While numbers of United Methodists have gradually decreased over the last few decades, the denomination outside the US (what the UMC calls “Central Conferences”) has grown rapidly. These statistics lead many United Methodists to call us a “global church.” In many senses, this is true. For one, General Conference now has 40% of its delegates come from Central Conferences. That means that there are at least six translators doing simultaneous interpreting in every session (and breakout session) of General Conference! Many of the church’s ministries (like the Global Mission Fellows program!) are global in nature, embracing a ministry with* and “from everywhere, to everywhere” model for ministry.
However, while the UMC may be more global than most denominations, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that there’s plenty of room to grow. There are indeed Methodists all over the world, but only a small number of them are actually United Methodists (most others are a part of autonomous Methodist churches) as the UMC denomination primarily comes from about 5-6 countries.
The primary hurdle of the UMC becoming a truly global denomination is simply history. Though the demographics of those worshiping with United Methodist churches have changed, the structure and much of the finances still represents a US-centric plus “mission sites” model. If the UMC could start from scratch today, NO ONE would come up with the system/structure we currently have, but because we have to legislate change (and can only do that every four years) and many who benefit from the current system play the role of the obstructionists, change comes ever so slowly.
In many ways, I had two experiences with the “Global Church” this past May in Portland, Oregon. I encourage you to check out my upcoming post on the Book of Fellows blog (communal blog for all Global Mission Fellows) to read more about these two experiences!