It was one of the first Christian World Communions, designated until 1951 'Oecumenical Methodism' and dating from 1881, when the Oecumenical Methodist Council was established to foster links between Methodist-related denominations throughout the world. The first Oecumenical Methodist Conference, held in London that year, had 400 delegates from 30 Methodist bodies, mostly British and American. The Conference met every ten years until 1931 and from 1951 met every five years.
From 1951, a more permanent organisation, the World Methodist Council, was adopted, with its latest constitution being adopted in Durban in 2011. The membership of the council is now appointed by the member Churches for a five year period, with the expectation that it will meet three times during that five year period, with the World Methodist Conference meeting at least once every ten years, but more frequently if desired. The World Methodist Council operates between meetings through a Steering Committee and various Standing Programmes and Operational Committees. Membership is open to all Churches in the Wesleyan tradition (or, in the case of United or Uniting Churches, those that are related historically to the Wesleyan tradition), and Churches are elected into membership. There are currently 177 member churches, with a worldwide membership of over 42 million.
The councils headquarters are at Lake Junaluska NC, with a European office at Geneva. Its activities include a programme of World Evangelism, dialogue with other world communions, a Peace Award and a ministerial exchange programme. Affiliated organizations include the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women, theWorld Methodist Historical Society, the Wesley Works Editorial Project and the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies.
World Methodist pronouncements have not always enjoyed universal approval within Methodism. The 'Message to the World' from the 1956 Conference meeting at Lake Junaluska was dismissed by Donald Soper as 'a spiritual minnow ... a mixture of platitude and escapism masquerading as a Message [with] all the tepid familiarity of a Tuesday rissole'.