FAQ Local Congregations and Laity
1. Is our congregation required to enter a discernment process right now?
No. There is no Book of Discipline requirement that all churches must go through a discernment process at this time to consider continued affiliation or disaffiliation from the denomination. In fact, some churches feel that doing so would be disruptive to their congregation’s ministry momentum.
The steps set forth by the North Alabama Conference Board of Trustees for churches to withdraw from The United Methodist Church requires an assessment/discernment process guided by the District Superintendent. However, if your congregation is not seeking to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church you do not need to undergo a discernment process.
2. I am a lay person and think my congregation will vote to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. I want to remain a United Methodist. What can I do?
The North Alabama Conference is committed to ensuring all persons who wish to remain a United Methodist will be able to do so even if their congregation disaffiliates. The Conference Leadership Team is actively developing plans to start new congregations and ministries in areas where current United Methodist congregations vote to leave the denomination. These will include new churches, house churches, fresh expressions and more. All laity who wish to remain United Methodists but are part of a congregation planning to disaffiliate should contact their District Superintendent who will help you connect with nearby United Methodist congregations or new ministries.
3. What happens if our pastor decides to leave The United Methodist Church, but our congregation wishes to continue as a United Methodist church?
The Bishop will appoint a new pastor to your congregation.
4. What happens if our congregation votes to disaffiliate from the UMC, but our pastor wants to remain in The United Methodist Church?
Once your congregation’s disaffiliation is complete, you will no longer be appointed a pastor by the North Alabama Conference. Your pastor will receive a new appointment and it will be up to your congregation to secure your congregation’s pastoral leadership. If your church is planning to unite with a different denomination, you will work with the leaders of that denomination to determine pastoral leadership.
5. Our congregation is voting on disaffiliation, but we know the vote will not be unanimous. What about the members of our church who don’t want to leave The United Methodist Church?
For many congregations, entering the discernment process and holding a church conference vote to determine whether they will remain United Methodist or disaffiliate from the denomination will be emotional and potentially divisive. In these churches the congregation’s vote will probably not be unanimous. Some members may even feel their disagreement with the final decision – whatever it is – means they can no longer continue as part of the congregation.
Clergy and church leaders are urged to make sure disagreements about your church’s future do not leave some members without a church home. If your congregation is leaving The United Methodist Church, please give a list of members who wish to remain in the denomination to your district superintendent who will help them unite with another United Methodist church or invite them to be part of a new United Methodist ministry being planted in your area. These will include new churches, house churches, fresh expressions and more. The North Alabama Conference is committed to ensuring that all who wish to remain a United Methodist will be able to do so even if their congregation disaffiliates.
6. Why does our congregation have to go through a discernment process in order to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church?
The steps set forth by the North Alabama Conference Board of Trustees for churches to withdraw from The United Methodist Church requires an assessment/discernment process guided by the District Superintendent.
7. Our congregation has been told we must immediately enter a discernment process if we want to leave the UMC. What is the urgency?
The steps set forth by the North Alabama Conference Board of Trustees for churches to withdraw from The United Methodist Church requires an assessment/discernment process guided by the District Superintendent. The provisions of Book of Discipline ¶2553 added by the 2019 General Conference of The United Methodist Church expire on December 31, 2023, and shall not be used after that date. If your congregation is considering leaving the UMC under ¶2553, you would need to complete that process by the end of next year.
The final step of the process is the North Alabama Annual Conference ratifying a congregation's disaffiliation. There will at least two opportunities for an Annual Conference vote – December 2022 and mid-2023. The mid-year Annual Conference session may be a part of the regular June session or it may be a called session in the weeks leading up to the June session. The Bishop and Conference leadership are currently discerning which option is optimal for North Alabama. Finally, it is possible that there will be a third opportunity for the Annual Conference to process disaffiliations in late 2023.
While your congregation does not need to immediately enter that process, in order to make the December 31, 2023, deadline, you would need to enter the process by early-2023 or mid-2023 if an additional special session of the annual conference is called for late 2023.
8. Our church wants to enter the discernment process. How do we start?
The first step is to notify your District Superintendent that you intend to enter into a period of discernment. Information about the North Alabama Conference discernment process can be requested at www.umcna.org/resourcedetail/call-to-prayer-and-discernment-16588814.
9. Is a pastor being negligent for not encouraging the congregation he or she is serving to enter into a discernment process?
No. There is no Book of Discipline requirement that all churches must go through a discernment process at this time to consider continued affiliation or disaffiliation from the denomination.
10. Must our pastor lead us through the discernment process? Can laity initiate the discernment process for our church?
The community spiritual discernment process established by the North Alabama Conference requires that the pastor be involved in the process.
11. Who sets the terms of disaffiliation for North Alabama congregations?
The Conference Board of Trustees has the responsibility for the disaffiliation process. Conference Trustees are clergy and laity elected by the Annual Conference.
12. The Southeastern Jurisdiction may assign a new Bishop to North Alabama in January 2023. Will this change the North Alabama Conference disaffiliation process?
The Conference Trustees have the responsibility for the disaffiliation process. Any changes recommended by a new bishop would have to be approved and then implemented by the Conference Trustees.
13. Does our congregation need special legal representation to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church?
The disaffiliation process in North Alabama does not require a local church to have legal representation.
14. Others have asked us to share the total amount of our congregation’s disaffiliation costs. Do we have to share our financial agreement with anyone?
No. Your church’s disaffiliation agreement is negotiated between your congregation and the Conference Trustees. There is no other group with whom you must share the financial details in order to move forward with disaffiliation.
