Methodists in England “like an iceberg… crumbling into the sea”

Adult Adele Penguins Grouped On IcebergCANTERBURY, England (RNS): The Methodist Church in Britain is hemorrhaging members and has been described by a leading religious affairs commentator as “a bit like an iceberg that’s just crumbling into the sea.”

The comments of Linda Woodhead, a sociologist at Lancaster University, follow the publication of a report called “Statistics for Mission” by the Methodist Church that shows a dramatic collapse of membership — to about 200,000 in the U.K. — in the last decade.

“During the past 10 years membership of the Methodist Church has fallen by a third, with attendance falling by a similar proportion,” said Moira Sleight, editor and publisher of the Methodist Recorder.

Added Woodhead: “It’s totally dying out. On current trends, they (the Methodists) will disappear, very soon.”

Methodist churches sprung up in Britain during the aftermath of the French Revolution and the start of the Industrial Revolution — days when the working classes were poorly paid and revolution was in the air.

The brothers Charles and John Wesley were ordained Anglicans who defied the Church of England’s stuffy establishment by holding open-air meetings and writing more than 6,000 hymns urging industrial and agricultural laborers to turn their backs on alcohol and gambling.

In America, Methodists were popular because they helped fill a spiritual vacuum created by Anglicans who deserted their flocks at the time of the American Revolution.

Methodists around the world number between 70 million and 80 million people.

The United Methodist Church in the United States has 8 million members. There are approximately 5 million members in Africa, Asia and different parts of Europe.

In The Times, the former vice president of the Methodist Church, Richard Vautrey, said Methodists must not despair. “Let’s not dwell on our pain,” he said, “but instead celebrate each God-given day we have left.”

Religion News Service

RNS is owned by Religion News LLC, a non-profit, limited liability corporation based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to provide in-depth, non-sectarian coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas.

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7 Comments on "Methodists in England “like an iceberg… crumbling into the sea”"

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)
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Pete Brazier
This article is loosely accurate in a very basic statistical sense, and I would be the last person to deny the decline in the British Methodist Church, but there are some massive problems with the reporting. There is nothing here about the growing Methodist congregations that exist as a sub part of that overall decline, or the moves to develop Fresh Expressions of Church. The statement “It’s totally dying out. On current trends, they (the Methodists) will disappear, very soon” is simply wrong. If the decline was even across the whole Connexion and no work was being done to develop… Read more »
Darcy Knight

Thanks for commenting, Pete. I was hoping that one of our British brothers or sisters would comment–we here in the US are all too likely to be looking for someone to point fingers at as worse than us.

Paul W.
This isn’t anything new. Christianity has been dying in the UK and Europe for over a century. When a denomination becomes nothing more than a social advocacy organization and denies the truth of the Scriptures, why should we be surprised that the organization dies? (Think about this whenever theological liberals and progressives hold up the European churches as a model we should follow.) The article is also unhelpful from the perspective that it is shockingly poorly-researched. Religion News Service needs to fire the writer of such an inaccurate and biased discussion of Methodist history: “Methodist churches sprung up in Britain… Read more »
Christianity is dying here in this country, too, Paul W. There is growth in the Assemblies of God, the Catholic Church, and LDS (Mormons) because they are striving with all they are worth to stay morally sound. Most of the other denoms have caved to liberal/progressive theology and shun preaching “The Blood of the Lamb.” The umc is in lock step with them as a denom–voices like “Wes” and “Kevin” and “The Enemy Hates Clarity” are few and far between. Perhaps, Paul W. you are in the same category as the three names above. I would pray so………………..

There are plenty of people who have not caved. Don’t give up. Among the American Methodist leadership there have been some disappointments but that is another story.

Holly Boardman

This is so sad. Here is a link to a program on BBC Radio on the same topic

What is the point of Methodists…”


Why is this sad, Holly? If it were not for the Methodist Church in Africa the denomination would be falling into the sea at a much greater pace. The umc requires absolutely nothing from its membership. The umc–for the most part–has become a “touchy feely” organization that is mostly a social club. Radically changed hearts just don’t happen in a umc any more……

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