UM stats

Some people are detail people; others are not.  Some people have neat and tidy desks; others don’t.  Some people are morning people; others are night owls.  Some people are extroverts; others are introverts.  Some people can’t wait until the statistics are published; others couldn’t care less. 

So for those of you who like stats, this week’s Leading from the Heart is for you.  I’ve never focused on statistics in my ministry because I know that numbers never tell the whole story.  However, I am convinced that statistics can serve as landmarks along the journey toward making disciples for the transformation of the world.

Last month I attended the Board of Directors meeting of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, where we received a report, Changes in Church and Clergy Membership The United Methodist Church 2000-2005, prepared by Michelle Fugate, Director of Research and Data Management for GBHEM.  I’d like to share highlights of the report with you.


  • According to a 2001 Barna survey, 24.5% of the U.S. population identified themselves as Catholics, 16.3% as Baptists and 6.8% as United Methodists.


  • UM membership has been declining since 1850 – not since the 1968 merger but since 1850!  In 1974, UM membership was 9.9 million. In 1994, it was 8.54 million.  In 2005, membership dipped below 8 million to 7.98 million. 
  • The only jurisdiction to experience a membership increase between 1999 and 2004 was the Southeast Jurisdiction.  Membership in the North Central Jurisdiction declined 8.62% during that period.  Part of this decline may represent demographic patterns in the United States, with migration out of the northeast and northcentral states to southern states.

Worship Attendance

  • Some good news!  Worship attendance declined very slightly between 1975 and 2005. 
  • In fact, the percentage of UM members attending weekly worship has increased to 42% of membership. 


  • There were 1,250 fewer United Methodist churches in the United States in 2005 than in 2000.  This statistic, however, does not reflect the difference between churches closing and new churches started.


  • Clergy membership increased to 45,148, a jump of 2.3% from 2000 to 2005. 
  • 15% of the total clergy membership is local pastors. 
  • The percentage of local pastors under appointment increased 31% during that time, and the percentage of other clergy decreased by 1.4%.
  • The number of part-time local pastors increased dramatically (18%) during that time compared to full-time local pastors (increase of 2%).
  • There are now more part-time local pastors (62%) than full-time local pastors, and the percentage continues to increase.
  • The number of full connection elders decreased by 2.25% between 2000 and 2005 (754 elders).
  • The number of full connection deacons increased by 28%.
  • The North Central Jurisdiction had the biggest percentage increase in deacons: 41%.  Wow!!
  • Of the 32,742 clergy appointed to local churches or extension ministries in December 2006, 73% were male and 27% female.
  • The 24,791 churches served by these pastors have an average membership of 298.  Only 25% have more than 334 members.
  • The number of probationers increased sizably from 2000 to 2005.  The number of probationary elders increased 22%, and probationary deacons increased a whopping 256%.


  • There was a loss of 32 districts and 32 district superintendents between 2000 and 2005.
  • This was the result of the merger of conferences and the downsizing of annual conferences.


What are we to make of these statistics?  These are some of my questions.

  • Is the increase in local pastors a result of more and more churches who cannot afford an elder, elders who are not willing to serve marginal appointments, more pastors who choose not to be itinerant, or candidates who cannot afford the high cost of seminary? 
  • In forming the new Great Lakes Conference, MATT is proposing that we reduce our district by two, from 13 to 11.  What are the implications for the workload of district superintendents? 
  • Should appointments be made based on the mission of the local church or the needs of the pastor?
  • Are our deacons providing the link between the church and the world that will help us transform the world through service? 
  • Is the noticeable increase in part-time appointments the result of the disbanding of multi-point charges who desire their own pastor?

As I chew on these statistics.  I’d love to hear your insights.  For the complete report, go to; click on “Resource Library;” scroll down to “Ordained Ministry;” click on “Changes in Church and Clergy Membership 2000-2005.”


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