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Background Data for Mission

The Background Data for Mission newsletter helps United Methodist leaders sort through the new and integrate it with the old. It explores the latest in technology, demographic trends, and contemporary approaches to worship, church education, and evangelism.


March 2011, Volume 23, No. 3

Market Share Progress, or Not

Last month's issue presented the annual comparison of the latest official US UMC statistics with the previous year's. While these numbers are descriptive, putting them in the context of the surrounding general population adds more meaning. One way of measuring this is market share, or the percentage of the population using a product or service. In our case we will use membership and, alternatively, worship attendance, to measure our "market share."

In 2000, UMC membership was 3% of the US population. In 2009, UMC membership was 2.5%, a decrease of 20%. Another way of looking at this concept is to see how the change in UMC statistics fared compared to the change in general population. In broadest terms, UMC statistics declined while US population increased. From 2000 to 2009, UMC membership declined 7.4% and attendance declined 10.4%. The US population increased by 9% over this period. Subtracting population change from membership and attendance gives a better picture of the disparity. Membership lagged by 16.3% and attendance by 19.3%. This lag was not uniform across all annual conferences, of course, with both UMC statistics and population. This newsletter will explore those relationships.

Some may find it surprising that all but one jurisdiction were close to the average national levels. The Western Jurisdiction did not fare well, with both membership and attendance lagging population by just over 29%. The Southeastern Jurisdiction is the only one to beat both the denominational average membership and attendance figures, but only by a small margin. Just as in local church ministry, context apparently matters. The raw membership and attendance numbers normally give the appearance of some jurisdictions outperforming others. However, in reality, when the playing field is leveled, so are the results. (The Western exception will likely give rise to spirited attempts to account for its variation.)

Individual conference results are intriguing. Only Alabama-West Florida and Louisiana came within 5% of the membership to population gap, with Western Pennsylvania close behind. Seven other conferences were within 10%. Most of those faring best are not those usually thought of as being growing or stable membership conferences, while those which are fared much closer to average. On the attendance side, Alabama-West Florida was the clear champion. Though not besting the population, it came within 2.3%. Three other conferences were within 10%. Again, some conferences normally associated with growth did not fare so well in this context.

This newsletter will not attempt to dig deeply into these figures, nor will it attempt to try to explain why they are what they are. Actual statistics follow this narrative so those interested can dig in themselves. The overall picture is clear enough. For the most part, we are losing ground at a greater rate than we want to admit. Increasingly focused efforts are being made to reverse these facts and time will tell how effective these efforts are.

The following are percentages for all US annual conferences and jurisdictions, as well as population changes within their boundaries. For actual UMC data, see last month's newsletter. An archived copy is available at: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/about/us/ecg/research/backgrounddataformission/index.cfm.

To see the charts of conference data, please download the PDF below. 
© 2011
Published by:
The Office of Research – Global Ministries UMC
475 Riverside Drive, Room 300, New York, NY 10115
 (212) 870-3840 ; Fax (212) 870-3876
Website: http://research.gbgm-umc.org
Subscriptions: Free via email or $14.00 yearly via US Mail
John H. Southwick, Editor

The BDM newsletter is available as a downloadable Adobe Acrobat pdf file:

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