Membership statistics

From the outset the Methodist community has been divided into an inner core of members of society and an outer fringe of adherents and 'hearers', the latter typically outnumbering the former by more than two to one. As the class meeting declined in the nineteenth century, the distinction between members and adherents tended to blur, but is still manifest in the generally deeper spiritual experience and more regular attendance at worship and church activities of the former. The first full set of membership statistics for Great Britain and Ireland was published in 1767, when 26,000 members were reported. From the 1780s to the 1840s membership increased rapidly, both absolutely and relative to population, so that by 1850, on the eve of major losses sustained through the WR agitation, there were 379,000 WM members (including 21,000 in Ireland) and a Methodist total of 534,000, or 3% of the adult population. Any reported decline (as in 1820, the year of the Liverpool Minutes) was viewed with concern. During the later nineteenth century, Methodism continued to grow absolutely, but contracted relatively, membership of all branches reaching a total of 881,000 by 1907, the year in which the UMC was formed. This represented the effective pinnacle of Methodism's statistical success, after which decline set in, modestly at first, to reach a membership of 869,000 by the time of the 1932 Union. In common with most other Christian Churches a more dramatic decrease ensued, with 784,000 members by the end of World War II (1945), 614,000 when the Anglican-Methodist Conversations failed (1972) and a mere 402,000 in 1995. These totals can be disaggregated in various ways. Denominationally, WMs were always at least twice as numerous as PMs who, in turn, comfortably outstripped the branches of UM put together. Nationally, England accounted for the lion's share of membership, Wales (excludingCalvinistic Methodism), Scotland and Ireland never exceeding 54,000, 14,000 and 33,000 members respectively. In gender terms, women have constituted an increasing majority, two thirds or more today. During the twentieth century there has been a progressive ageing of members, with Methodist death rates well above the civil average. With regard to marital status, contrary to folklore, Methodism does not seem to have appealed disproportionately to single persons, but to have had a mostly above average marriage rate. In occupational terms, there has been evidence from the earliest days of a growing bias towards skilled manual workers and the lower middle class and, since 1945, of an almost exclusively non-manual following.

For a detailed breakdown and discussion of the statistics from 1983 to 2008, see Clive Field in Epworth Review, 36:4 .

The full figures for membership and various other statistical returns, e.g. attendance at worship, are published and fully analysed triennially under the heading 'Statistics for Mission'. For the latest totals see the Conference Agenda for 2014 pp 351-383.

  • Douglas Wollen, 'Sociology and the Church Membership Committee', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, January 1963, pp. 26-33
  • John R. Butler, 'A Sociological Study of Lapsed Membership', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, July 1966, pp.236-44
  • Robert Currie, 'A Micro-theory of Methodist Growth', in WHS Proceedings, 36 pp.65-73
  • Robert Currie, Alan D. Gilbert & Lee Horsley, Churches and Churchgoers (Oxford, 1977)
  • John W. Sawkins, 'Church affiliation statistics: counting Methodist sheep', in Soundings: proceedings of a day conference on church membership... (Edinburgh, [1998])
  • Clive D. Field, 'Joining and Leaving British Methodism since the 1960s', in Leslie J. Francis and Yaacov J. Katz (eds.), Joining and Leaving Religion: research perspectives (Leominster, 2000)
  • Clive Field, 'The People Called Methodists Today: Statistical Insights from the Social Sciences', in Epworth Review, 36:4 ( November 2009), pp. 16-29
  • Clive D. Field, 'Demography and the Decline of British Methodism', in WHS Proceedings, vol.58, no.4 (February 2012) pp.175-89; no. 5 (May 2012) pp.200-15; vol.58 no.6 (October 2012) pp.247-63
  • Various editions of UK Christian Handbookand Irish Christian Handbook.