'Not a real schism': Four years later, UMC exodus less a gush, more a trickle (2024)

(RNS) — Nearly four years ago, the United Methodist Church approved an exit plan for churches wishing to break away from the global denomination over differing beliefs about sexuality, setting in motion what many believed would be a modern-day schism.

Since then, a new analysis has found, it’s fallen well short of that.

That analysis of data collected by the church’s General Council on Finance and Administration shows 6.1% of United Methodist churches in the U.S. — 1,831 congregations out of 30,000 nationwide — have been granted permission to disaffiliate since 2019. There are no good figures for international departures among the estimated 12,000 United Methodist churches abroad.

The denomination’s disaffiliation plan gives churches until Dec. 31 to cut ties, and many have already made known their desire to leave. Those churches can take their properties with them after paying apportionments and pension liabilities. Others are forcing the issue through civil courts.

But whatever the final tally may be, the analysis suggests the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination — numbering 6.4 million U.S. members and 13 million worldwide — may weaken but is unlikely to break.

“You think of a schism as 50% or even 35% (split),” said Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and a lead researcher for the 2020 U.S. Religion Census. “This is not a real schism.”

The 1,831 church departures come as United Methodist bishops say they’re battling misinformation from conservative groups that encourage churches to leave the denomination for the newly formed Global Methodist Church, which has declared it will never ordain or marry LGBTQ people — the crux of the conflict.

'Not a real schism': Four years later, UMC exodus less a gush, more a trickle (1)

The name and logo of the new “Global Methodist Church,” which is splitting from the United Methodist Church. Image courtesy of the Global Methodist Church

In turn, the Global Methodist Church and groups like the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a network of theologically conservative churches, argue that the denomination’s regional conferences are making it prohibitively hard for churches to leave.

The high-stakes duel has hit some regions of the country harder than others. But four years into what has been depicted as a breakup of the denomination, the picture is less climactic than anticipated.

“Some are leaving but the number of churches and members moving forward is far larger,” said Hope Morgan Ward, retired bishop of the North Carolina conference. “It is important to focus on who is staying and moving forward in the continuing United Methodist Church.”

RELATED: After years of loud debate, conservatives quietly split from United Methodist Church

'Not a real schism': Four years later, UMC exodus less a gush, more a trickle (2)

Council of Bishops President Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton. Video screen grab

The past year has brought “mixed emotions,” according to Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the New York Annual Conference, who leads the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops. Bickerton described it as a “period of disunity.”

In March 2022, the United Methodist Church announced a third delay for the 2020 meeting of its global decision-making body, the General Conference. Delegates were expected to consider a proposal to split the church in 2020. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: What happened to United Methodists’ proposal to split the denomination?

The final delay prompted some Methodists to go ahead in May and launch the Global Methodist Church rather than wait for the outcome of a General Conference meeting.

In the meantime, the denomination’s 54 U.S.-based regional bodies called conferences have been approving disaffiliations at their regular meetings and at a flurry of special sessions.

The Texas Annual Conference, a region that covers East Texas with headquarters in Houston, lost 302 of its nearly 600 churches — the most of any conference, the analysis reveals.

Analysis of the denomination’s data shows the largest number of churches choosing to leave are located in the Southeastern and South Central U.S.

The five conferences with the greatest number of exiting churches are in Texas, North Carolina, Alabama and Indiana. These five conferences, with two in Texas, account for 57% of all departures. Contrast that with Bickerton’s own New York conference, where no churches have left yet, though six are discussing it, according to the bishop.

'Not a real schism': Four years later, UMC exodus less a gush, more a trickle (3)

Will Willimon. Photo by Les Todd/Duke University

The Southeastern and South Central conferences tend to be more conservative and evangelical in their beliefs, said Will Willimon, a retired United Methodist bishop and a professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School. Politically, they vote Republican and are far more resistant to gay rights.

“Those wishing to disaffiliate will deny that, but to me it’s another instance of how the Methodist movement has a long history of being very influenced by secular worldly political matters,” Willimon said.

The United Methodist conflict is just the latest upheaval over sexuality for Protestant denominations in the United States.

Hundreds of churches left the Episcopal Church after it elected its first gay bishop in 2003. They formed the Anglican Church in North America, which now has nearly 1,000 churches. Likewise, a change allowing same-sex marriage in the Presbyterian Church USA’s constitution led many congregations to break away.

