United Methodists Release State of the Church Report

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United Methodist Communications
Office of Public Information
810 12th Ave. S.
Nashville, TN 37203

June 18, 2007

Contact: Diane Denton
(615)742-5406 (office) (615)483-1765 (cell)

United Methodists Release State of the Church Report
Survey Data Explores Attitudes, Opinions

Nashville: A new report from The United Methodist Church on the state of the church reveals that United Methodist core beliefs are clear, but a variety of attitudes and opinions exist about other issues. The first-of-a-kind effort gathers survey data, research, and essays from a cross-section of leaders to present a comprehensive overview of the denomination.

"With this collection of survey data, research reports, and views from United Methodist leaders, we want to prompt and support prayerful conversation in many congregations and other settings about the life of our church, as well as its future," said Bishop John Hopkins who is the Convener of the Connectional Table. "Christian conferencing is an historic and proven way for the church to seek clarity about God's call and our response."

The project was commissioned by the Connectional Table, an organization within the church that guides missions and ministries. As a part of the project, more than 11,000 United Methodists from the U.S., Africa, Europe and the Philippines participated in online and telephone surveys conducted by an outside research group. The report utilized survey data collected in June through early September-about 2,600 interviews.

Both clergy and lay members participated in the survey, which included a wide range of questions including issues of importance for ministry planning, organizational structure, emphasis on worship and prayer, and other topics. In addition to the surveys, the Connectional Table invited a cross-section of church leaders to write short opinion essays, and collected available research on church life from seminaries, foundations, agencies, and other sources.

The survey data indicates that United Methodists strongly affirmed their belief in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, as well as their reliance on God's grace and salvation. There was somewhat less agreement as to whether mission and service are important to personal salvation. Respondents in the Western U.S. on average placed a lower importance on core beliefs than did others.

The respondents reported a high level of desire to attract more young people to the aging church, though there was less agreement about specifically how that should be accomplished. But only a minority of respondents felt that churches are willing to change or add alternative worship options or to reallocate resources to attract young people.

Other research indicated that nearly half of the new churches started in the U.S. over the past six years have emerged in non-Anglo contexts. More than half of the U.S. new church starts have emerged in Spanish-speaking communities, with others in African-American, Asian-American and Brazilian American communities. The fastest growth continues to be in Africa.

One of the survey findings is that views about the church's position on homosexuality vary greatly depending on where in the U.S. respondents live. The percentage of respondents who "strongly disagree" with the church's position that it does not condone the practice of homosexuality varied widely among different regions of the U.S., with people in the Southeast being least likely to disagree and people in the West being most likely to disagree.

Less than half of those surveyed, however, saw the issue as "extremely important." The highest priorities were focus on Scripture, children, reaching out to the unchurched, and ending racial divisions.

More findings include:

  • 35percent of United Methodist congregations consistently report growth
  • Between 1995 and 2005, global membership increased more than 34 percent, with the largest increases occurring in Africa and the Philippines
  • Giving per member has increased by 58 percent over the past 20 years
  • Significant numbers of United Methodists were hopeful about the future of the church, especially in Africa and the Philippines
  • Pastors generally do not believe strongly that they are well trained, expertly supervised, or assigned to churches in an appropriate manner
  • While respondents believe that core values are important to the Church, only one-third say that the church provides an opportunity to discuss them
  • A strong plurality of both clergy and laity became United Methodists because they were born into the church; the next most common reasons are appreciation of the teachings and beliefs of The United Methodist Church

A summary report is available at www.umc.org/stateofthechurch, as well as survey data and essays from more than 60 United Methodist leaders expressing individuals' views of the church and its future. Statistical information compiled by the General Council on Finance and Administration is included along with links to other research reports available on the Internet.

The summary of the report will also be distributed to church leaders as an insert in the September/October Interpreter magazine and through other channels worldwide in all the annual conferences. United Methodists are encouraged and invited to join the conversation and to participate by adding their perspectives to the on-line exchange at www.umc.org/stateofthechurch.

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