The Associated Press
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 04.25.2007
The United Methodist Church is the latest Protestant group caught in the shifting currents of world Christianity. While the American denomination is shrinking at home, its congregations in the developing world are growing explosively.
Over the last decade, the number of United Methodists outside the U.S. more than tripled. The denomination's largest district is now in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. At the next national church assembly, the 2008 General Conference in Texas, overseas delegates will have more say than ever in the church's future — as many as 30 percent could come from abroad.
"Trends suggest that Christianity is going to continue to grow as a global phenomenon, and denominations that have thought of themselves as being predominantly North American in character are going to have to get over that," said William Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology, a Methodist seminary in Dallas.
Nearly 8 million United Methodists are now in the U.S., with another 3.5 million church members overseas. The denomination is the third-largest in the nation behind Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, and middle-class worshippers mostly fill the pews of its American churches.
But if current patterns continue, within decades the typical United Methodist will be from Africa. While international congregations expand, the denomination's U.S. ranks have decreased by 19 percent since the 1970s.
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