Each local church is governed by a charge conference with an
administrative board as the year-round supervisory agency. A council
on ministries coordinates the program of the congregation. In smaller
churches, the board and the council are combined. As of late 1996
there are 36,170 organized churches in the United States. The most
current data between 1993 and 1997 indicates that in the Central
Conferences (non-U.S.), there are 6,305 organized churches and 7,626
regular preaching places.
Each church in the United States and Puerto Rico is in one of 522
districts, which are administrative and program groupings of 40 to 80
churches. Each district has a full-time superintendent who is an
This is the name for both the territory covered by, and the
legislative body of, a given region. There are 66 annual conferences
in the United States, and 51 in Europe, Africa and the Philippines.
The conference approves program and budget for its area, elects
delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences, and examines and
recommends candidates for ministry. A bishop, the presiding officer of
a conference, annually appoints all ordained ministers in her or his
Annual conference members are ordained ministers in "full
connection"; lay delegates to annual conference are elected by
each pastoral charge. Each charge elects at least one lay member;
churches with more than one ordained minister on staff are entitled to
one additional lay member for each additional clergyperson.
Bishops and Episcopal Areas
Elected by jurisdictional conferences every four years, bishops are
superintendents of their respective episcopal areas. There are 50
active bishops and episcopal areas in the United States and Puerto
Rico, and 18 in Europe, Africa and the Philippines. Episcopal areas
include one or more annual conferences.
The Council of Bishops is the corporate expression of episcopal
leadership, which supervises and promotes the temporal and spiritual
interests of the entire church.
There are five geographic jurisdictions (geographic divisions) in
the United States, with 8-13 annual conferences in each.
Jurisdictional conferences meet simultaneously every four years to
elect and assign bishops and some members of general church agencies,
and, in some cases, to develop jurisdictional programs. Members of the
jurisdictional conferences are General Conference delegates from that
region, plus additional delegates -- an equal number of lay people and
ordained ministers -- elected by the region's annual conferences.
General (Churchwide) Agencies
The structure of the United Methodist Church resembles that of the
U.S. government. General Conference is the legislative branch;
Judicial Council is the "supreme court." The Council of
Bishops is similar to the executive branch but, although the Council
has a president, elected each year, there is no single general officer
or executive of the United Methodist Church.
General agencies are similar to U.S. cabinet departments, but are
primarily accountable to the General Conference rather than to the
Council of Bishops. Their staffs are governed by boards of directors
who are lay and clergy elected jointly by General Conference and
The church's "Supreme Court" interprets church law and
determines constitutionality of proceedings at all levels of church
life. Its nine members are elected by General Conference and usually
meet twice a year.
The United Methodist Church is a member of the National Council of
Churches of Christ in the United States of America and of the World
Council of Churches. It also participates in the Consultation on
Church Union (COCU), where nine U.S. denominations are discussing
steps to greater union. Combined membership of COCU churches is about
20 million in 82,000 congregations.