Megachurch pastor and author Adam Hamilton has speculated that The United Methodist Church will lose between 3,400 and 7,500 congregations next year due to debate over the church body’s stance on homosexuality.
Hamilton’s Kansas-based congregation, the Church of the Resurrection, which is the largest UMC congregation in the United States, held its annual Leadership Institute gathering Sept. 25-27 with approximately 2,400 clergy and lay leaders in attendance.
A key issue of the event was the future of the UMC in light of its ongoing debate over its official opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.
In a speech given at the event, Hamilton noted that there were, at present, approximately 34,000 congregations in the UMC.
“A year from now, we will not be the same church that we are today,” he predicted, alluding to the UMC General Conference scheduled for next year, which will debate possible changes to the denomination's position on LGBT issues.
Hamilton told those gathered that after the General Conference next May, there will be “between 3,400 and 7,500 less churches” in the UMC by this time next year.
In explaining his estimate, Hamilton reasoned that between 3,400 and 6,800 congregations will leave the UMC in protest to join a new theologically conservative denomination while another 300 to 1,000 churches will decide that the denomination is not inclusive enough.
“So we’ll lose 3,400 to 6,800 on one side and maybe 300 to 1,000 churches on the other side,” explained Hamilton, who admitted that this was “just a guess.”
“That will leave, though, I think, 27-28,000 United Methodist churches. And the question is what will we become?”
An opponent of the current UMC Book of Discipline language on homosexuality, Hamilton went on to say that he believed that the Book of Discipline will be changed next year.
“We are going to remove from the Book of Discipline the language that is harmful to human beings,” declared Hamilton, receiving applause from the audience.
Despite his belief that thousands of churches will leave the denomination by next year, Hamilton urged cooperation and unity among conservatives, progressives and centrists in the UMC.
“If we’re conservative without being liberal, we’re stuck,” he said. “And if we’re liberal without being conservative, we’re unmoored.”
“At Church of the Resurrection, we have Republicans and Democrats. We have the same people running for office against each other and they’re members of the same congregation. There’s something beautiful about that.”
In February, the UMC held a special session of general conference in which a majority of the delegates voted in favor of a measure called “The Traditional Plan.”
This plan involved maintaining the denomination’s official position against homosexuality, gay marriage and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals while promising stricter enforcement.
A rejected proposal, called “The One Church Plan,” which Hamilton supported, would have allowed regional bodies and congregations to determine their own stance on homosexuality. This plan was supported by a majority of the Council of Bishops.
Many liberal UMC leaders denounced the vote result and promised to resist the plan. Some of the proposed legislation headed to next year’s General Conference seeks to overturn the Traditional Plan.
While Hamilton and others have denounced the Traditional Plan, others, including Pastor Talbot Davis of Good Shepherd UMC of Charlotte, North Carolina, whose church averages about 2,000 worshipers each Sunday, told The Christian Post in an earlier interview that he supported the result.
“I am delighted that the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church adopted the Traditional Plan as we believe in the beautiful picture of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage that is woven throughout the pages of Scripture as well as church teaching for since its inception,” said Davis.
“We gladly join with our global brothers and sisters in teaching this truth with as much love and winsomeness as we can.”