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  • Writer's pictureKim Carroll

Structure of the United Methodist Church

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Today the United Methodist Church is a worldwide connection of more than 12 million members in Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States. The global church is organized through ever-widening circles called conferences. John Wesley identified “Christian conferencing” as a spiritual discipline through which God’s grace may be made known to us. It is through these conferences that United Methodists at all levels gather to listen for God’s call and discover God’s will for the church. Through our connection, we are linked together by organization and purpose with the shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

This work begins at the local church, where we reach out and welcome people into the body of Christ, relate them to God, nurture them and grow their discipleship, and send them out into the world in service. As part of the United Methodist global family, the congregation of the local church has certain rights and responsibilities, but is not autonomous. At the local level, the charge conference elects the delegates to annual conference, sets the budget, approves the pastor’s salary, and elects the lay leaders to carry out the mission and ministries of the church.

Churches in a geographical area are connected together to form a district, with an appointed superintendent providing administrative and spiritual leadership to all the churches in his or her area. Districts are grouped together to form an Annual Conference, overseen by an elected Bishop. The bishop, in consultation with the district superintendents and local churches, appoints the clergy who will serve local congregations within their annual conferences. Districts and annual conferences support the work of the local church with training, resources, camps, and mission opportunities.

The term Annual Conference is used to describe both the regional body and the yearly meeting where lay delegates and clergy gather to worship together, adopt goals, strategies and budgets, take stands on key issues, ordain deacons and elders, and elect delegates to the Jurisdictional and General Conferences. As a church in the Capital District, Manchaca UMC will send 2 clergy, 2 lay delegates, and 2 Capital District Missional delegates to the next Rio Texas Annual Conference in June 2023.

The 57 Annual conferences in the United States are divided into five jurisdictions. Every four years, the Jurisdictional Conferences meet to elect new bishops and select members of general boards and agencies. Annual conferences located outside of the US are organized into 7 central conferences: Africa, Central and Southern Europe, Congo, Germany, Northern Europe, Philippines, and West Africa.

At the highest level, governmental duties are divided among three bodies: the General Conference; the Council of Bishops; and the Judicial Council.

The General Conference is the primary legislative body in United Methodism and sets official policy for the denomination. It is an international body made up of 1000 delegates (half clergy and half laity) that meets every four years to consider revisions to church law and practice, to approve the budget for church-wide ministries and programs, and to adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. The General Conference also revises The Book of Discipline that contains the rules that govern the operation of our denomination and contains the history, theology and doctrines of the church. Delegates are elected by their annual conferences and represent conferences, districts and churches from all over the world. Due to complications arising out of the pandemic, our next General Conference has been postponed to 2024..

The Council of Bishops, composed of all active and retired bishops, provides oversight of the ministry and mission of the general church, and spiritual leadership to the entire church connection. The Judicial Council meets twice a year to determine the constitutionality of proceedings at all levels of church life. It is made up of nine members (laity and clergy) that are elected by the General Conference.

From the beginning, John Wesley recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability. His groupings of classes, societies and annual conferences gave rise to today’s connectional system that guides our work, governs our policies, and “enables us to carry out our mission in unity and strength.” Through our connection, every local church joins together in mission and ministry, allowing us to accomplish far more than any one local church could alone.

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