The Rev. Keith Boyette, who heads the Global Methodist Church as its transitional connectional officer, said views on sexuality are only one reason churches leave.

“I believe, for many of the churches, that’s just been a presenting issue, and that the reasons why they want to leave are much more significant,” he said. “Some have grown weary of the never-ending conflict.”

Bickerton doesn’t disagree.

“Our provision that allows for disaffiliation is based on a church reaching the conviction that they can’t stay a part of the denomination over matters of human sexuality,” said Bickerton, president of the Council of Bishops. “What we find is that people are using that paragraph to disaffiliate for other reasons.”

Some don’t want to be part of organized religion or don’t like the denomination’s apportionment system or aren’t happy with their current pastor or disagree with the actions of their bishop — or a leader in another part of the country or world, according to the bishop.

The result has been a messy disaffiliation process in some conferences.

Some churches have taken to suing conferences to be allowed to leave immediately, including 38 churches in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference.

The Wesleyan Covenant Association has called on its network of churches to withhold apportionments, or pooled giving, to those conferences it believes are making it more difficult for congregations to leave.

And in recent weeks, the bishop of North Georgia Annual Conference announced she was temporarily blocking any of its churches from leaving the denomination, citing the spread of “defamatory” misinformation.

In addition, it now appears not all exiting churches are joining the newly formed Global Methodist Church.

Only 1,100 churches have joined the Global Methodist Church since it launched in May — 98% of them located in the U.S. — according to a recent announcement from the new denomination. That means the the new denomination has absorbed 58% of departing United Methodist churches in the U.S.

White’s Chapel near Fort Worth, Texas — one of the largest United Methodist churches in the U.S., with a membership of 16,000 — disaffiliated last year, saying it hopes to create its own network of like-minded Methodist churches.

Frazer Memorial, a church of 4,000 members in Montgomery, Alabama, opted to join a smaller denomination known as the Free Methodist Church.

'Not a real schism': Four years later, UMC exodus less a gush, more a trickle (4)

The Cross and Flame is the official logo of the United Methodist Church. Image courtesy of the UMC

And the The Woodlands, a church of about 14,000 members north of Houston, has yet to decide if it wants to affiliate with the Global Methodist Church.

The Rev. Rob Renfroe who recently retired as a pastor of The Woodlands said he believes the Lonestar State is leading in disaffiliations, in part, because it’s simply easier to do so there.

“What we’re finding in Texas is that, where there is a fair and open process for disaffiliation, that many churches are doing so,” said Renfroe, the president of Good News, a theologically conservative advocacy group within the United Methodist Church.

'Not a real schism': Four years later, UMC exodus less a gush, more a trickle (5)

The Rev. Keith Boyette. Photo courtesy of Wesleyan Covenant Association

But Boyette argues the numbers joining the new denomination are “close to being miraculous” given what he said is a costly and cumbersome process in many annual conferences.

“I believe that the powers that be in the United Methodist Church have been surprised by the number of churches that desire to disaffiliate in some annual conferences,” Boyette said.

This conflict over sexuality coincides with an ongoing decline in membership within the denomination.

The United Methodist Church dropped from 7.7 million members to 6.4 million in the U.S. over the past decade, a loss of 1.3 million members. The average age of its members is 57. And it is closing more churches than starting new ones. The effect of the split will add to those losses.

The 1,831 disaffiliating churches may ultimately include up to 400,000 members (though departing churches are unlikely to bring all their members along; some may switch to another United Methodist church). The denomination will also lose an estimated $23 million in annual contributions to the denomination — about 5.5% of the denomination’s pooled giving.

Bickerton said the losses aren’t just financial.

The denomination also is losing voices and perspectives he believes are important, though he is resigned to the fact that some churches will choose to leave. United Methodists must bless them as they depart, he said.

“I would always say to people that when we’re together, we’re a better reflection of Jesus than any of us are by ourselves, which is to say that we need that divergent thought,” Bickerton said. “We need conservatives and liberals and moderates in order to be the body of Christ that we proclaim to be.”

RELATED: UMC’s North Georgia Conference blocks church departures

'Not a real schism': Four years later, UMC exodus less a gush, more a trickle (2024)


What is the issue in the split in the Methodist Church? ›

Leaders of departing and remaining churches both say several factors contribute to the breakup, but one stands out clearly: the approach to human sexuality and LGBTQ issues.

