The explosive growth of the United Methodist Church (UMC) in Africa may significantly change Methodism in the United States, which is currently torn by issues related to homosexuality (see p. 50).
"The church is becoming more and more international," said Mark Tooley, director of the UM Action renewal group. "[I hope] that trend will help us overcome and eventually set aside many of the current debates, including homosexuality."
There are now United Methodist churches in 13 African countries—with approximately 2.6 million members across the continent. That number is up 1.5 million from just five years ago.
During May's General Conference (the highest legislative meeting of global Methodism), conference delegates voted to receive the Côte d'Ivoire mission into full membership. That act alone added 1 million African Methodists to the global roster.
The growth of Methodism overseas has helped offset decades of decline within the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination. The UMC is currently losing 40,000 members each year in the United States, according to the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration. Since 1965 the denomination has lost more than 3 million members. In the last five years, however, African Methodist churches have added roughly 100,000 new members each year.
There are now approximately 11.2 million Methodists worldwide, with 8.3 million in the United States. There eventually could be more United Methodists overseas than in the United States, Tooley said. That transformation could have implications for the denomination's stance on theological and social issues—such as homosexuality.
During the debate over homosexuality at the General Conference, five of the six people who spoke ...1