As Methodist societies were established and preaching places built, it was necessary to safeguard their use for Methodist purposes. The appropriate legal mechanism adopted by John Wesley was to settle them upon trust, and the Model Deed and Deed of Declaration were designed to define local trustees' powers and duties, after problems had arisen, e.g. at Birstall. But the relationship between the rights of trustees (often quite powerful and wealthy men) and those of the Conference and its preachers, or in some cases of the local leaders' meeting, continued to present problems after his death (see under Plan of Pacification). It was one of the causes of the secessions from WM; e.g. the Protestant Methodists following the Leeds Organ case in 1827 . The provisions of the Model Deed also regulated the procedure of trustees, requiring them to meet at least annually. The Trustees' Meeting made certain appointments, including the chapel stewards and a treasurer. The ministers, other than the Superintendent who had the right to attend and vote, were not members of the Trustees' Meeting. The Trustees Appointment Act 1890 (simplifying the appointment of trustees generally) was passed at the instigation of Wesleyan MPs, as was the Marriage Act 1898 permitting trustees to appoint an authorized person to solemnize marriages in registered places without the Registrar's presence. The trust system was used by other branches of Methodism, and other nonconformist groups, and continued after Methodist Union until it was modified under the restructuring in the 1970s. Under the Methodist Church Act 1976, legal title was transferred to custodian trustees, with managing trusteeship remaining locally based. The trust system had been criticised for the 'dual control' of the local church by trustees and leaders and also for creating an autonomous, self-perpetuating body in office for life. The Act provided for the duties and powers of the managing trustees to be exercised instead by the Church CouncilChurch Council (or Circuit Meeting for circuit property).

The trusts upon which Methodist property is held under the Methodist Church Act are charitable in law. Until recently however, the various constituent groups of trustees have not been required to register their body with the Charity Commission, as they have been covered by a series of statutory instruments excepting them from the requirement (the Property Division and its successors having had the responsibility of ensuring that relevant requirements such as production of annual accounts have been fulfilled). Now, under the Charities Act 2006, with effect from 31st January 2009 excepted bodies (whether local churches, circuits, district bodies, the Conference etc) with an annual income of over £100,000 are each required to register as separate charities. There is an expectation that the requirement will in due course apply to all church bodies.

See also Chapel Affairs

  • New History of Methodism (1909) 1 pp.514-516
  • J. Conder Nattrass, 'Some Early Trust Deeds', in WHS Proceedings, 15 pp.93-102
  • Charles Pollard, 'Early Trustees and the Establishment of their Claims', in WHS Proceedings, 23 pp.154-56, 161-64; 24 pp.1-4
  • E. Benson Perkins, Methodist Preaching Houses and the Law (1952)
  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, 1 (1965) pp.228-230, 282-284
  • Margaret Batty, Stages in the Development and Control of Wesleyan Lay Leadership, 1791-1878 (1988), pp.87-106, 226-240