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What Does It Mean to be a United Methodist?

What does it mean to be United Methodist? To a degree, the answer to that question depends on a person’s role, knowledge and experience within the church. What is very important to a pastor may be of less significance to a church member, especially one who doesn’t attend regularly. But most United Methodists agree that an emphasis on God’s grace is very important, as well as having a Communion table where all are welcome.

An extensive new quantitative study by United Methodist Communications finds that opinions about what it means to be United Methodist are as diverse as people’s reasons for being a part of the church. The survey, conducted November-December 2014, was done online among a representative sample of 400 United Methodist members, and by phone surveys of 850 pastors and leaders.

More than 39% of member respondents are United Methodists because they were born into United Methodist families. Beliefs and teachings were the second most frequently mentioned reason for affiliation (17%), followed by liking the people, liking the pastor, or marrying into a United Methodist family (8% each). Some like the church’s emphasis on social issues (4%), while 2% find a convenient location to be the prevailing factor.

Having Wesleyan theological roots and open Communion were the most frequently mentioned attributes seen by members as uniquely United Methodist, compared to other Christian denominations. Yet only 19% of members considered Wesleyan theological roots a “very important” core value.

Pastors and church leaders also named those values, but were more likely to also mention being a connectional church and funding the church through shared giving.

More than half of members surveyed said an emphasis on God’s grace, open Communion, acceptance of all people, church fellowship, a strong scriptural foundation and an emphasis on mission and outreach in local community were very important values for The United Methodist Church.

More than 90% of pastors surveyed declared the importance of an emphasis on God’s grace, open Communion, an emphasis on local mission and outreach and a strong scriptural foundation. But some of the values which rated high for pastors were low for members; for example, a balance of personal and social holiness was of top importance to less than one-third of members surveyed while 81% of pastors put it in the ”very important” tier.

To read more, go to www.umc.org/news-and-media/research-study-shows-church-values-differ complete.

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