September 9, 2014

​UK: Methodist Membership Plunges by a Third

By TREVOR GRUNDY ©2014 Religion News Service

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

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.”