Where We Stand Today: A Survey of Quadrennial Membership Changes

When the numbers come out for the delegation for General Conference, it represents a good opportunity to step back and take a look at the bigger picture of our membership trends.  Sometimes we get caught up in the short-term, year-to-year numbers, and we forget to take a longer view.  With that in mind, I would like to examine how this past quadrennium compares with the quadrennium before it in terms of church membership.  (I know there are many other aspects of church numbers that could be compared, but I will focus on this one indicator as possibly representative of the overall trends.)

Note that the numbers used to allocate the delegates are from 2012, which is only a three-year “quadrennium,” compared to the four-year period of 2005-2009 for the previous quadrennium.  This is because delegates are being elected a year earlier in some annual conferences in the U.S. and abroad.  I took that difference into account in my figures below.

United States

The first thing to note is that six U.S. annual conferences grew in membership over the past quadrennium.  This is roughly 10% of the 59 U.S. annual conferences.  The growing conferences are:  Indiana, Central Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma Indian, Kentucky, and North Georgia.

This chart compares the annual growth rate for each quadrennium—it is the simple growth rate, not the compound growth rate.

Jurisdiction

Ann. Membership 2005-09

Ann. Membership 2009-12

North Central

– 1.9%

– 1.9%

Northeast

– 1.8%

– 1.8%

South Central

– 0.5%

– 0.6%

Southeast

– 0.3%

– 0.9%

Western

– 2.0%

– 2.3%

Total U.S.

– 1.0%

– 1.2%

The northern jurisdictions remained constant in the rate of membership loss in this quadrennium, compared to the previous one.  South Central Jurisdiction slightly increased their rate of membership loss.  The Southeastern Jurisdiction tripled its rate of membership loss in this quadrennium, currently losing members faster than the South Central.  The Western Jurisdiction has the most rapid membership loss and increased the rate of loss in this quadrennium.

North Central Jurisdiction

Seven of the eleven annual conferences in this jurisdiction declined at a rate faster than the average.  The highest rate of decline was for Wisconsin, which declined at 3.2% per year, nearly double the jurisdictional average.  There was one growing annual conference in this jurisdiction; Indiana grew 0.4% per year.

Northeastern Jurisdiction

Five of the ten annual conferences in this jurisdiction declined at a rate faster than the average.  The highest rate was for Upper New York, which declined at 2.6% per year.  There were no growing annual conferences in this jurisdiction.

South Central Jurisdiction

Eight of the fifteen annual conferences in this jurisdiction declined at a rate faster than the average.  The highest rate was for New Mexico, which declined at 2.0% per year, more than triple the jurisdictional average.  Growing annual conferences were: Central Texas (0.4%), Louisiana (0.1%), and Oklahoma Indian (0.03%).

Southeastern Jurisdiction

Five of the fifteen annual conferences in this jurisdiction declined at a rate faster than the average.  This indicates that the jurisdictional decline was due to a few annual conferences losing a higher number of members, rather than a widespread decline in all the annual conferences.  Florida led the way with an annual decline of 3.6%, four times the jurisdictional average and representing nearly 32,000 lost members.  North Alabama was next at 2.7%, three times the jurisdictional average.  North Georgia (0.7%) and Kentucky (0.03%) were the growing conferences.

Western Jurisdiction

Five of the eight annual conferences in this jurisdiction declined at a rate faster than the average.  The highest rate was for Pacific Northwest, which declined at 3.8% per year.  There were no growing conferences in this jurisdiction.

Annual Trends

The good news is that the Northeast and North Central Jurisdictions decreased the number of members they are losing each year by 7-10%.  The bad news is that the other three jurisdictions increased the number of members they are losing each year.  The Western Jurisdiction is losing 7% more members a year.  The South Central Jurisdiction is losing 19% more members per year.  And the Southeastern Jurisdiction nearly tripled the number of members lost per year, up 189%.

These are sobering trends that indicate how urgent it is for our church to recover its doctrinal integrity and creative, Holy Spirit-empowered ministry.  It is also why the four-decade-long conflict over theology and moral teaching in our church is so debilitating.  That conflict is siphoning off energy and resources that could be going toward increasing the effective ministry of our churches.  We need to resolve that conflict, so that it doesn’t continue to eat away at our church’s membership.

What do you think?  I can also answer some specific questions you might have about the membership statistics.

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