15. We’ve been told there are many North Alabama Conference churches entering into the discernment process. Does this mean all of them are leaving The United Methodist Church?
No. Undertaking a truly Spirit-led discernment process means there is no predetermined answer a congregation is seeking. Instead, discernment is an intentional process of seeking God’s guidance as a congregation looks to its future. As North Alabama congregations work through their discernment process some are discerning to leave The United Methodist Church while others are discerning to continue as United Methodists with a renewed commitment and a clear vision for ministry.
16. Are all the churches voting to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church planning to join the new Global Methodist Church?
No. Churches that are voting to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church are discerning a variety of options for their future. Some congregations are choosing to ask to join the Global Methodist Church, others are seeking to align with other Wesleyan denominations and still others are choosing to become independent churches with no denominational affiliation.
17. Our church is in the discernment process regarding disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church. The Conference has provided several resources to guide us through this process. Are there specific questions we should be asking ourselves as we consider disaffiliation?
Each congregation who undergoes a discernment process is encouraged to consider how ending your relationship with The United Methodist Church will impact all aspects of your church’s ministry. Some questions to consider:
- How will our local community view this change in our church?
- How will we secure future pastoral leadership?
- How will we provide health and pension benefits for staff?
- Who will set consistent standards for our congregation’s doctrine and statements of belief?
- Who will set and oversee the policies and procedures for our congregation?
- What committees and decision-making bodies will we organize to oversee our church’s ministry effectively?
- What organizations will we partner with for local missions, regional missions and worldwide missions?
- How will our lay leadership and clergy find quality training and continuing education opportunities?
18. Will our congregation have to purchase our building from the North Alabama Conference if we vote to disaffiliate under Book of Discipline ¶2553?
Book of Discipline ¶2553 states that a church disaffiliating under this paragraph, which expires Dec. 31, 2023, “shall have the right to retain its real and personal, tangible and intangible property. All transfers of property shall be made prior to disaffiliation. All costs for transfer of title or other legal work shall be borne by the disaffiliating local church.”(¶2553.4c)
Other financial provisions must be met when disaffiliating in this manner, but purchasing the church’s property from the Conference is not a part of the North Alabama Conference’s terms of disaffiliation under ¶2553.
19. Our church wants to disaffiliate, but we do not have the funds to pay all the financial costs of the disaffiliation process. Can we offer a promissory note and make payments on this debt?
Book of Discipline ¶2553.4f states “Payment shall occur prior to the effective date of departure.” Therefore, all financial costs must be paid in full in order to disaffiliate under ¶2553.
20. Our congregation is on a multipoint charge. What if one of the congregations on the charge votes to disaffiliate with The United Methodist Church but the others wish to continue as United Methodists?
Each congregation can make its own decision regarding continued affiliation with The United Methodist Church or disaffiliation from the denomination. If one church leaves, the others will be able to stay and continue ministry as United Methodist congregations.
21. If our congregation continues in The United Methodist Church, will we have to receive a pastor that conflicts with our traditional or progressive beliefs?
The Bishop and Cabinet work diligently and prayerfully to match clergy and congregations so that pastoral appointments will be successful. They consult with not only clergy, but also with the local church’s Staff-Parish / Pastor-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) to understand the needs and ministry priorities of the congregation.
22. Our pastor has some strong views that differ from many people in our congregation (ex. theological views or preference for or against disaffiliation). We don’t feel like he or she is willing to pastor people with differing views. What can our congregation do?
You should contact your Staff-Parish / Pastor-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC). Your District Superintendent consults with the SPRC about pastoral effectiveness, alignment with the congregation and appointments.
23. If our congregation disaffiliates and becomes an independent church, will the North Alabama Conference help us find a pastor?
No. The Bishop and Cabinet only make appointments for churches within the North Alabama Conference. If your church disaffiliates from The United Methodist Church and thus leaves the North Alabama Conference your congregation will be responsible for recruiting and hiring your own pastor.
24. Are traditionalists being asked to leave the North Alabama Conference?
No. North Alabama Conference leadership has not asked any congregation or clergy to leave the denomination. Additionally, there has been no legislation adopted by the North Alabama Annual Conference or the General Conference of The United Methodist Church that asks any congregation to consider disaffiliation from The United Methodist Church.
North Alabama Conference leadership is committed to the Conference continuing to be a community where traditionalists, centrists and progressives are in ministry together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
25. Why are traditionalist congregations being encouraged to leave The United Methodist Church when they agree with the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality and other matters?
Much of the encouragement to leave The United Methodist Church is coming from other traditionalists within the denomination who feel they no longer want to continue as United Methodists for various reasons and are inviting others join them in leaving the denomination.
The North Alabama Conference leadership feels traditionalists, along with centrists and progressives, are an important part of our Conference and denomination and is not encouraging anyone to leave the denomination. Conference leaders understand some will discern they wish to disaffiliate from the UMC. Though saddened when churches discern to disaffiliate, North Alabama is committed to bless those who make this decision.
26. We’ve been told our congregation is asked to pay the Conference a large portion of our church budget in apportionments. Is this true?
Since 2016, North Alabama Conference has funded its budget by local churches using a proportional giving-based funding model where each local church is asked to remit a minimum of 10% (a tithe) of its unrestricted receipts on a monthly basis in support of the Conference budget and the local church’s district budget. Creating faithfulness to Biblical stewardship has been a primary goal of the proportional giving-based funding model. This biblically-based tithe funds ministry at the district, conference, jurisdiction and general church levels.