Falling rolls threaten to wipe out Methodists

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The Methodist Church has gone into an accelerating decline and may vanish altogether in the early part of next century, according to a report from its membership secretary.

Over the last three years, 19,071 people have joined the church, but 22,460 left and a further 30,813 died; 272 churches have been closed.

This represents a loss of nearly 7 per cent of members in three years and the rate of loss is accelerating, the Rev Peter Barber, Connexional Church membership secretary, said.

Among young people, the losses are phenomenal: the number of Methodists under 26 has shrunk by one-fifth in three years.

"There is an institutional time-bomb ticking away," Mr Barber said. "The annual rate of decline is gradually accelerating. The picture is similar whether we examine rural, small town, suburban, inner-city or city-centre churches.

"A reducing resource base of membership and attendance is having to support an increasing number of ministers. Even if all the available resources of the present divisions were used, we cannot continue to do what we do now for more than two or possibly three years without asking for an enormous increase in financial contribution from the membership."

Cuts might lead to a virtual dismantling of the central structures of the denomination, he said yesterday, leaving only a federation of congregations.