What is the difference between global methodist and United Methodist? ›

The UMC has Social Principles and the GMC has Social Witness. The major difference lies in the fact that the Social Principles are not binding Page 3 on clergy or the local churches in the UMC. But in the GMC, clergy and local churches must agree to support and teach the Social Witness.

How many UMC churches have disaffiliated in Texas? ›

For example, First Methodist Church of Irving recently joined the Global Methodist Church, a theologically conservative denomination that split from the UMC in May 2022. Related: 41 North Texas churches are disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church.

What are the apportionments in the Global Methodist Church? ›

Apportionments are “apportioned” or assigned by the denomination to a local church based on the needs of the denomination. Connectional giving is determined based on what a church is able to give in response to what they have received in annual income.

What will the new Methodist denomination be called? ›

As a result, the traditionalist caucuses began to plan the formal erection of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination, the Global Methodist Church.

Why are some Methodist churches disaffiliating? ›

He said some churches have since used the division over LGBTQ rights as a “Trojan horse” to vote their way out of the United Methodist Church with their properties. Other churches have said their choice to disaffiliate is not over LGBTQ rights but rather over financial and doctrinal independence from the denomination.

What religion is Methodist closest to? ›

Methodism, also called the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity whose origins, doctrine and practice derive from the life and teachings of John Wesley.

What are the two sides of the Methodist Church? ›

In 1844, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church split into two conferences because of tensions over slavery and the power of bishops in the denomination. The two general conferences, Methodist Episcopal Church (the northern faction) and Methodist Episcopal Church, South remained separate until 1939.

What makes Methodists different from other denominations? ›

Methodist churches vary in their style of worship during services. The emphasis is often on Bible reading and preaching, although the sacraments are an important feature, especially the two instituted by Christ: Eucharist or Holy Communion and Baptism. Hymn singing is a lively feature of Methodist services.

Which Texas churches are leaving the United Methodist Church? ›

LIST: See which 439 Texas Methodist churches are leaving...
  • Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Abilene.
  • Bethel United Methodist Church, Abilene.
  • Caps United Methodist Church, Abilene.
  • Elmwood West United Methodist Church, Abilene.
  • Grace United Methodist Church, Abilene.
  • First United Methodist Church, Abilene.
Dec 7, 2022

What is the biggest megachurch in Texas? ›

Lakewood Church is a non-denominational evangelical Christian megachurch located in Houston, Texas. It is among the largest congregations in the United States, averaging about 45,000 attendees per week.

How many Texas churches are leaving the UMC? ›

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is experiencing a historic rift within its community. In December 2022, over 400 churches in Texas voted to leave their parent denomination, following other congregations in North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida that left the church en masse.

Does the Global Methodist Church allow female pastors? ›

Do women serve as clergy in the Global Methodist Church? Yes!

Who is funding the Global Methodist Church? ›

The UMC is already a global church, though it is largely funded by the churches in the United States.

What does supernumerary mean in the Methodist Church? ›

SUPERNUMERARY. “In excess of the usual or prescribed number; more than the usual number

What do Methodists call their pastor? ›

In some churches, such as the Episcopal church, the practice is to use "the Reverend Ms. Smith." In many areas of the country, United Methodists refer to the pastor as "the preacher" or address him or her as "Preacher Smith." This is an anachronistic reference from the days when most clergy were circuit riders.

What is the difference between free Methodist and United Methodist? ›

What is the difference between Methodist and Free Methodist? Free Methodists and United Methodists differ in their beliefs about the Bible. Free Methodists believe that the Bible is the complete word of God, whereas United Methodists believe in biblical inspiration.

What version of the Bible do United Methodists use? ›

The United Methodist Church does not have an "official" version or translation of the Bible. Protestant denominations seldom designate a single Bible translation for use.

Is the Methodist church growing or declining? ›

United Methodists are part of a global movement that traces their origins to the 18th-century English revivalist John Wesley, who emphasized personal piety, evangelism and social service. American membership has declined to about 6.5 million, from a peak of 11 million in the 1960s.

Why do Methodists move pastors? ›

The goal of this process is to match, as much as possible, the gifts and graces of the particular pastor with the needs of a particular congregation or ministry setting. This series of different pastoral leaders over time helps form and develop ministries in the church and community.

What makes the United Methodist Church different? ›

No pope, no central office and no archbishop. United Methodists have a structure that in some ways parallels that of the U.S. government. The church has a General Conference, its legislative branch; a Council of Bishops, somewhat like an executive branch; and a nine-member Judicial Council, the judicial branch.

