UMC's proposed budget will be the smallest in 40 years due to mass exodus of churches

View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.
View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. | United Methodist News Service/Kathleen Barry

The United Methodist Church may soon approve the lowest budget for the mainline Protestant denomination in four decades due to the thousands of congregations that disaffiliated over the past couple of years.

At its meeting held Feb. 19-20 in Franklin, Tennessee, the UMC General Council on Finance and Administration voted to approve a proposed 2025-2028 denominational budget of approximately $346.7 million.

The budget must still be approved by delegates at the UMC General Conference, the churchwide legislative assembly scheduled for April 23 to May 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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According to UM News, the UMC's official news agency, the proposed budget is 43% lower than the approximately $604 million denomination-wide budget approved at the 2016 General Conference. This represents "the biggest budget drop in the denomination's history."

The proposed total is the smallest denomination budget to be submitted to the General Conference for a vote since 1984 when the UMC had a far smaller presence in Africa.

"Although we are navigating challenging financial times, the GCFA Board, along with members of the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops, are focused on the work before us: ministry and mission," said the Rev. Moses Kumar, general secretary of GCFA, in a statement.

Over the past few decades, the UMC has been involved in a divisive debate over whether to change the denomination's rules to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships.

According to the current language of the UMC Book of Discipline, the central rulebook of the denomination, the "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

Although efforts at the General Conference to change the Book of Discipline have failed, many theologically progressive UMC leaders have refused to follow or enforce the rules, drawing the ire of theological conservatives. 

At a special session of the General Conference held in 2019, delegates voted to add Paragraph 2553 to the UMC Book of Discipline, creating a process for churches to leave the denomination over the LGBT debate. The measure expired at the end of 2023.

From 2019 to 2023, approximately 7,600 churches disaffiliated from the UMC under the provisions, with a significant portion of them opting to join the newly launched, theologically conservative Global Methodist Church.

Additionally, some churches continue to leave the mainline Protestant denomination through other means, such as the "Local Church Discernment Process" approved by the UMC South Carolina Conference.

South Carolina Conference spokesman Dan O'Mara explained to The Christian Post in an earlier interview that this discernment process was based on another paragraph in the Book of Discipline.

"While similar to the disaffiliation process found in Paragraph 2553, the Local Church Discernment Process is grounded in Paragraph 2549 of the Discipline, which is typically employed when a local church is closed because it no longer serves the purpose for which it was organized," said O'Mara.

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