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Ministry Watch News Opinion Uncategorized


UMC Denial, Episcopal Church Meltdown, Highly Paid Ministry Executives, and…THANKS!

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be. 

UMC Leaders Whistling Past The Graveyard.  Just weeks ago, 487 United Methodist churches were approved for disaffiliation from the denomination, bringing the total of ratified exits to 1,314. Hundreds more have already voted to exit and are awaiting final approval.

When we reported that news earlier this week, I got emails telling me, essentially, “there’s nothing to see here.”  One of my correspondents, a UMC pastor, told me that “only” five percent of UMC congregations have left.  A portion of my response follows:

You are correct that “only” five percent of the churches have left, but I’ve been covering religion for decades.  I’m used to seeing year-over-year changes in membership that are fractions of a percent.  A 5 percent departure is, in historical terms, massive.  Also, I would note that it is 5 percent so far.  There’s little doubt that when all is said and done, the UMC will be 25 to 35 percent smaller than it is today.  That’s a dramatic decline, by any standard.  I do not think it is overstating the case to say that the UMC is having a meltdown, or at least a historic realignment. 

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Episcopal Meltdown.  If there’s any denomination disintegrating faster than the UMC these days, it is probably the Episcopal Church.  The Episcopal Church just announced that in 2021 it lost 56,314 members while attendance dropped 36% from 2020. Sixty-two congregations were permanently closed. Average worship dropped from 55 to 21 persons. Ninety percent of Episcopal churches have fewer than 100 attendees on Sunday.

These numbers provide a bitter counterpoint to the longstanding motto seen on signs outside Episcopal Churches:  “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”  One of the ironies of progressivism in the church is that it claims to want diversity, tolerance, and inclusion, but progressive churches – from the Episcopal Church, to the United Church of Christ to, now, the UMC – end up becoming white, rich, and exclusive.  It is interesting that one of the most racially diverse denominations in the nation is also one of the most theologically conservative:  the Southern Baptist Convention.  The SBC reported in 2015 that 20 percent of its congregations were “non-Anglo.”  The SBC elected its first black president, Fred Luter in 2012.

Ministry Compensation.  I know that I don’t have to tell anyone that we’re in a new year.  2022 is in the history books, and those of you who still use paper checks have to remember to write 2023 on them.

That means it’s time for our annual Executive Compensation List. This list is usually our most read story of the year, and this year we’ve published not one list, but two.

We were finding that Christian college and university executives were dominating the list, so we broke them out in a list of their own.  So we have a list that includes what you might call “traditional” ministry executives, and another list devoted just to college and university executives.

We think the list will provide more of an “apples to apples” comparison, and it also allows us to get the salaries of 200 executives in plain view of the public, rather than the 100 salaries we’ve published in the past.

I also want to point out to you an article about our list in The Washington Times.  Reporter Mark Kellner did a nice job of describing the list, some of the issues the list raises, and he did some additional reporting to get the perspectives of some of the organizations who made the list.  You can read that article here.

Thank You.  If you get our daily emails, you know that we had what was for us an ambitious goal of $81,000 for the months of November and December combined.  We met that goal, with room to spare.  I don’t know exactly what the final tally is, since we are still getting checks postmarked Dec. 31 in the mail, I will share with you a final number next week.  Until then, please know that I’m grateful, humbled, and a bit relieved – all at once.  So, again, THANK YOU.

How To Read A Form 990.  One final note before we go.  In the past we’ve done a webinar entitled “How To Find and Read A Form 990.”  This webinar has proven so popular that we’ve repeated it three or four times over the past two years.  And we’re going to do it again.  It will take place on Feb. 1 at 4 pm ET.  Just check the daily MinistryWatch email for a link to the registration page.  It’s absolutely free, but you do need to register to get all the links and details.  To register, click here.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.