A statistical call to ministry…

Last week I had the privilege of serving as a lay delegate to the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. As this was my first time attending the conference in this capacity, I had the opportunity to sit in on many discussions on the current state of the Methodist church in Kentucky. Some of the details shared were quite encouraging. Some were very challenging. Some were deeply unsettling.

Below, I offer statistics reflecting Kentucky United Methodist Churches (KYUMC) in 2011. I share these statistics first of all to inform. Many were new to me, and they may be to you as well. You may not be Methodist or live in Kentucky, but I believe these statistics are fairly representative to many American churches. Second, I pray that this information will convict and urge you toward action, as they have done for me.

According to the conference treasurer’s report, in 2011, the average Methodist Church in Kentucky spent money taken in through tithes, offerings, gifts, etc in the following ways:

  • 42% went toward personnel (staff salaries, benefits, etc)
  • 25% went toward programming within the church
  • 15% went toward buildings
  • 9% went toward district and operating budgets
  • 9% went toward other ministry (missions, aid to the poor, relief efforts, etc)

This breakdown reveals that on average, 91% of the money taken in by Kentucky United Methodist Churches last year stayed in house. 25% of the money was used for ministry and programming within the church. 9% of the money was used for ministry outside the walls of the church. In other words, 9 cents of ever dollar given went to missions while 42 cents of every dollar given went to a paycheck.

What isn’t captured in this breakdown is the special giving done by the KYUMC. 100% of the special giving goes toward local outreach, disaster relief, aid to third-world countries, etc. Unfortunately, the total amount of special giving in 2011 was not shared.

The conference treasurer’s report also included the following breakdown of demographic membership in Kentucky Methodist Churches for 2011:

  • Approximately 97% white
  • Approximately 2% African American
  • Less than 1% Hispanic
  • Less than 1% Asian
  • Less than 1% multi-racial

On a non-Methodist related note, the head of New Church Development shared that in 2011, approximately 17% of people in the state of Kentucky regularly attended church. Thus, 83% of the state’s population is not regularly active in any church.

As for the Methodist Church nation-wide, in 2011 membership was in decline by 5%, average attendance was in decline by 8%, and baptisms and confirmations were in decline by 21%.

Contrary to the state and national statistics, the Kentucky Methodist Church recorded a growth in membership in 2011. In fact, the Kentucky Methodist Church took in approximately 1,000 new members. Much of this new membership was due to 14 new churches the Kentucky Conference has planted over the past four years. Of these 14 church plants, 6 were Hispanic and 3 were African-American. The combined average attendance of the 14 church plants in 2011 was 1,617. Furthermore, in 2011 these churches contributed to 262 of approximately 1,560 first time professions of faith.

In light of all the above statistics, I offer the following conclusions:

1)    We need to celebrate. A growth of approximately 1,000 new members, 1,560 proclamations of faith, and 14 new church plants, 9 of which are ethnic, is exciting stuff! In a time where American Christianity is on the decline, the Methodist Church in Kentucky is rising to the challenge to bring others to Christ, especially those who may not fit the typical demographic. Furthermore, the Kentucky Methodist Church has committed to starting 40 new churches over the next four years. That is quite a challenge, but shows dedication to finding new places for new people.

2)    We need to repent. One of my biggest disappointments in conference this year was our lack of repentance for our shortcomings. There was the usual time of confession during the communion liturgy, but I felt we ignored key issues that would have been good for us to specifically and publically name. We instead chose to find ways to pat ourselves on the back for what we were doing right without ever repenting for what we were doing wrong. Of course, as noted above, we need to celebrate the good. We also, however, need to repent of the ways we remain internally focused and fail to bring Christ to the world. I fear what it means for the church when we not only lose the act of repentance in our gatherings but also no longer even feel the need for it.

3)    We need to seriously reconsider how we spend our money. Keeping within the church 91% of money given is entirely unacceptable. First of all, this only enhances the mindset that the church exists to care for its members. Second, the more money we put into the pockets of a few people, the less we have to go out and minister to the poor, the helpless, and the needy. I feel that our use of money reflects our priorities. Justo Gonzales writes of the 11th century church, “One of the main causes of the final failure of the reformation of the eleventh century was the wealth of the church, which made it very difficult for it to set aside the intrigues of the powerful, and take the side of the poor and the oppressed.” I pray that we do not fail in the same way. As a challenge, the senior pastor at my church recently shared his vision to see at least 50 cents of every dollar given go toward missions – a remarkable goal!

4)    We need to reach out to our ethnic brothers and sisters. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2011 the state of Kentucky 86.3% white. In general, the large majority of Kentucky is white. I applaud the Methodist Church for seeking ways to further diversify with its Hispanic and African-American ministries and have great hopes for how we may continue to further our demographic diversity. I admit that I have failed to reach out to those different than myself and am convicted to change.

5)    We need apostolic ministry. We need to plant churches. As stated previously, the Kentucky Methodist Church saw a great increase in membership and professions of faith in 2011 due to new church plants. Finding new places for new people encourages outreach and evangelism. We need to take the task seriously. I have personally been challenged by the dedication of the Kentucky Methodist Church to plant 40 new churches in the next four years and want to do my part to help. Doing this may mean a paradigm shift for many of us. It may mean setting aside mindsets of large buildings and attractional models. It may mean finding ways to get smaller, not bigger. It may force laity to be more involved in leadership, evangelism, and outreach. Again, I have been convicted of this. Who are the new people I will bring? How will I help lead others to the Kingdom? I repent of my selfish ways of living, ignoring those around me that I could be inviting to church or leading to Christ. I resolve to do better. Will you join me?

What do you think? What concerns, convictions, or conclusions do you draw from these statistics? Are any of mine misguided? In what ways should the church respond? Blessings!


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About jonathanapowers

Jonathan serves with his wife, Faith, as the director of student ministries for World Gospel Mission at Asbury University, where he is also an adjunct professor of Worship Arts. He recently received his doctorate in worship studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL. Jonathan serves as the worship pastor for the Offerings Community of First United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY and is the co-author with Jason Jackson and Teddy Ray of Echo: A Catechism for Discipleship in the Ancient Tradition published by Seedbed.

4 responses to “A statistical call to ministry…”

  1. Matt Johnson says :

    Does your 91% number include new church starts? If my memory serves me correctly, new church starts is almost 10% of the budget and I do not think that those can be counted as keeping money within the church. NCD is frontline mission stuff!!!

    Just wondering…I agree with your premise, though!

    • jonathanapowers says :


      Thanks for the comments. First of all, the 91% does not include new church stats – these stats reflected averages of how money was spent in the “typical” church in the KYUMC. As for the conference budget, I think you’re correct – new church starts account for about 10% of the total budget. The 91%, however, is reflective only of the average local church and not reflective of the conference budget.

      Thanks for noting that, and I whole-heartedly agree, NCD (New Church Development in case anyone is curious about the abbreviation) is frontline mission stuff!

  2. Teddy Ray says :

    Reblogged this on teddy ray and commented:
    I don’t plan to reblog often. But if you haven’t seen this from my friend Jonathan, I wanted to make sure you did.

  3. Aaron Mansfield says :

    so… when can I call you to help plant a new church?

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