The Top 25 United Methodist Annual Conferences

Len WilsonChurch33 Comments

U nited Methodist churches are grouped geographically into bodies called conferences. (They’re the fundamental structural unit of the denomination, as local churches are connected through the episcopacy.) This list shows the 25 largest United Methodist Annual Conferences, listed by average weekly worship attendance, with additional data showing conference membership and ranking. The chart reflects 2009 figures, which is the most recent complete year data set available.


Annual Conference Avg Weekly Worship Worship Rank Membership Membership Rank
Florida 141,838 1 289,755 4
North Georgia 127,684 2 356,381 1
Western North Carolina 123,783 3 292,829 3
Indiana 119,800 4 201,497 10
West Ohio 115,611 5 205,889 9
Virginia 113,170 6 339,220 2
Texas 104,100 7 287,220 5
South Carolina 94,495 8 237,764 6
North Carolina 82,845 9 237,390 8
Missouri 81,340 10 167,063 16
Mississippi 72,573 11 182,181 14
North Alabama 70,620 12 147,538 22
Holston 70,054 13 166,625 17
Alabama-West Florida 69,342 14 148,803 21
Baltimore-Washington 68,281 15 185,372 11
Illinois Great Rivers 67,064 16 140,614 23
East Ohio 65,139 17 167,931 15
Western Pennsylvania 61,817 18 182,464 13
Susquehanna (Central Penn) 61,114 19 132,884 26
North Texas 59,527 20 156,284 19
Iowa 59,215 21 183,260 12
Kentucky 57,891 22 152,052 20
Oklahoma 57,571 23 237,698 7
Arkansas 54,340 24 136,225 24
South Georgia 52,559 25 133,325 25

Total membership in United Methodist congregations in the United States was 7,679,850 for the year 2009. Total average weekly worship attendance was 3,125,513, or about 40% of membership.

Of the top 10 conferences on the list, six reside in the Southeast Jurisdiction (a jurisdiction is a grouping of Annual Conferences; there are five in the United States). Two are in the South Central and two are in the North Central. While it is not news that United Methodist membership remains strongest in the southern half of the United States, the relationship of attendance to worship is interesting. In fact, here is a breakdown of annual conferences according to percentage of its members in weekly worship:

Annual Conference Membership Average Weekly Worship Attendance Pct of Members in Worship
Desert Southwest 38,961 26,555 68.16%
Alaska 3,733 2,247 60.19%
California-Pacific 80,989 48,644 60.06%
Indiana 201,497 119,800 59.45%
West Michigan 64,645 37,066 57.34%
West Ohio 205,889 115,611 56.15%
Greater New Jersey 94,201 49,930 53.00%
Dakotas 38,602 20,053 51.95%
Yellowstone 13,973 7,079 50.66%
Oregon-Idaho 30,306 15,281 50.42%
Florida 289,755 141,838 48.95%
Missouri 167,063 81,340 48.69%
North Alabama 147,538 70,620 47.87%
Minnesota 74,719 35,718 47.80%
Detroit 94,692 45,218 47.75%
Illinois Great Rivers 140,614 67,064 47.69%
West Virginia 101,328 47,642 47.02%
Rocky Mountain 65,779 30,898 46.97%
Alabama-West Florida 148,803 69,342 46.60%
Wisconsin 81,655 37,937 46.46%
California-Nevada 80,059 37,191 46.45%
Red Bird Missionary 1,495 690 46.15%
Susquehanna (Central Pennsylvania) 132,884 61,114 45.99%
Kansas East 71,174 31,836 44.73%
Western North Carolina 292,829 123,783 42.27%
Holston 166,625 70,054 42.04%
New Mexico 36,630 15,341 41.88%
Tennessee 119,611 49,826 41.66%
Southwest Texas 118,727 48,343 40.72%
National Average 40.69%
Pacific Northwest 52,190 21,168 40.56%
Northern Illinois 100,301 40,307 40.19%
Kansas West 81,415 32,706 40.17%
Arkansas 136,225 54,340 39.89%
Mississippi 182,181 72,573 39.84%
South Carolina 237,764 94,495 39.74%
South Georgia 133,325 52,559 39.42%
Nebraska 78,156 30,547 39.08%
East Ohio 167,931 65,139 38.79%
Eastern Pennsylvania 119,195 46,183 38.75%
Peninsula-Delaware 87,383 33,683 38.55%
North Texas 156,284 59,527 38.09%
Kentucky 152,052 57,891 38.07%
Memphis 84,515 32,060 37.93%
Baltimore-Washington 185,372 68,281 36.83%
Texas 287,220 104,100 36.24%
North Georgia 356,381 127,684 35.83%
Western New York 53,780 19,221 35.74%
New England 86,022 30,597 35.57%
North Carolina 237,390 82,845 34.90%
Rio Grande 13,787 4,764 34.55%
Louisiana 120,653 41,646 34.52%
Western Pennsylvania 182,464 61,817 33.88%
Virginia 339,220 113,170 33.36%
Iowa 183,260 59,215 32.31%
Oklahoma Indian Missionary 6,189 1,996 32.25%
Northwest Texas 63,933 20,425 31.95%
New York 115,819 36,332 31.37%
Troy* (closed 2010) 44,857 13,124 29.26%
North Central New York 70,700 20,666 29.23%
Central Texas 164,919 46,156 27.99%
Wyoming 56,493 14,664 25.96%
Oklahoma 237,698 57,571 24.22%

