Methodist membership set to fall to lowest since 1819

Wesley's Chapel with the statue of Methodism's founder John Wesley.Mike Peel

Methodist Church membership in the UK is set to fall below 200,000 for the first time since 1819, according to figures presented to the Methodist Council last week.

The Church's Statistics for Mission report also revealed that baptisms in 2014-15 were down substantially on the previous year and that 80 per cent of local churches were not making new members.

While the number of adult baptisms was slightly up at 708, the number of under-13s receiving baptism was down 12 per cent at 8,265. Just 120 churches accounted for more than a quarter of all the baptisms in the denomination. Just over half of all local churches (2,374 out of 4,650) reported no baptisms during the course of the year.

Methodist membership in local churches stood at 201,714 as of October 31, 2014. The Council heard there was "every likelihood" it would dip below 200,000 in the 2015-16 reporting year.

While the number actually attending services is greater, counted on a Sunday in October 2014 as 219,700, this compares with 224,500 in October 2013.

The report speaks of the need to respond to decline by identifying evangelism as "the main thing" and encouraging each local church to increase its numbers by one person a year. It also refers to the place of Methodist Fresh Expressions, which encourages non-standard manifestations of Church in homes and other settings.

A spokesman for the Church told Christian Today it had "long faced a numerical and demographic challenge". Membership numbers were over 800,000 in 1906 and over 600,000 in 1980.

He said: "The majority of our current members are of retirement age. With some families having not come into contact with faith for a generation or more, there is a significant task to undertake in educating people about church life and the particular set of values that underpin Methodism."

However, he added: "The picture is not all bad, with a growing number of younger people becoming involved with the Church. Industrial chaplains, street pastors and other outreach work is taking the love of God to new places, often by working in partnership with other denominations.

"Undeniably Church is changing and we are having to reflect this in how we are organised but the need for faith is as great now as it has ever been. The value of a church to its community is enormous."