The Methodist Movement


What’s happening to Methodists?

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series.

By Glenn Martin
Guest Columnist

Someone needs to write a series about the Methodist Movement with objectivity, reality and integrity. That can be attempted though not fully accomplished. I have waited as long as I can for someone else to do it.

None of us can ever know what a powerful influence Methodism was in the shaping of this nation. Being in the forefront of a spiritual revival that changed the face of England prepared the leadership of evangelical Methodism to sweep across America with the new frontiers. The circuit riders made sanctuaries of the log cabin homes of the pioneers. The gospel was preached, souls were saved and scriptural Christianity spread across this land of tall timber, rich soil and wild game.

It was said that every county in America had a Methodist church. The hardships of pioneer life were met by men and women of great faith, courage and hard work. God gave life to these people through the Methodist church.  As late as 1960, we Methodists claimed a membership of more than 12 million Americans.  It was then projected by some that we should and could double that number by the year 2000. The Board of Discipleship (or Board of Evangelism) has since set several goals, none of which has been reached.

No one would have predicted the decline in members, attendance or professions of faith as is now recorded. The 8,258,352 claimed at the end of 2002 may actually be an exaggeration, as we preachers know. The number dropped another 72,077 in 2003. Those are the latest numbers available. The following figures will indicate a continued decline.

Billy Reeder, former director of communications for the Arkansas Annual Conference, has taken the age-level percentages and other relevant factors and trends and given us a computerized projection of the next 35 years.

Only 16.4 percent of our members are between the ages of 13 and 30. That includes youth and most young adults. If those figures do not catch your attention, try this one: We have more members in their 70s (70-79) than we have members under 40, not including baptized children not yet confirmed.

Reeder has taken these figures and other factors and trends and projected a membership of 1.3 million Methodists in 35 years. He believes this is not a worst-case scenario but a natural curve, all things considered at present.

Pain entered my heart as I absorbed these figures and talked with Reeder.  This whole predicament was taking shape during my 40 years of ministry. Most of us knew something was very wrong, but I could not see what is now too obvious to deny. What can I do now but confess and repent?

I feel compelled to write, preach, pray and do whatever I can to bring souls into the Kingdom of God with whatever time I have left. Please join me!

Next we will examine “What went wrong in the UMC?”  Are we preaching and living in the power of the Holy Spirit or in the strength of our academics? Whatever happened to persuasive invitations to receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Would John and Charles Wesley recognize the Methodist “movement” today or want to be identified with it?

Martin is a retired elder in the Mississippi Conference who lives in Grenada. He is also a former staff member of the Southeast Jurisdiction Administrative Council.