It is interesting to note that many of the smaller conferences of the Western Jurisdiction have a high percentage of their members in worship. Of the top 10 conferences in percentage of members in worship, five reside in the Western Jurisdiction, four in the North Central, and one in the Northeast. None are from the Southeast or South Central. The only conferences to rank in the top 10 in both attendance and in percentage of members in attendance are West Ohio and Indiana, which speaks well of the vitality of these conferences. The Southeast and South Central jurisdictions continue to enjoy the influence of a passing cultural era, whereas the Western Jurisdiction, while smaller, is doing more to engage its members through worship.

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Len Wilson

33 Comments on “The Top 25 United Methodist Annual Conferences”

  1. Pingback: The Top 25 United Methodist Annual Conferences | Len Wilson - Christian IBD

  2. Pingback: The Top 25 United Methodist Annual Conferences | Len Wilson - Christian IBD

  3. Pingback: National UM report ranks Indiana near top « Making Disciples, Transforming Communities

  4. Pingback: National UM report ranks Indiana near top « Making Disciples, Transforming Communities

  5. Len, interesting statistics, cannot say I agree with all of your assumptions though. I would love to have seen you add in a growth statistic to this as well. Growth isn’t always a key to vitality but it is a great indicator.

    1. I agree that growth is important Allen. I have a separate post on fastest growing UM churches by worship attendance. Church consultant Lovett Weems also suggests a variety of other metrics for measurement including morale, discipleship growth, prayer vitality, biblical competency, mission engagement, and community involvement.

      1. I agree that worship attendance growth is very important, particularly for measuring people moving into first stages of spiritual development, and that a lot of UM churches point to other indicators as a cover for what is actually a declining ministry.

        I’d also offer though that while on the worship team at Ginghamsburg Church in the 1990s we experienced some amazing growth but weren’t always good at moving people from attendance into deeper discipleship. Our back door was pretty big, too. So community involvement and mission engagement are also important.

        1. It is a matter of creating the pipeline. If attendance goes up and then down (i.e. people leaving) it would show an “integration” and “spiritual growth” underlying issue (potentially…) The problem is that too many churches justify their lack of growth by focusing on “look…he have 80% of our people in bible study” and so on.

  6. Len, any idea what these figures are as a percentage of the overall population in the conference? Could be found easily for conferences bounded by state lines but I wonder if there’s a way to find the answer for all conferences.

    1. I don’t know the answet to that David but it’s easy to find out. Contact Deb Smith above, who does a lot of research on this topic.

      I do know that, just like the move from rural to urban in city planning, megachurches house a steadily increasing percentage of the total church population, and that trend has been constant for several years.

  7. Interesting, Len. I’m a clergy member of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference. I’d guess that there are cultural reasons why SEJ conferences have smaller percentages of membership in worship. In the Bible belt, church membership is something of a shibboleth in the culture. Whether or not you actually attend, maintaining membership is important to many people, especially extended families. Additionally, purging church rolls is not often encouraged by the superintendency and can often open cans of pastoral worms in congregations that many pastors would just as soon leave alone. As I have often heard it said, “The Methodist Church is the easiest one to get into and the hardest to get out of!”

  8. You wrote “The Southeast and South Central jurisdictions continue to enjoy the influence of a passing cultural era…”

    What in the world does that mean? This statement seems to dismiss their membership figures and reflect a strange prejudice against the south. I agree that the attendance averages in other areas are wonderful. But remember that the Southeastern Jurisdiction is the only one which is growing, which can’t be disregarded as “enjoying the influence of a passing cultural era!”

