United Methodists come in all sizes, shapes, colors, dispositions, outlooks and life stories, but share a unique history and faith perspective. Our members speak many languages and live in many countries.
No matter how or where they serve Jesus Christ, United Methodists do God’s work in a unique structure—referred to as “the connection." This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning. Connectionalism comes to life through our clergy appointment system, our mission and outreach, and through our collective giving. We live out our call to mission and ministry by engaging in ministry with the poor, combating diseases of poverty by improving health globally, creating new places for new people and renewing existing congregations, and developing principled Christian leaders. No one congregation can do all these ministries, but together—through the power of our connection—we can make a tremendous difference.
A Brief History
The Methodist branch of protestant religion traces its roots back to 1739 where it developed in
The beginning of Methodism as a popular movement began in 1738, when both of the Wesley brothers, influenced by contact with the Moravians, undertook evangelistic preaching with an emphasis on conversion and holiness. Though both Wesley brothers were ordained ministers of the Church of England, they were barred from speaking in most of its pulpits because of their evangelistic methods. They preached in homes, farm houses, barns, open fields, and wherever they found an audience.
Wesley did not set out to create a new church, but instead began several small faith-restoration groups within the Anglican church called the "United Societies." Soon however, Methodism spread and eventually became its own separate religion when the first conference was held in 1744.
Several divisions and schisms occurred throughout Methodism's American history. In 1939, the three branches of American Methodism (the
United Methodists often joke about the many organizational layers of church life, but, as members of other denominations have been heard to say: “If you want something done, get the Methodists to do it.” Followers of the Wesleys are indeed “methodical” about the ways they approach mission and ministry.
One reason United Methodists are able to accomplish great things is the church’s emphasis on “connectionalism.” It is common to hear United Methodist leaders speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning.
No local church is the total body of Christ. Therefore, local United Methodist churches are bound together by a common mission and common governance that accomplish reaching out into the world. United Methodist churches and organizations join in mission with each other and with other denominations.
Connectionalism shows through the clergy appointment system, through the developing of mission and ministry that United Methodists do together, and through giving.
An example of connectionalism: Mission work around the world, whether it be a new university in
Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage
John Wesley and the early Methodists were particularly concerned about inviting people to experience God's grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living--or putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as "practical divinity" has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today.
Because of this, Methodism enjoys a broad theological perspective in belief. John Wesley is quoted as saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” At the same time, Wesley advocated that Methodists believe with the whole Church that which has been practiced and taught continuously from the beginning.