Sometimes the apple does not fall far from the tree. I grew up Methodist in the West Michigan Conference. Methodism began in England with a Church of England (Anglican) priest, John Wesley, as a method of personal devotion and practice. I was raised in the 20th century American version of the Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. These statistics and map give a good superficial overview of the United Methodist Church in the U.S.A. today. They do not give any insight into present day practices and beliefs.
In my case, after a varied journey, and now a retired MSJ priest, I finally landed in The Missionary Society of St. John, an Anglican order within the Anglican Church in North America, whose practices and methods are remarkably similar to those practiced by Rev. John Wesley as well as earlier C. of E. usages, in contrast to the UMC practices and methods in the U.S.A. today.
United Methodist churches are grouped geographically into bodies called conferences. (They’re the fundamental structural unit of the denomination, as local churches are connected through the episcopacy.) This list shows the 25 largest United Methodist Annual Conferences, listed by average weekly worship attendance, with additional data showing conference membership and ranking. The chart reflects 2009 figures, which is the most recent complete year data set available.
|Annual Conference||Avg Weekly Worship||Worship Rank||Membership||Membership Rank|
|Western North Carolina||123,783||3||292,829||3|
|Illinois Great Rivers||67,064||16||140,614||23|
|Susquehanna (Central Penn)||61,114||19||132,884||26|
Total membership in United Methodist congregations in the United States was 7,679,850 for the year 2009. Total average weekly worship attendance was 3,125,513, or about 40% of membership.
Of the top 10 conferences on the list, six reside in the Southeast Jurisdiction (a jurisdiction is a grouping of Annual Conferences; there are five in the United States). Two are in the South Central and two are in the North Central. While it is not news that United Methodist membership remains strongest in the southern half of the United States, the relationship of attendance to worship is interesting. In fact, here is a breakdown of annual conferences according to percentage of its members in weekly worship:
|Annual Conference||Membership||Average Weekly Worship Attendance||Pct of Members in Worship|
|Greater New Jersey||94,201||49,930||53.00%|
|Illinois Great Rivers||140,614||67,064||47.69%|
|Red Bird Missionary||1,495||690||46.15%|
|Susquehanna (Central Pennsylvania)||132,884||61,114||45.99%|
|Western North Carolina||292,829||123,783||42.27%|
|Western New York||53,780||19,221||35.74%|
|Oklahoma Indian Missionary||6,189||1,996||32.25%|
|Troy* (closed 2010)||44,857||13,124||29.26%|
|North Central New York||70,700||20,666||29.23%|
It is interesting to note that many of the smaller conferences of the Western Jurisdiction have a high percentage of their members in worship. Of the top 10 conferences in percentage of members in worship, five reside in the Western Jurisdiction, four in the North Central, and one in the Northeast. None are from the Southeast or South Central. The only conferences to rank in the top 10 in both attendance and in percentage of members in attendance are West Ohio and Indiana, which speaks well of the vitality of these conferences. The Southeast and South Central jurisdictions continue to enjoy the influence of a passing cultural era, whereas the Western Jurisdiction, while smaller, is doing more to engage its members through worship.
If you’re a visual person and find comparing data with a map handy, here you go: