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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.


May 2011 Volume 23, No. 5

Market Share Progress, or Not, Part II

The March issue of this newsletter highlighted annual conference growth (or decline) rates since 2000, and compared those with the corresponding population changes within their borders over the same period. This issue will again compare demographics of the general population in each conference with The United Methodist Church statistics, this time with respect to race and Hispanic/Latino presence. In the previous newsletter, with no exceptions, The UMC failed to keep up with the population growth. In this case, the gaps were even greater, on average, where there were significant racial and/or Hispanic populations present. However, some individual exceptions are notable.

In broadest numbers, The UMC in the US reports membership for people of color at 8.4% of the total, while the general population is at 33%. Of all the jurisdictions, the Western Jurisdiction has the highest percentage of members of color (17.3%), with the highest percentage of the general population (43.5%) being people of color. The North Central Jurisdiction was lowest in both categories with UMC membership at 3.68% and population at 20.3%. The New Mexico Conference has the highest percentage of people of color in the population at 64.4%, with their membership far behind at 9.7%. The California-Pacific conference has the highest UMC membership of color at 34.9%, compared to the population at 61.1%. West Virginia is lowest in population numbers at 5.1% (1% of members) while Wyoming came in lowest with UMC members at 0.7% (population at 7.7%).

With regard to particular categories, Hispanic/Latinos comprise the largest non-Anglo category, with over 15% of the total US population. Hispanic/Latino UMC members stand at only 0.9% however. This group is most prevalent in the Western Jurisdiction in terms of percentages, at 27.5% (with UMC members at 1.9%). This group is least present in the North Central at 6.5% (0.3% of members). Southwest Texas leads all conferences in both population, at 57%, and membership, at 5.1%. New Mexico is not far behind with 55% of the population and 4.1% of members. Rio Grande Conference is not mentioned because its boundaries are not clearly defined, making population matching difficult, and overlaps other conferences. Its 13,494 Hispanic members are captured in the denominational totals.

Of United Methodist people of color, African Americans comprise the largest percentage (5.85%) out of a total population of 12.4%. This group makes up 21% of the Southeast Jurisdiction and comprises 7.2% of members. Their presence is lowest in the West at 4.9% of the population. Notably, however, this jurisdiction has church membership at very near this level, with 4.5% of members. Both California conferences actually have membership figures higher than their population figures. Bravo. Five conferences have populations over 30% African American, with Mississippi leading at 37.3% (and 19.2% of members). Baltimore-Washington has the highest percent of members, at 22.3% (32% of the population).

Asians form the next-largest racial category with 4.4% of the population and 1.1% of UMC members. The West has the highest Asian presence with 8.9% of the population. Again it is notable that the UMC membership is very close in this case, at 8.5%. Three other jurisdictions have populations with around 2.5% Asian and membership percentages below 0.8%. California-Pacific wins the prize of actually having a much higher Asian membership level, at 19.1%, than the population, which is at 12.6%. California-Nevada is home to the highest percentage of Asians, at 13.6%, and nearly matches that level with its 13.3% membership, the highest in the US.

Native Americans and Pacific Islanders make up 1.1% of the US population and 0.5% of UMC membership. Native Americans are most present in the Dakotas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Alaska. Pacific Islanders are most present in California and Alaska (percentage). Interestingly, nearly 6% of Alaska Missionary Conference’s members are Pacific Islanders, while this group comprises less than 1% of the population. Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference is not mentioned because its boundaries are not clearly defined and overlap other conferences. Its 5,671 Native American members are reflected in the totals.

Although there are exceptions in a few locations, it is clear that UMC membership greatly trails the percentage of peoples of color. This is well known, of course, and many annual conferences are highly committed to addressing this. While exact statistics are elusive, we can say with some confidence that 40% or so of all new church starts target non-Anglo populations. Still, much work remains. Just as local churches are encouraged to have membership that more closely resembles their community demographics, the denomination should do the same.

Note that annual conference charts with more data are attached. Church data is 2009 official statistics from the General Council on Finance and Administration. Demographics are 2009 Census updates from Neilsen Claritas. For additional details and analysis of this data, you are encouraged to go to the report, “Reaching More Diverse People in the United Methodist Church” prepared by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary at churchleadership.com. The Research Office and Lewis Center worked cooperatively with the data reporting.

© 2011
Published by:
The Office of Research – Global Ministries UMC
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John H. Southwick, Editor

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