Jonesboro First United Methodist Church
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Gather - Grow - Give - Go... with Gratitude!

United Methodist Organization

United Methodists often joke about the many organizational layers of church life, but, as members of other denominations have been heard to say: “If you want something done, get the Methodists to do it.” Followers of the Wesleys are indeed “methodical” about the ways they approach mission and ministry.

One reason United Methodists are able to accomplish great things is the church’s emphasis on “connectionalism.” It is common to hear United Methodist leaders speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning.

The United Methodist Church, which began as a movement and a loose network of local societies with a mission, has grown into one of the most carefully organized and largest denominations in the world. The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading Scriptural Holiness over the land. John Wesley recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” which was an interlocking system of classes, societies, and annual conferences. (UM Member’s Handbook, p 24)

No local church is the total body of Christ. Therefore, local United Methodist churches are bound together by a common mission and common governance that accomplish reaching out into the world. United Methodist churches and organizations join in mission with each other and with other denominations.

Connectionalism shows through the clergy appointment system, through the developing of mission and ministry that United Methodists do together, and through giving.

An example of connectionalism: Mission work around the world, whether it be a new university in Africa or bicycles for Cuban pastors, is the work of “the connection,” as opposed to the work of a single congregation.

From United Methodism 101

Districts

Groups of churches in a geographic area are organized to form a district, somewhat similar to the way cities and towns are organized into counties. Often, churches in a district will work together to provide training and mission opportunities.1

Each district is led by a district superintendent (“DS”), an elder appointed by the bishop, usually for a six-year term.  The DS oversees the ministry of the district’s clergy and churches, provides spiritual and pastoral leadership, works with the bishop and others in the appointment of ordained ministers to serve the district’s churches, presides at meetings of the charge conference, and oversees programs within the district.2

1 From United Methodist Member’s Handbook by George Kohler (Discipleship Resources, 1997), p. 24.

2 From What Every Teacher Needs to Know about The United Methodist Church (Discipleship Resources, 2002), p. 30.

Annual Conferences

When you hear the term "annual conference," it could be referring to any one of three things. The annual conference is a regional body, an organizational unit AND a yearly meeting.

Regional body

The annual (sometimes referred to as 'regional') conference is described by the church's Book of Discipline as the "basic unit" of the church.

An annual conference may cover an entire state, only part of the state, or even parts of two or more states. There are also three missionary conferences in the United States, which rely upon the denomination as a whole for funding.

The United States has 63 annual conferences, supervised by 50 bishops. There are 59 annual conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, which are supervised by 18 bishops.

Organizational body

The annual conference has a central office and professional staff that coordinate and conduct ministry and the business of the conference. It likely has a director of connectional ministries, treasurer, directors of program areas (such as camping), communications director, and other staff as deemed appropriate for the annual conference and as required by the Book of Discipline. Clergy and laypersons may also serve on conference boards, commissions and committees. 

Annual Conference sessions

Each year—usually in May or June—all clergy members and an equal number of lay members selected from the local churches attend their conference’s Annual Conference session meet together to worship, fellowship, and conduct the business of the conference, which may last 3-5 days. During these sessions, members of the conference hear reports of past and ongoing work; adopt future goals, programs and budgets; ordain clergy members as deacons and elders; and elect delegates to Jurisdictional and General Conferences (every 4 years). The bishop presides over these meetings. 

Jurisdictional / Central Conferences

In the United States of America, The United Methodist Church is divided into five areas known as jurisdictions: Northeastern, Southeastern, North Central, South Central and Western. These provide some program and leadership training events to support the annual conferences.  Every four years the jurisdictional conferences meet to elect new bishops and select members of general boards and agencies.

From United Methodist Member's Handbook, p. 25.

Annual conferences located outside the United States are organized into central conferences, much like jurisdictions. There are seven central conferences: Africa, Central and Southern Europe, Congo, Germany, Northern Europe, Philippines, and West Africa.

From What Every Leader Needs to Know About United Methodist Connections by Linda Whited (Discipleship Resources, 2004), p 14.

General Agencies

United Methodist general agencies (boards, council, and commissions) are created by and responsible to the General Conference.  The purpose of the general agencies is to provide resources and services that will enable individual congregations to serve God effectively in the world.  Through the work of these agencies, The United Methodist Church is able to maintain a common vision, mission, and ministry throughout the worldwide connectional system.

What Every Leader Needs to Know About United Methodist Connections, p 14.

Each general agency has its own governing board of lay and clergy members. Members of these boards are selected from individuals nominated by annual conferences and other groups. In addition to board members, there are staff members who coordinate and carry out the day-to-day ministry work of each agency. 

The purposes of each agency are outlined in the Book of Discipline.

For example, the General Council on Finance and Administration oversees funds of the church. The General Commission on Religion and Race reviews and monitors the practices of the entire church to ensure racial inclusiveness.

Information on this page obtained from the official United Methodist Church website (www.umc.org).