Here’s what a massive exodus is costing the United Methodist Church: Splinter explainer (2024)

Here’s what a massive exodus is costing the United Methodist Church: Splinter explainer (1)

The United Methodist Church losing a quarter of its churches in five years is just the start.

The organization's budget is shrinking, too, as the denomination grapples with the exit of more than 7,600 churches amid divisions over LGBTQ+ rights.

A spending plan being proposed to the upcoming UMC General Conference – the group's top legislative assembly, which meets every four years – is $23.8 million less than the last one and more than $140 million less than the one recommended in 2019, when congregations began leaving.

The proposed budget recommends 17 fewer bishops to prevent one of the denomination's funds from running a deficit. Regional conference staff overseen by the bishops has already faced cuts and a consolidation of administrative duties.

The upcoming UMC General Conference, beginning April 22 in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a long-awaited and unquestionably consequential summit. The international delegation is meeting for a regular session for the first time in eight years, a time in which conservatives led an exodus out of the United Methodist Church following disagreements about theology and church policy, includingdealing with LGBTQ+ rights.

The Charlotte gathering will be the first step in a new chapter for the largely Nashville, Tennessee-based UMC, the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States. Many United Methodists are optimistic about that future, though they also recognize hardships await on their journey.

Here are key takeaways from the financial fallout.

Mass exodus:A quarter of Methodist congregations abandon the church as schism grows over LGBTQ+ issues

Disaffiliations disrupt budget estimates

Churches leaving the denomination, or disaffiliating, had the single greatest effect on budget projections, often causing UMC finance officials to revisit and recalculate earlier estimates.

When disaffiliations started in 2019,finance officials were recommendinga $493.8 million budget, or a 17% reduction from the $604 million budget approved by the UMC General Conference in 2016. The new budget was set to come before the UMC General Conference at its regular session in 2020, which the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately pushed back to this year.

Both the General Conference delays and steady increase in disaffiliations compounded and by 2022,finance officials were recommendinga $373.7 million budget, or a 38% reduction. At that point, total disaffiliations were around 1,800.

By the end of 2023, disaffiliations amounted to more than 7,500 churches. Now,finance officials are recommendinga $346.7 million budget, or a 43% reduction.

Regional level faces heat earlier (and unevenly)

So far, the measurable cost to United Methodism’s splintering is most noticeable at the regional level.

Funding for United Methodist regional conference operations, including rank-and-file administrative staff (except bishops), originates from church giving. A percentage of that funding then goes to the denomination’s seven general funds, which comprise the denomination’s budget and support United Methodist general agencies and other national and international organizations.

Here’s what a massive exodus is costing the United Methodist Church: Splinter explainer (2)

Regional conferences, called annual conferences, in the U.S. are already dealing with the fallout of the splintering.

There are 53 annual conferences in the U.S., at least 25 of which enacted administrative reductions in the past four years, according to an analysis of news reports. Reductions at those 25 annual conferences were often staff or districts – a local grouping of churches within an annual conference – often meaning a reduction in the number of district superintendent staff positions. At least four other annual conferences announced anticipated reductions later this year or next year.

Annual conferences are the first to feel the financial heatbecause they approve disaffiliations, but not every annual conference felt it the same.

The five annual conferences in Texas saw 42% of total churches disaffiliate and 45% of all churches in Georgia’s two annual conferences disaffiliated, according to an analysis ofdata published by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. In contrast, 1% of total churches disaffiliated in the two annual conferences that encompass California.

“Conferences that have been affected more by disaffiliation and church closures will see their apportionments decline at a higher rate,” said Rick King, chief financial officer for the UMC General Council on Finance & Administration, in a March 1 delegate orientation presentation.

Churches outside the U.S. are so far barred from disaffiliating, though some have left the denomination on their own accord.

Preemptive and future cuts, fewer bishops proposed

Unlike annual conference staff, bishops receive their salaries from one of the denomination's general funds.

That fund, called the episcopal fund, is facing a recommended 15% reduction in the proposed budget to the upcoming UMC General Conference.

“The fund will run a deficit in the near future if all bishops are elected,” said the Rev. Moses Kumar, general secretary of the UMC General Council on Finance & Administration, in a March 1 delegate orientation presentation. There are currently 71 total bishops worldwide, and the UMC General Council on Finance & Administration is recommending that drop to 54 in the next four years.

Here’s what a massive exodus is costing the United Methodist Church: Splinter explainer (3)

A mandatory retirement policy for bishops will help shrink that roster. Meanwhile, many of the bishops who remain will take on additional responsibilities. There are 12 bishops that oversee more than one annual conference, according to the UMC General Council on Finance & Administration. More bishops are expected to do the same in the future.

The budget’s other general funds support 10 of 13 United Methodist general agencies that manage denomination business and oversee its ministries. Most of those general agencies face recommended cuts of at least 30% in the proposed budget – including Nashville-based United Methodist Communications, United Methodist Men, UMC General Council on Finance & Administration and the UMC General Board of Higher Education & Ministry.

Many general agencies started cutting costs years ago. Since 2019, seven general agencies cut at least 130 staff, according to an analysis of news reports. Another common move was selling and consolidating office space. Whereas many of the Nashville-based UMC general agencies each had their own office, they all merged into two buildings.

