How Accurate are Church Membership Numbers?

How Accurate are Church Membership Numbers?


The Rev. Nyenda Okoko (center), a district superintendent, leads a procession of church members as they welcome visitors to Oye United Methodist Church, south of Kindu, Congo, in October 2015. Providing exact membership numbers is difficult in a denomination that spans multiple countries, languages and cultural understandings of church membership. File photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

By Heather Hahn
July 9, 2019 | UM News

In the United States, reporting a United Methodist congregation’s membership figures takes no more than a trip to the closest computer.

On the African continent, district superintendents in Congo travel grueling hours by bicycle to collect church registries.

No matter the conference or country, the United Methodist membership data collected serves an important purpose.

“Collecting membership provides a method to show where we are and how many we are globally,” said Sharon Dean, chief officer for communications at the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration.

The data also helps determine the number of bishops in a given region, the amount of grants some local churches receive and the size of delegations each annual conference can send to General Conference — the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly.

Put another way, church membership has implications for both funding and votes. That means the numbers can face some skepticism — especially in the wake of this year’s tumultuous special General Conference that saw delegates, by a 438-384 margin, support stronger church restrictions related to homosexuality.

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