Do Methodist believe in being born again? ›

Methodist preachers are known for promulgating the doctrines of the new birth and entire sanctification to the public at events such as tent revivals and camp meetings, which they believe is the reason that God raised them up into existence.

Do Methodists believe purgatory? ›

Methodist churches, in keeping with Article XIV - Of Purgatory in the Articles of Religion, hold that "the Romish doctrine concerning purgatory ... is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God." However, in the Methodist Church, there is a belief in Hades ...

Do Methodists believe in afterlife? ›

Pastor Steve Goodier of Christ United Methodist Church, Salt Lake City, said there's no firm belief in his faith regarding the dead. However, he said the average church member believes that once the spirit separates from the body in death, the spirit goes to be with God.

What are Methodist three rules? ›

You know our general rules: Do no harm. Do good. Attend upon all the ordinances of God. CW: Or, as I like to say, practice showing up for God.

What are the 4 pillars of Methodist Church? ›

Methodists traditionally use a fourfold approach to learn about our Christian faith and apply it to contemporary issues and to our Christian practice:
  • Scripture. We seek to discover the word of God through reading the Bible. ...
  • Tradition. ...
  • Reason. ...
  • Experience.

What beliefs are unique to Methodists? ›

Methodist people believe in the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The basis of the Methodist Church's beliefs is that God the Father sent his Son Jesus as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Methodist believers recognize the Bible as the inerrant, Holy word of God.

What makes Methodists different from Baptists? ›

Methodists believe that it is the person's choice to be saved and one can fall from grace by not following God therefore losing salvation. Based on observation, Baptists tend to be stricter and largely fundamentalists. Their sole basis for faith is the Bible and they consider it infallible.

Why are Florida churches leaving Methodist? ›

Six Tampa Bay churches cutting ties over disagreements on same-sex marriage and doctrine.

Where is the largest Methodist Church in the US? ›

The Windsor Village Church Family is a United Methodist megachurch in Windsor Village in far Southwest Houston, Texas.

Is the Global Methodist Church conservative? ›

The new, more conservative Global Methodist Church just launched: Key takeaways from its start. AVON, Indiana — A new Methodist denomination officially launched this month and many of its leaders met Friday to make key decisions for the denomination's formation.

What is the most followed religion in Texas? ›

Religious affiliation (2020)
Other Christian0.5%
6 more rows

Which pastor has the largest congregation in the world? ›

Yoido Full Gospel Church
Yoido Full Gospel Church 여의도 순복음 교회
Senior pastor(s)Young Hoon Lee
20 more rows

Who is the millionaire pastor in Texas? ›

Joel Scott Osteen (born March 5, 1963) is an American lay preacher, televangelist, businessman and author based in Houston, Texas. Known for his weekly televised services and several best-selling books, Osteen is one of the more prominent figures associated with prosperity theology and a focus of its critics.

What is the largest United Methodist Church in the US? ›

United Methodist Church of the Resurrection
Church of the Resurrection
Wikimedia | © OpenStreetMap
38°52′50″N 94°38′29″W
LocationLeawood, KS
CountryUnited States
11 more rows

What is the oldest Methodist church in Texas? ›

First United Methodist Church (San Marcos, Texas)
First United Methodist Church
First United Methodist Church Show map of Texas Show map of the United States Show all
29°53′2″N 97°56′34″W
Location129 W. Hutchison, San Marcos, Texas
CountryUnited States
29 more rows

What is the oldest Texas churches? ›

The original church of San Fernando was built between 1738 and 1750. The walls of that church today form the sanctuary of the cathedral, which gives rise to its claim as the oldest cathedral in the State of Texas. The church was named for Ferdinand III of Castile, who ruled in the 13th century.

What denominations do not allow female pastors? ›

Many of the nation's largest denominations, including Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons (Latter-day Saints), and the Orthodox Church in America, do not ordain women or allow them to lead congregations. Other religious groups have taken small steps in the direction of female ordination.

Can you be a pastor if you're a woman? ›

All Christian women are called to ministry, and God grants some Christian women the unique ability to teach, but that doesn't mean God is calling them to violate His Word. When a woman discerns a desire to serve the church with her teaching abilities, she should do so within the boundaries created by God's Word.

Can a woman be a pastor Baptist? ›

The church ordained three women as ministers the same year; in May, the church announced that one of those women, Katie Edwards, would become campus pastor of the church's flagship location in Lake Forest, Calif.