Liam Adams covers religion for The Nashville Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at or on social media @liamsadams.

Here’s what a massive exodus is costing the United Methodist Church: Splinter explainer (2024)


Here’s what a massive exodus is costing the United Methodist Church: Splinter explainer? ›

The United Methodist Church losing a quarter of its churches in five years is just the start. The organization's budget is shrinking, too, as the denomination grapples with the exit of more than 7,600 churches amid divisions over LGBTQ+ rights.

Why are so many people leaving the United Methodist Church? ›

One of the dominant Christian denominations in the U.S., the United Methodist Church, is experiencing a major split. Since 2019, more than 7,000 congregations have received approval to leave the church. The factions have disagreements in theology, namely how the church considers LGBTQ+ ministers and congregants.

Why is the United Methodist Church splintering? ›

WHY IS THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH SPLINTERING? For decades, the denomination has been mired in intractable debates over theology and the role of LGBTQ people in the church. The UMC bans same-sex marriage and openly LGBTQ clergy.

What religion is Methodist closest to? ›

Methodism has inherited its liturgy from Anglicanism, although Wesleyan theology tends to have a stronger "sacramental emphasis" than that held by evangelical Anglicans.

What is the difference between the Global Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church? ›

The Global Methodist Church was created as a result of a schism with the United Methodist Church, after members departed to erect a denomination seeking to uphold "theological and ethical Christian orthodoxy." Congregations that left the UMC to form the Global Methodist Church opposed recognition of same-sex marriage ...

Why are churches pulling out of the Methodist Church? ›

Congregations leave United Methodist Church over defiance of LGBTQ bans : NPR. Congregations leave United Methodist Church over defiance of LGBTQ bans One of the largest Protestant denominations in the U.S. is losing congregations over disputes over LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

Why are Methodist churches wanting to disaffiliate? ›

Several area churches have been approved to formally separate from The United Methodist Church (UMC) over disagreements centered on hom*osexuals serving as clergy and same-sex unions.

What is the conflict in the United Methodist Church? ›

About a quarter of U.S.-based churches in the largely Nashville-based UMC left the denomination, or disaffiliated, between 2019-2023 following disagreements over theology and church policy — including dealing with LGBTQ+ rights.

Does the Global Methodist Church allow female pastors? ›

The Global Methodist Church celebrates and praises God for the gifts women bring to all levels of the church. There are no barriers to where they can serve in the church.

Should a Catholic take communion at a Methodist Church? ›

The Methodist Church believes the bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ and receiving communion is entering into communion with the community of believers. Everyone is welcome to receive communion at a Methodist celebration of the Eucharist, including members of other Christian denominations.

Do Methodist believe you have to be saved to go to heaven? ›

A: Yes. Our church's position is expressed in the services of the Baptismal Covenant (especially Baptismal Covenant I) in The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, and The United Methodist Book of Worship, 1992, and in By Water and the Spirit.

What makes Methodists different from Christians? ›

While Methodism is a Protestant denomination, it differs from other Protestant denominations like Baptist. Unlike Baptist churches who only baptize professing Christian believers through immersion, Methodist churches believe parents can baptize their children through a myriad of baptismal methods.

What denomination is similar to Methodist? ›

The denominational families that consist primarily of members of mainline Protestant churches include the Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican/Episcopal and Congregationalist families.

Is it too late to disaffiliate from the United Methodist church? ›

Paragraph 2553 expired at the end of 2023, with over 7,500 congregations successfully disaffiliating from the UMC through the process, according to numbers compiled by UM News.

What are the two sides of the Methodist Church? ›

The two general conferences, Methodist Episcopal Church (the northern faction) and Methodist Episcopal Church, South remained separate until 1939. That year, the northern and southern Methodist Episcopal Churches and the Methodist Protestant Church merged to create The Methodist Church.

What version of Bible is United Methodist Church? ›

The United Methodist Church makes heavy use of the New Revised Standard Edition (NRSV), and the Common English Bible (CEB). Also in frequent use in our church are the New International Version (NIV), The Message translation (MSG), and the Good News Translation (GNT).

How many churches are leaving the United Methodist denomination? ›

This year alone, 5,641 congregations received permission from their regional conferences to leave the denomination as of Thursday, according to an unofficial tally by United Methodist News. In total, 7,658 have received permission since 2019.

What churches are leaving the United Methodist Church in NC? ›

Western NC churches disaffiliating from United Methodists
HarmonyHarmony, N.C.Appalachian District
Harper's ChapelPatterson, N.C.Appalachian District
Little LaurelCreston, N.C.Appalachian District
MarvinStony Point, N.C.Appalachian District
16 more rows
May 9, 2023

What is happening with the Global Methodist Church? ›

The Global Methodist Church has attracted more than half the departures and now claims about 4,500 member churches. Statewide in Alabama, more than half of United Methodist congregations disaffiliated – about 555 churches. Most of those departures have taken place since 2022.

How many Ohio UMC churches have disaffiliated? ›

Although the UMC does not officially allow same-sex marriages or LGBTQ+ ministers, some local congregations remaining within the UMC do so. In Ohio, almost 600 churches — or around 35% of the total — have disaffiliated since 2019, a higher total and proportion than anywhere else in the Midwest.


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