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Church Structure


Local Churches  

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 ordained minister. 

Annual Conference  

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 episcopal area. 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 regional organizations. 

Judicial Council  

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. 

Ecumenical Relationships  

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.

Have questions about General Conference?  Call InfoServ at 1-800-251-8140, 8AM-4:30PM Central Time, Monday-Friday.  Email: infoserv@umcom.umc.org 

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