The Woodlands Methodist Church is among 200+ congregations in the Texas Annual Conference that have voted to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church.
As it considers the options for future affiliation, each church must choose a discernment pathway that best reflects its theological beliefs, core values and Christian mission in the world. Other key factors for consideration include matters of business formation, finance, clergy benefits, pensions and credentials, and property.
At TWMC, the discernment study group is comprised of Senior Pastor Mark Sorensen, members of the clergy team, executive staff, attorneys and a select team of lay volunteers representing the administrative board, finance committee, pastor parish relations committee and the board of trustees.
Option 1: Affiliate with another Methodist Denomination
As traditionalists look to other, conservative expressions of Methodism, there is a desire to retain the classic Wesleyan model of congregational connectionalism — that is, moving together in the direction of growth and renewal not as individual churches, but as a network of churches that are theologically and socially aligned.
The discernment team at TWMC recognizes the value in maintaining the connectional model, for the purposes of upholding its historic, Wesleyan tradition and for laying the groundwork for future growth and vitality that only comes in shared community.
Currently, two Methodist denominations offer TWMC viable opportunities for connection, renewal and revival in the future: Global Methodist Church and Free Methodist Church USA.
Global Methodist Church (Website)
Launched on May 1, 2022, the Global Methodist Church (GMC) is the new expression of traditional theology, and now serves as an alternative to the continuing United Methodist Church / post-separation UMC (psUMC). The GMC is the result of a multiyear collaboration of The Wesley Covenant Association, Good News, the Confessing Movement and other conservative stakeholders within the UMC.
As a new denomination, the GMC’s structure and administration are early in development. It is led by a 17-member Transitional Leadership Council representing congregations and clergy in the United States, the Philippines, Eastern Europe and Africa. Its inaugural general conference is set to convene 12-18 months from now.
The GMC model is being created with a leaner organizational structure, giving more autonomy and authority to local congregations while maintaining strong cross-connectional ties.
The GMC is on record as upholding and enforcing the current UMC Book of Discipline regarding marriage and human sexuality, as well as a pro-life stance except in tragic conflicts of life against life. It offers new members relief from the UMC property trust clause, and no guaranteed appointments for clergy.
Free Methodist Church USA (Website)
Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Free Methodist Church USA is a small denomination with shared roots dating back to the Methodist revival in England during the 18th century.
Today, the Free Methodist Church is comprised of about 68,000 members in approximately 850 churches across the United States. By design, the denomination offers very little governance at the national level to place emphasis and energy in the local church. Several articles have been published on the denomination’s website offering information to UMC churches that are discerning possible affiliation.
The church offers five values it calls the Free Methodist Way, which serve as points of unique distinction from other Wesleyan denominations:
• Life-Giving Holiness: God’s call on holiness was never meant to be a burden, but a gift that liberates us for life that is truly life by delivering us from the destructive power of sin.
• Love-Driven Justice: Love is the way we demonstrate God’s heart for justice, by valuing the image of God in all men, women and children, acting with compassion toward the oppressed, resisting oppression and stewarding Creation.
• Christ-Compelled Multiplication: The Gospel of Christ is the message He proclaimed, the life He lived, and the ministry He modeled — set into motion a redemptive movement destined to fill the whole earth.
• Cross-Cultural Collaboration: From the beginning, God’s intent was to have a people from every nation, culture and ethnicity, united in Christ and commissioned to carry out His work in the world.
• God-Given Revelation: We hold unwaveringly to our conviction that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and our final authority in all matters of faith and practice.
Option 2: Become an independent church affiliated with other large Methodist churches
Becoming an independent congregation carries a different set of considerations compared to affiliating with another Methodist denomination.
There are financial and legal distinctions, and, in some case, they are more favorable, such as freedom from paying apportionments to a parent denomination.
With freedom comes more organizational responsibility and risk (for example, maintaining all provisions for clergy benefits and retirement independently, versus the UMC-sponsored plans available through Wespath).
Securing independence from The United Methodist Church means relief from theological and social misalignment of past decades, as well as the ineffective and outdated oversight model. However, this relief comes at the expense of any official connection with like-minded clergy and congregations. Informal, ad hoc alliances are forming among UMC congregations that part ways with the UMC and aren’t ready to affiliate with a different denomination.
One such alliance is the Foundry Network of large Methodist Churches, which launched on September 1, 2022. While it offers a small, yet focused and nimble alternative to Wesleyan connectionalism, it exists largely on informal, non-binding participation of pastors and offers no official support structures for clergy benefits, ordination and governance.
Assuming the independent model, the creation of additional structure should be considered in order to maintain a healthy culture of transparency and accountability throughout the organization.