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How to clean up the membership list of a local United Methodist Church

It is critically important to determine who is a member of the local Methodist church, and, clean up the membership role prior to taking a vote to disaffiliate from the Annual Conference of a United Methodist Church. This is an issue that needs to be done before a vote occurs to avoid dissension within the local church.

The problem

It is very common for local churches to avoid auditing or cleaning up a membership roles.  Congregations reporting large membership, or increased memberships, are celebrated and rewarded by Bishops, District Superintendents and colleagues within an Annual Conference. Pastoral salaries are based on the size of a congregation. Yet many times, the accuracy of a membership list is questionable – at best. Pastoral math and the accuracy of the list of members are generally not the same.  In one church that I am very familiar with, the local church reports over 16oo members.  However, on Sunday’s the attenders of the church are less than 100. The giving units of the church is 35. The membership list has never been audited, never cleaned and the public data reported is simply not consistent with the reality of those attending and being a part of the Church.

Thus, when churches approach a vote on disaffiliation, leadership quickly discover that people voting on the question have not  been a part of the local church for several years. Yet they appear at the vote to oppose disaffiliation at the prompting of someone from the Conference who wants the local church to stay in the denomination. Removing the names of people who were once members and have not appeared in several years, only to re-apppear to oppose a vote on disaffiliation –  is an issue that is easily avoidable.

The solution

The Book of Discipline provides that members can be removed from the membership role if they “transfer, die or have withdrawn from membership.” In most cases, however, people simply leave the local church without providing notice to the pastor or leadership team. In the event of “ghosting” the local church, the Book of Discipline has the following provisions that local churches can utilize to remove the names of people who are no longer a member.

  1. Sec. 223 –  “The name of any professing member who has been on the General Church Membership Roll for more than eight years and for who a current membership address cannot be obtained, shall be removed from the membership roll”
  2. Sec. 228(b)(1).  “if a professing member residing in a community is negligent of the vows or is regularly absent from the worship of the church without a valid reason . . .  over a period of two years, the members name may be removed.”
  3. Sec 231 – “The pastor shall report to the charge conference annually the names of persons. . .  removed since the last charge conference. . . .   The church council shall appoint a committee to audit membership records, submitting the report to the charge council.”
  4. Sec 235.  “Members whose names are removed from professing status for cause or who have transferred, died, or have withdrawn shall be so noted on the membership record”
  5. Sec. 2714 – A District Superintendent may use an internal judicial process to remove a member of the Church. It rarely happens, but it can be used to remove an unruly member.

The local Church must take steps to audit and remove members who are not active within the local church. Prior to making a decision regarding the future of your local Methodist Church, take the time to review and clean up the membership role utilizing the steps set forth in the Book of Discipline. Otherwise, you run the risk of having people who have not attended the Church in decades appear at a vote to disaffiliate and oppose the will of the faithful members.

Resources available to local churches

If you have any questions regarding the issue of who is a member of the local Methodist Church, or any questions regarding disaffiliation from the denomination, feel free to reach out to Dan Dalton at Dalton & Tomich PLC to help you protect your property and preserve your ministry. Check out our additional resources, ebooks, videos and blogs on our website at daltontomich.com like this one below. We are ready to serve.


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