United Methodist Church vitality increases in United States

Bishop John Schol of the Greater New Jersey Conference recently highlighted  the latest vital congregations report which said that the goal of growing more “highly vital congregations” was seeing positive results. According to statistical comparisons between 2009 and 2012, the number of highly vital congregations in the United Methodist Church in the U.S.  grew from 14.6% to 33.9%.

What is a “highly vital congregation”?

The United Methodist News Service reporter Heather Hahn (with Kathleen Barry contributing) has a good explanation at UMC.org:

The denomination measures a congregation’s vitality based on four major areas of church life: growth, member involvement in the congregation, engagement in the community, and giving.

To be considered “highly vital,” a congregation must be in the top 25 percent of all U.S. congregations in two of the four major areas and cannot be in the bottom 25 percent in any one of the areas. A group of clergy, laity, bishops and agency heads developed this formula working with the consulting firm Towers Watson.

“The doubling of highly vital congregations means that there are more disciples working on justice and mercy ministries, we are making more new disciples, more disciples (are) inviting new people, more disciples are engaging in learning small groups, and more disciples are giving generously to mission,” said New Jersey Area Bishop John R. Schol, a leader of the denomination’s Vital Congregations Initiative, in the report to the Council of Bishops.

The surge in vital congregations is not enough to reverse the decades-long overall trend of declining U.S. church membership and worship attendance. Schol is quick to point out United Methodists must do more, but the improvements do offer reasons for hope.


According to the Association of Religion Data Archives the United Methodist Church has lost more than 20% of its congregations since its merger (1967 – 41,993 to 2009 – 33,855). Their same data reflects a loss of approximately 30% of membership in that same time span (1967 – 11,026,976 to 2009 – 7,774,931).

According to GCFA the number of church closures and mergers has dropped significantly in 2013. In 2009 and 2010 we saw closures and mergers top out at 396 and 404 respectively. The closures and mergers number fluctuated in following years dropping to its lowest point in a decade in 2013 with 287.

Online Graphing


UMReporter Staff

This story was posted by a staff member of The United Methodist Reporter. For over 160 years The United Methodist Reporter has been helping the people called Methodist to tell their stories. If you have stories that you think need to be told, please let us know at editor@circuitwritermedia.com

Facebook Twitter 

Leave a Reply

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
3 Comment threads
3 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
Wes AndrewsHeather HahnDave HurstGary Bebop Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Wes Andrews
Wes Andrews

Apparently the Bishop is above talking with the riff raft, or even having one of his servants offer us specific and verifiable facts to back up the claims.

Dave Hurst

It’s nice to see some positive news about the UMC here in the USA for a change. But why is the list of highly vital congregations confidential? Wouldn’t the Connection benefit from knowing who these congregations are and where their ministries are located? As a member of a struggling congregation, I might have a handle on vital congregations within my district but may find that their situations are not relevant to my congregation’s. Knowing where other highly vital congregations are might help me to find one that is in a situation more analogous to my congregation’s — one that might… Read more »

Heather Hahn

Mr. Hurst, You raise a valid concern and I sent your comment to Bishop Schol who has been one of the denomination’s leaders in advocating a focus on vitality, Here is his response: You may contact your DS or directional ministry director to learn more about the vital congregations in your conference.
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey Conference

Dave Hurst

I appreciate your consideration and time to forward my observations to the appropriate party, Heather. The bishop’s response indicates he didn’t feel it was worth much of his consideration or time.

Gary Bebop
Gary Bebop

Are we feeling better now? Apparently, the placebo works!

Wes Andrews
Wes Andrews

I WANT this to be true….. I just don’t see how it is true. I don’t see this in the real world. Especially in the WEST? Really? It “feels” like someone is presenting a “narrative” that they desire people to believe. Is there any verification from objective sources? If people have some good information supporting this I would be very glad to listen. One of the examples in THE UMNS article (United Methodist church vitality increases in U.S.): “More than 400 miles away from McKendree is another example of a highly vital congregation, Ontario United Methodist Church in north central… Read more »

%d bloggers like this: