Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
Earlier this week, I posted a series of maps indicating which World Methodist Council (WMC) member denominations have churches in which countries or territories. As indicated in that post, there are a few disclaimers: the data’s not perfect; it neglects Korean Methodist Church mission; it only shows presence, not relative membership; and it’s hard to decide whether to classify some territories separately from their ruling country. Nevertheless, it’s still possible to draw several conclusions about WMC member denominations and thus the Wesleyan/Methodist movement as a whole from this data.
First, a word on the types of denominations that are part of the WMC may be useful. I have separated WMC member denominations into either national and international bodies.
National bodies are of three types:
1. Autonomous churches formerly affiliated with either British or American Methodism (located in Oceania, Asia, Africa, and especially Latin America)
2. A few autonomous churches recently started in Latin American independently of British or American Methodists
3. United/Uniting denominations incorporating Methodist churches at one point affiliated with British Methodists or the Evangelical United Brethren (in Oceania, Asia, Africa, and Europe)
International bodies are of four types:
1. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) and the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) are regional denominations, as indicated in their names.
2. There are three historically African-American churches that now including branches in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, India, and Europe (mostly the UK). These are the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (A.M.E. Zion) Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church.
3. The United Methodist Church is a semi-global denomination present in some but not all areas of the world, whose presence/absence was shaped by a series of autonomy departures, mostly in the 60s and 70s.
4. There are three global holiness denominations, located on all continents with no or little history of autonomous separations; therefore, these three are the most widely spread. These are the Church of the Nazarene, The Wesleyan Church, and the Free Methodist Church.
The Korean Methodist Church may deserve to be a fifth type of international church. I know they have member congregations in the United States that are fully integrated into their system of governance. I do not know what the relationships between the parent denomination and newly planted mission churches in other countries are like.
Now, some conclusions drawn by looking at the country-level data:
1. There is a wide range in terms of Wesleyan/Methodist denominational presence in particular countries, from a hundred or fewer members to a million or more members in one denomination in one particular country.
2. Countries with no Wesleyan Methodist presence are mostly Muslim and/or have a small population. This finding is not particularly surprising, as the difficulties in prompting Muslim conversions and the restrictions on religion in Muslim-majority countries are well-documented, and one might reasonably expect small population countries to be less able to support a variety of denominations.
3. Countries with a lot of Wesleyan/Methodist denominations are mostly former parts of the British or US empires. 80% of those countries with 5+ denominations present and all of those countries with 7-8 denominations present are former parts of the British or US empires. (The US empire was less extensive and less formal than the British Empire, but I’m including here the US Virgin Islands, Haiti, the Philippines, and Liberia, all of which were controlled at times by Americans or American settlers.) Again, given the extensive literature on the relationship between mission and empire, especially Protestant mission and the British Empire, this finding is not particularly surprising.
4. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo, and Mozambique stand out as particularly receptive to Wesleyan/Methodist denominations, despite lacking an Anglo-American colonial past. All three countries have 6 WMC member denominations. Cote d’Ivoire has 5 WMC member denominations and no Anglo-American colonialism, which is also notable. While all four countries have neighbors with British colonial pasts, more research into why these countries in particular have been receptive to Wesleyan/Methodist traditions would be welcome.
5. Despite the Wesleyan/Methodist movement’s roots in European Pietism and European Enlightenment thought, Europe is not terribly receptive to Wesleyan/Methodist denominations. Most European countries (other than the United Kingdom) have 1-3 WMC member denominations, and their memberships are small. Strong state churches, historic restrictions on religious freedom, and current secularization are all part of this story, but it is worth asking whether there are any other factors at play here.
6. The Wesleyan/Methodist movement is stronger in Latin America than Europe. In most Latin American countries, autonomous Methodist churches and the three holiness churches all have a presence. While many are small, membership is often higher than that in similarly-sized European countries. Latin America shares some cultural history with Europe. It, too, has had dominant state (Catholic) churches and historic religious restrictions. Given these similarities, the question then becomes, why has Wesleyanism/Methodism done better in Latin American than Europe?
7. Southeast Asia is one of the hot new mission fields for Wesleyan/Methodist work, attracting both UMC and holiness mission work. Thailand and Cambodia have new mission work from four denominations, Myanmar has new mission work from three denominations, and Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia have all attracted two denominations in recent years. All of these new branches of Wesleyanism/Methodism are currently small but growing. More work needs to be done on why Southeast Asia has been such a focus for Wesleyan/Methodist growth in recent years.
Finally, it is worth noting that competition may or may not be good for Wesleyans/Methodists. According to Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, the presence of large numbers of denominations may provide options for religious consumers and/or indicate a de-regulated religious market. They argue that both these factors generally promote high levels of religious affiliation. Thus, competition may be good for membership. Nevertheless, competition also involves duplication of effort, confusion among members and potential converts, conflicts over access to resources, and a potential failure to embody the unity of Christ. Thus, while data shows where WMC member denominations are and are not located, it cannot determine whether these patterns of presence are ultimately good or bad.