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Final disaffiliation report released

Church pew

The Michigan Conference publishes the final report on the impact of disaffiliation on the conference and the complete list of disaffiliating churches.

Content Editor

On March 18, 2024, the Michigan Conference published the final report on the impact of disaffiliation on the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church. The report highlights key statistics, including that almost 84% of churches in Michigan are committed to remaining United Methodist. The report also has a detailed section on allocating the financial proceeds from disaffiliation.

This article summarizes key statistics related to church affiliation, membership, and worship attendance. A forthcoming article will review the financial impact of disaffiliation on the Michigan Conference and where dollars received from the disaffiliating churches are allocated.

A complete list of the 126 churches that have disaffiliated from the Michigan Conference since the process was established following the 2019 Special Session of General Conference has also been published. The majority of these churches disaffiliated in 2023, with the last group of churches being voted on at the November 30, 2023, Special Session of the Michigan Annual Conference. Each of the 126 churches has completed all the requirements for disaffiliation.

This final report follows the end of the disaffiliation provisions in Paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline. Paragraph 2553, which expired on December 31, 2023, provided a limited exit path for churches to leave The United Methodist Church as a matter of conscience concerning the denomination’s direction regarding its beliefs on human sexuality and the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ persons in its life and ministry. Paragraph 2553 was added to the Book of Discipline following the process set in motion by the 2019 General Conference.

Churches could disaffiliate and keep their property after fulfilling specific requirements and financial obligations. The Michigan Conference Board of Trustees established the exact terms and conditions of disaffiliation in alignment with the provisions found in Paragraph 2553. Basic guidelines for disaffiliation are outlined in this document on the conference’s website.

Rev. Brad Bartelmay, Special Assistant to the Bishop, prepared this final report after ensuring that each church in the last group had successfully fulfilled the disaffiliation requirements the Board of Trustees put in place. Bartelmay was shepherding congregations through the legal and administrative steps once a church voted to leave the denomination. The Michigan Conference did not require churches to vote on whether to stay United Methodist.

The report shows that almost 84% of churches in the Michigan Conference are committed to remaining United Methodist. At the start of 2019, 763 United Methodist churches were in the conference. At the end of 2023, 126 churches had completed the disaffiliation process. This means that only 16.5% of the conference’s total number of churches at the beginning of the disaffiliation process chose to separate from The United Methodist Church.

This percentage (16.5%) is much lower than the rate for the North Central Jurisdiction (23.1%) over the same period and the rate for the General Church in the United States (25.6%). The North Central Jurisdiction comprises the 10 annual conferences in the Upper Midwest. Based on these statistics from the General Council on Finance and Administration, the Michigan Conference lost 28.6% fewer churches than the jurisdiction and 35.5% fewer churches than the General Church in the United States. Paragraph 2553 did not apply to central conferences.

The losses the Michigan Conference incurred regarding church membership and worship attendance were also lower than those of the North Central Jurisdiction and the General Church in the United States. In fact, Michigan lost 14.8% fewer members than the jurisdiction and 32.6% fewer members than the General Church in the United States.

For a more detailed analysis of the full scope and impact of disaffiliation on The United Methodist Church, review this report published by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and this news article by UM News.

Another key statistic is that those churches that voted to leave The United Methodist Church did so with clarity of intent. Of the 118 churches that disaffiliated in 2023, 23% voted unanimously to do so, and only 13 churches disaffiliated by a vote of less than 80% of those attending their special Church Conference. The process required a two-thirds majority vote to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church at a duly called Church Conference.

“With rare exception,” Bartelmay noted, “these disaffiliating churches had come to a pretty clear mindset of who they were and what they believed regarding human sexuality and gender identity. These statistics show that most of these churches had little ambiguity about staying versus leaving.”

The churches that remain part of The United Methodist Church are also finding clarity in this post-disaffiliation season. Bartelmay admits the disaffiliation process has been painful and exhausting, and it’s hampered our ability to proclaim Christ’s gospel of love, justice, and shalom. Still, he believes the Michigan Conference and the denomination are moving to a place of greater focus regarding our values about human sexuality and gender identity and welcoming all of God’s children.

“We are now moving to a place,” Bartelmay concluded, “where we can shift energy, resources, and time to the proclamation of Christ’s gospel for the transformation of the world.”

Last Updated on March 26, 2024

The Michigan Conference