How wealthy is the United Methodist Church? ›

I understand that at the time the United Methodist Protocol was negotiated in financial detail, the then-latest-available official reports showed that the UMC's denomination-wide unrestricted net assets, excluding “fixed” assets like buildings, was $118.839 million (as of the end of 2018).

What church did Methodist merge with? ›

On April 23, 1968, the 10.3 million-member Methodist Church and the 750,000-member Evangelical Brethren Church merged. In uniting, the church also ended the segregation of African American congregations into a separate Central Jurisdiction.

Will the book of discipline change in 2024? ›

For starters, no changes can be made to the 900-page Book of Discipline, the collection of church laws and policies that governs UMC theology and operations. This means that legislating any adjustments will have to wait until 2024 to enact and probably longer to implement.

Why is the Methodist Church dividing? ›

They are part of a larger schism within other mainline Protestant denominations (namely, Episcopalians and Baptists), ostensibly over the propriety of same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy, though in reality, over a broader array of cultural touchpoints involving sexuality, gender and religious pluralism ...

What is the new Methodist denomination called? ›

As a result, the traditionalist caucuses began to plan the formal erection of a new traditionalist Methodist denomination, the Global Methodist Church.

What is the fight about in the Methodist Church? ›

The fight is over the book of discipline which is a book detailing the beliefs, standards, doctrines, canon law, and polity of a particular Christian denomination.

What does it mean when a church split? ›

In Christianity, a schism occurs when a single religious body divides and becomes two separate religious bodies. The split can be violent or nonviolent but results in at least one of the two newly-created bodies considering itself distinct from the other.

Did the Methodist Church split over slavery? ›

The split in the Methodist Episcopal Church came in 1844. The immediate cause was a resolution of the General Conference censuring Bishop J. O. Andrew of Georgia, who by marriage came into the possession of slaves.

What do Methodists think about divorce? ›

The Doctrines and Disciplines of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1884) teaches that "No divorce, except for adultery, shall be regarded by the Church as lawful; and no Minister shall solemnize marriage in any case where there is a divorced wife or husband living: but this Rule shall not be applied to the innocent party ...

What are Methodist 3 simple rules? ›

The book is published by the United Methodist Publishing House. The rules from Wesley, the founder of Methodism, are simple: "Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God."

What are the three core beliefs of Methodist Church? ›

United Methodists believe in actualizing their faith in community — actions speak louder than words. The three simple rules are: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.” Some beliefs we share with other Christians are the Trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and Jesus' birth, death and Resurrection.

Is it OK to split my tithes between two churches? ›

You surely can split your tithe between a church and a parachurch ministry. But know that as soon as you do that, you are not really tithing. In doing this, you are giving some money to your church and some to that ministry. We recommend that you give your whole tithe to your local church.

What causes most church splits? ›

Seven Causes of Church Conflict
  • Pride: People often behave with self-centeredness, ego, and pride. ...
  • Spiritual and Emotional Immaturity: Maturity helps a person understand that differences in perspective broaden understanding. ...
  • Change and Inflexibility: In reality, change is the norm.
Aug 27, 2020

What are the causes of disunity in our churches? ›

What Causes Church Disunity?
  • 5 Things That Cause Disunity in the Church. ...
  • 1) Lack of Communication. ...
  • 2) Lack of Direction. ...
  • 3) Lack of Expectations. ...
  • 4) Lack of Focus on God and His Truth. ...
  • 5) Your Church is More of A Club or Business. ...
  • A Healthy Church. ...
  • None of These Forms of Disunity Fit Your Church?

What branch of Christianity does Methodist fall under? ›

Methodism, also called the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity whose origins, doctrine and practice derive from the life and teachings of John Wesley.

What separates the Methodist Church? ›

The slavery issue split the Methodist Church into two bodies: the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (organized in 1845).

Which church has the highest divorce rate? ›

Connections Between Divorce Statistics and Religion
Religions and DenominationsAmerican Divorce Rates
Jehovah's Witness9%
9 more rows
5 days ago

Can a divorced woman remarry according to the Bible? ›

Jesus gives permission for someone to remarry when adultery has taken place. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”9 Here, the phrase “and marries another” raises the issue of remarriage.

Can a divorced Mormon remarry? ›

Members of the Latter-day Saints can divorce or marry again, but it can get a little more complicated if one had been married in the temple. Extra efforts can be needed, for example, a person who was divorced can marry again in the temple if he is granted permission by Church leaders.


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