Updated: Mar 10
by Esther Chung
Mar 8, 2020
In other words, what the readily available data shows is that when congregations affiliate with RMN, in most cases they lose people initially and do not fully recover.
In the big picture, for each of the UMC’s five U.S. Jurisdictions, I have calculated the average decline for recently RMN-affiliated congregations as a whole by comparing the TOTAL membership and worship attendance figures for all such congregations in each region the year before they joined RMN and comparing these statistics to those for the last year on record (2016). This allows us to observe longer-term trends of 3-9 years. For example, the total membership for the Northeastern congregations before they separately joined RMN was 10,034. The total membership for these same congregations in 2016 was 9,117. So this was an overall decline of 9.14 percent for the newly “Reconciled” congregations within that jurisdiction.
Without exception, in all five jurisdictions, membership and attendance for RMN churches dropped. Those in the Northeastern Jurisdiction dropped 9.14 percent in membership and 16.60 percent in attendance. Those in the Western Jurisdiction dropped 11.57 percent in membership and 21.29 percent in attendance. For those in the North Central Jurisdiction, membership dropped by 5.74 percent and attendance dropped 11.49 percent. Those in the Southeastern Jurisdiction dropped 10.56 percent in membership and 16.60 percent in attendance. Finally, those in the South Central Jurisdiction dropped 6.95 in membership but 3.75 percent in attendance. Although the decrease is more dramatic in some places than in others, the clear pattern is that congregations lose people after they join RMN.
It is worth thinking of the toll such losses can mean for a single congregation. For example, Good Samaritan UMC in the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the Western Jurisdiction originally had 435 members and 207 people in average worship attendance before they joined RMN in 2011. However, after this the congregation suffered a decline trajectory, losing 17.70 percent of its members (down to 357) and 34.78 percent of its worship attendance (down to 135) by 2016. Similar dramatic declines were the case with many other congregations all over the country. Again, with only a handful of exceptions, United Methodist congregations that RMN reported as joining its network between 2008 and 2014 declined and have never recovered.
Through my research of compiling the statistics for churches that joined RMN within the recent years for which data is readily available, I have found a clear overall trend, with only a few exceptions, of congregations declining after they make this change. Although the average decline varies somewhat between different congregations and regions, the fact is that the number of people leaving the church was almost always greater than the number of new people joining the church.
I strongly believe that the church should never turn away a lost sheep. In order to bring back those who strayed, I encourage churches to have grace, love those who are living a life that is displeasing to God, and to preach the Biblical truth fearlessly. Finally, I pray that all of the pastors and leaders of “Reconciling” congregations and that those who part of the LGBTQ community repent and come back to our loving Father’s arms.
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