Where We Stand Today: Quadrennial Membership Changes in the Central Conferences

In my last post, I surveyed the membership changes in the United States over the last quadrennium, compared to the previous quadrennium. We saw that membership decline in the North stayed the same from one quadrennium to the next. However, the rate of membership decline in the South and Western United States worsened in this last quadrennium.

What is the situation in the Central Conferences—those areas of United Methodism outside the United States?


The most obvious fact about membership numbers in Africa is that they are not reported in a timely fashion. Some of the annual conferences go four or eight years or even longer before updating their membership numbers. The chart below illustrates the problem.

Central Conference

Number of Annual Conferences

Number Updating their Membership 2009

Number Updating their Membership 2012




9 (includes 4 new conferences)



13 (includes 1 new conference)

6 (includes 1 new conference)

West Africa




This spotty reporting makes comparison of growth rates impossible from one quadrennium to the next. It would be helpful if church leaders understood what factors keep annual conferences from reporting their membership numbers and devised strategies to facilitate that reporting. It must be remembered that some of the countries where we have members have previously or are currently experiencing civil war, which affects both the growth/decline of the church there and the ability to report membership numbers.

It is possible to compare the growth rate at the central conference level, with awareness that the figures are most likely skewed by whether or not annual conferences report their membership numbers.

Central Conference

Growth Rate


Growth Rate








West Africa

– 2.0%


So because the Africa Central Conference had more conferences reporting in 2012, their membership growth rate was much higher. Congo and West Africa, by contrast, had fewer conferences reporting in 2012, making for a lower growth rate. This is the explanation for why the projected growth in the number of African delegates at General Conference did not materialize for 2016.


The United Methodist Church in the Philippines has experienced a healthy turnaround since 2009. For the quadrennium 2005-09, they lost more than 55,000 members, for an annual rate of -7.8%. For the quadrennium 2009-12, however, the Philippines gained over 70,000 members, for an annual growth rate of 14.1%. The church in the Philippines is now larger by 15,000 members than it was in 2005. That is good news indeed!

Of the 25 Philippine annual conferences, eight reported growth, two reported decline, and 14 did not report updated membership numbers in 2012. One annual conference was new in 2012. Here again, it would be helpful to devise strategies for facilitating annual conference reporting of membership.

Europe and Eurasia

Central Conference

Growth Rate


Growth Rate


Central and Southern Europe






Northern Europe and Eurasia



Both Germany and Central and Southern Europe decreased their rate of membership loss. In Central and Southern Europe, four of the seven annual conferences grew between 2009 and 2012. Two of the three annual conferences in Germany grew from 2009 to 20012.

A main reason for the high rate of loss for the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference was that the Sweden Annual Conference (20 percent of the central conference membership) withdrew from the UM Church to join another denomination. In addition, five of the ten other annual conferences did not report updated membership numbers. (This was not a problem in the other European central conferences.)


Because most of the annual conferences outside the U.S. are so small, they tend to get ignored. It is heartening to see so many of them experiencing growth in numbers. And the growth in Africa was much less than anticipated, due to the lack of reporting. As we continue to live into what it means to be a global church, the investment of resources in training and materials for the central conference churches can only yield greater dividends of growth in both numbers and spiritual maturity.

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