Practical Strategies for Avoiding Disaffiliation in YOUR local United Methodist Church

Leaders from the Wesleyan Covenant Association in the North Alabama Conference estimate that approximately 100 churches (out of our 650 congregations) are currently considering disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church. For those laity and pastors in churches who wish to stay United Methodist and find themselves among those churches where disaffiliation is a live possibility, it can be a demoralizing experience. We want to help you advocate for your church to stay United Methodist. Below is a list of strategies to get there.

Understand the REQUIRED North Alabama Conference “Discernment Process” for churches considering disaffiliation.

Stay UMC is a grassroots organization and is not involved in conference administration. However, the bishop and cabinet have published detailed guidelines required by our North Alabama Conference to ensure that your church takes a thoughtful, prayerful, and balanced approach to the consequential decision to disaffiliate from the UMC. Please read the guidelines thoroughly and make sure shortcuts are not being taken. The policy is designed to make the process fair and transparent. Specifically, be a vocal advocate to make sure:

– Minimum duration times are observed at each phase of the process.

– Advocate for going the extra mile in some of the suggested discernment activities rather than simply meeting the minimum standard.

– Ask to be part of the Discernment Team. At the very least, advocate that there are voices on the Discernment Team inclined to stay in the United Methodist Church. The Discernment Team has the opportunity to decline to recommend to the Church Council moving forward with disaffiliation.

– Advocate hosting a pastor or other leader to represent the benefits of staying United Methodist. Several recommended activities of Phase 2 of the Discernment Process propose something like this. Insist that having the district superintendent consult with the discernment team as part of their normal responsibilities or attending a presentation of the bishop does not suffice. Stay UMC can help you connect with someone in your area to speak. Doing the legwork of someone willing to speak to your congregation may make this offer difficult for your church leadership to decline.

Understand that a 66.7% vote of your entire congregation is required for you to leave the United Methodist Church.

The newly added paragraph 2553 of the Book of Discipline says “The decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church must be approved by a two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the professing members of the local church present at the church conference.” A church conference is the entire membership of your church. For many congregations, this is not an easy threshold to reach. It will be even more difficult to reach if you actively organize to make sure most everyone in your congregation and their family members are present during this critical meeting.

Be a watchdog for misinformation, omissions, mischaracterizations, and a fair process.

Many WCA/GMC leaders are sharing talking points designed to portray the remaining UMC as engaging in theological drift by abandoning Biblical authority, questioning the resurrection of Jesus Christ, forsaking our doctrinal standards, promoting an open canon, and other similar things. These are strawman arguments typically based on some extreme anecdote. We recommend the following engagement strategies when/if this happens:

– Ask those who assert such things for specific examples in the North Alabama Conference of such things.

– When single instances are cited, point out that one cannot represent the part for the whole. All institutions have people on the extreme ends.

– Watch a select portion of Tom Berlin’s “Celebrate UMC” presentation where he refutes such claims directly. Video here (starts at 40 minutes into presentation): https://vimeo.com/722681837#t=40m

– Read this blog post by long time Asbury Spiritual Formation and Wesleyan Studies professor, Steve Harper.

– Print and distribute this side-by-side comparison of the UMC and future GMC which was developed by the Texas Annual Conference Future Discernment Team. It clears up some myths about the post-separation UMC and highlights some important differences laity need to be aware of.

– Use the opportunity to ask for a different perspective to be offered.

Use your voice to make your church aware there are those who would like to stay and that disaffiliation is not a fait accompli. 

If a pastor or a sizeable portion of a congregation makes it clear they would like to leave, don’t give up and be a cheerleader for others not to give up either. One study showed that regular church goers are likely to overestimate opposition to same-sex marriage in their congregation by 20%. There are also probably real people in the families of your church that will feel marginalized by a decision to leave the UMC over intolerance of our differences, and they need you to be their advocate. There may be more cause for hope than you realize, but someone may need to stand up and make the case to stay United Methodist to activate others in your church inclined to remain United Methodist.

Understand important milestones in the upcoming timeline and incentives at each stage.

In general, time is the ally of those wishing to stay in the United Methodist Church. Whenever possible, it is likely to your advantage to encourage a slow and deliberate process, rather than a quick, hasty decision. The following are significant milestones/durations to be aware of:

– Disaffiliation Discernment Process, Phase 1 (Notification) – 1 month minimum

– Disaffiliation Discernment Process, Phase 2 (Prayerful Discernment) – 3 month minimum

– Disaffiliation Discernment Process, Phase 3 (Church Conference) – 10 day minimum notification

– The last day to begin the discernment process (initiated by calling your district superintendent) and be eligible for the December 10 called annual conference is September 1, 2022, according to information we have received from the annual conference.