    1. Sam and Steve,

      Thanks for posting. Steve is of course correct that any statement like thes is inherently an overstatement and flawed. Yet Sam speaks well to the differences. Having served churches above and below the Mason Dixon line I can attest first hand that there remains a difference in cultural attitudes toward church in each region. I’m a southerner and I think the SEJ is doing good work in some areas, aided by more flagship churches than you can find in the north. In some ways, though, I found ministry in the northern states refreshingly honest. In my own experience, of course.

    2. As a southerner now worshiping in northcentral, i’ll offer this personal experience. growing-up my entire family counted as members in my SEJ conference local church, even though only my mother and I ever attended (dad didn’t go, siblings moved away but mom wouldn’t allow them to drop membership somewhere). In (most situations in) the north there’s little pressure for a family to join when only one or two family members attend. so, our family would have 2 members and 2 attending in the northern accounting, while it was 5 members and 2 attending in the southern accounting. i don’t claim to understand all of it, but there are regional differences in the way people and families manage memberships in churches.

  9. Troy Conference wasn’t “closed.” The NY portion became part of the Upper New York Conference, and the VT portion became part of the New England Conference (similar to what happened with the Wyoming Conference).

  10. I read this as “we have an internal mission field of 4.5 million” – how will we reach them, I wonder?

  11. Interesting project, but the statistical analysis is based on data that does not reflect the dramatic sectional differences in attitudes about church membership. Also does not take into account the positive and negative effect of seasonal residents that spend half the year in Sun Belt conferences, inflating Southern Jurisdictions’ attendance and diminishing Northern Jurisdictions’ attendance.

  12. I wonder how much of the difference between your two lists have to do with how diligent a conference is at maintaining clean membership rolls? It would seem that those that put emphasis on purging rolls would decrease their overall membership number thereby increasing their percentage in list number two.

  13. I think the better issue to examine is average attendance rate changes over time. 1yr. 5yr, 10 yr, 20 yr. This shows the actual vitality of a church. Any of these numbers (unless placed in perspective of time) are generally useless unless you want bragging rights of “my house is bigger than yours.”

    Is this data available? If so, where can we source it?

    1. attendance is tricky and a flawed measure. a person would have to attend every worship service in order to be counted as a 1 in the average attendance numbers. in some places a family attending once a month considers themselves active participants. a church with 100 members who attend once a month would have an average attendance of 23. so too a church with 23 members who attend every Sunday. those are two very different churches. perhaps its time to think about the number of persons who consider a local church their spiritual home and they maintain a certain minimum of presence and gifts. a local church is a network of how many relationships?

  14. I know in East Ohio we are far more interested in our real estate than having a mission. I’m growing very weary of it and I am just about as loyal as you are going to get.

  15. Len…attendance growth is the most important indicator. It is the “outcome” metrics of the other ones mentioned. (prayer, discipleship, etc.) We often used this “process” measures to justify our “spiritual growth” without a numerical one.

    We need to measure our “fruit” both by the quantity and the quality. If we have “sweet fruit” the quantity will follow.

  16. Eric and all, this post was ancillary to another post I wrote on the 25 fastest growing UM churches. At the time I was sr. acquisitions editor at Abingdon and conducting research on pastors who were growing their congregations. In the course of that research I discovered this data, which was interesting and I thought merited its own post. Kinda funny that three years later it starts to get a lot of attention!

    1. I have seen the same thing on my blog. it is a matter of the “long tail” and when people find it. I agree that it is fascinating and I think the right questions are surfacing about it!

  17. I don’t mean to be nitpicky, but this article should really be titled, “The Top 25 American United Methodist Annual Conferences.” North Katanga, with its 800,000 members, and Cote d’Ivoire, with its 677,000 members, must dwarf all other annual conferences in terms of attendance. We need to get past the idea that UMC = US.

  18. I suspect that the stats on Pct of Members in Worship are inaccurate. If the statistical figures are simply reporting worship attendance, those attendance figures include many nonmember attendees. The true ratio of attending members to “on-the-books” members is, unfortunately, far smaller than the percentage posted in this chart.

  19. I find it interesting that the numerical average worship attendance has been pretty much the same since the merger. We had a church membership of about 8.3 million then, with average worship attendance of about 3 million. Anyone have thoughts on why, as we lose “members,” the worship attendance seems to not shrink as well?

  20. Pingback: Recently Read: Top annual conferences in the UMC - UMR

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