape. I think its at least worth asking the question, whether our pluralistic theological tendencies have had a significant impact on the effectiveness of the church at reaching young people.

Back to Jason’s point. There was an awesome article written about demographic trends a few years ago called “Its The Demography Stupid” Which essentially outlines the same case Jason did, but for global impact – for example it predicts that by 2050 the majority of European countries will be more than 50% Muslim. The article, based on the research of a Harvard sociologist, goes on to assert that Theologically conservative movements of almost all stripes ultimately win the day because of their views on issues like abortion, birth control, and the general role of women. In fact they point out that the fastest growing states in the US are the solid red states, while the fastest declining are the solid blue states, for much the same reason.

Having said all that, I would suggest that its possible that the UM church nationally will decline, while the church in certain regions of the country will continue to tread water, or even grow. Certainly this is born out by looking at conferences like North Georgia versus conferences like Cal/Pac In the 1960’s they were virtually the same size. Today North Georgia is as large as the entire Western Jurisdiction. What we are seeing is a demographic re-alignment where the UM church is becoming distinctively more southern, and more urban. So the question isnt whether we are in a death spiral per say, as much as how will the church re-align theologically and demographically. It is my sense that in twenty years you will see that we are:

1 – Significantly smaller, but more vibrant
2 – Significantly more urban/suburban than rural as compared to our current situation
3 – Significantly more conservative theologically

When all of these things are in place, I believe we will see an end to the slide and the beginning upward trending in all of our statistical catagories. But until then we will continue to decline. My long term hope is bright, my short term outlook is dim. Just like the stock market, you’ve got to invest for the long term!

@Chuck Russell–That’s exactly why I was asking the question. I am Nazarene in background, and I was wondering out loud, but not specifically, if evangelical churches were being affected by the same demo changes. I know about IHOP et al–live very near IHOP! I know that COTN has had troubles retaining 20 somethings–they go off to college/career and step away from the church. In the churches I’ve been a part of, there’s a bit of a demographic hole there.

I do believe that conservative theology is a draw for young people as well as older people. I became a Christian at 22 in a Nazarene church, although it was an invite that got me in the door, it was a strong presentation of the saving gospel of Christ and a deep presence of the Holy Spirit in that place that got me into the Kingdom. At that time in my life, the promise of unconditional love and a stable relationship was also a profound draw.

So, yes, United Methodists need to look at how they have been doing church these past years, but in order to consider things in a comprehensive way, an awareness of general trends would not be a bad thing. Not as an excuse but as something to take into account and consider as the United Methodist Church (and the COTN, SBC, and any other denomination) look for wisdom in how to minister to the young adults in the western/developed world.

I personally would love it if the United Methodist Church grew. The gospel of Christ is so life saving, such a blessing to know that you are accepted and loved by God, and ready to meet Him, and empowered to serve and be a blessing in this life, this beggar loves it when a whole bunch of other fed beggars is ready to tell the world where to find the Bread of Life.

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