– The Southeast Jurisdictional Conference is November 2-4, 2022. It is likely we will receive word regarding who will serve as our next bishop. We understand that it is possible, however, that we will be reassigned our present bishop due to the present situation in the UMC, in these unusual circumstances.

– The Called Annual Conference in North Alabama for Disaffiliations is December 10, 2022, at 10 am. The deadline for your church to be on the agenda for this called annual conference is December 1, and all financial payments must be submitted to the Conference Trustees and the treasurer by December 1.

– We will likely receive a new presiding bishop on January 1, 2023. However, our annual conference policies and processes on disaffiliations will not change with new leadership. The NAC3 team has been clear that these agreed-upon processes belong to the conference trustees, who are elected by the annual conference and represent diverse points of view. A bishop has only one vote on the matter. Some churches may be anticipating a change in policies and rush to disaffiliate at the December 10 Annual Conference, but this is based on a unsubstantiated fear.

– The Global Methodist Church’s Convening General Conference to be held between May 1, 2023 and November 1, 2023 based on this announcement. Pastors intent on being part of the GMC may wish to be part of this Conference.

– Our next regularly scheduled annual conference will be June 21-24 2023 (VBC in Huntsville). Additional votes on disaffiliations are expected at this annual conference.

– A *possible* specially called Annual Conference has been announced for December, 2023 for additional disaffiliations.

– The deadline for disaffiliations under par. 2553 expires on December 31, 2023. This deadline represents something of a gamble for many churches wishing to disaffiliate. The costs to disaffiliate under par. 2553 are not insignificant. Waiting until the next General Conference could offer a less expensive option for churches to exit the UMC. General Conference could also fail to produce any exit or extend the expiration of par. 2553. Waiting to disaffiliate could either provide better terms or prevent the possibility of an exit altogether.

2024 General Conference – date TBA

Highlight the real costs of disaffiliation.

The North Alabama Conference’s Discernment Process is designed to help congregations “count the costs” of disaffiliation. The Annual Conference will provide information on the cost required to cover pension liabilities for previous pastors and release your church from the trust clause on its property. However, it may be important for you to point out hidden or unforeseen costs inherent in disaffiliation such as:

– Interest and loan costs to fund money needed to comply with par. 2553

– Money needed to remove “Cross and Flame” logo

– Future liability for potential Boy Scout lawsuits

– Opportunity costs involved in using funds to disaffiliate rather than do ministry

– Potential loss of income from congregation members who do not plan to follow local church into disaffiliation

– Costs to join a new denomination

– Funding ministry and administrative efforts previously funded through United Methodist connectional giving

Communicate the NAC3 plan.

Take time to watch and read information about the Conference’s NAC3 team, designed to help make space for traditionalists, centrists, and progressives in the continuing United Methodist Church. A commitment has been made by this team to honor and respect differing theological convictions of congregations and pastors in the continuing United Methodist Church, including in the appointment process. You can learn more about the NAC3 team and plan here: https://www.umcna.org/postdetail/16513389 and watch their video below:

Understand the risks and unknowns of going independent or joining the Global Methodist Church.

We have documented many of our concerns with disaffiliation and joining the Global Methodist Church on our “What are the Big Concerns” page of our website. We encourage you to read it carefully. Additionally, Jeff Greenway, a leader in the Wesleyan Covenant Association recently suggested that disaffiliating churches who go independent or join affliations of churches risk lacking Wesleyan connectionalism to accomplish their mission and theological drift into Reformed Calvinism amongst other risks.

Highlight the shared moments of meaning in your church’s history that connect to the United Methodist Church.

Your church likely has a rich history in its connection to the United Methodist Church. Take time to review all that we’ve done together in the North Alabama Conference. Spend time asking others in your church about milestones, shared moments of mission, and more that have been part of their legacy.

Read and understand all the related documents and information related to the disaffiliation process.

Your awareness of the contents of the following documents may be critical in being an advocate for a fair process during the Discernment Process and any effort to stay United Methodist:

– Newly added par. 2553 of the Book of Discipline: https://cdn.cokesbury.com/images/community/cokesburyportals/2016boderrata.pdf

– North Alabama Conference FAQ on Disaffiliation: https://www.umcna.org/files/tables/content/16410823/fields/files/6761ca70658d4a5990ad3f6a68531f76/faq-2022.pdf

– North Alabama Conference Discernment Process Document: https://www.stayumc.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/CalltoPrayerandDiscernmentFINAL.pdf

– Once recent decision in civil court on enforcement of the trust clause

Vision of the NAC3 team