United Methodist leaders often speak of the denomination as “the connection.” This concept has been central to Methodism from its beginning.
The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading scriptural holiness. Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” an interlocking system of classes, societies, and annual conferences.
Today, our denomination continues to be organized in a “connectional” system, which “enables us to carry out our mission in unity and strength” (BOD ¶701). Every local church is linked to an interconnected network of organizations that join together in mission and ministry, allowing us to accomplish far more than any one church or person could alone.
Within the connectional structure of The United Methodist Church, conferences provide the primary groupings of people and churches for discernment and decision-making. Wesley described Christian conferencing as a spiritual discipline through which God’s grace may be revealed. At every level of the connection, church leaders and members come together in conversation, or conferencing, to discuss important issues and discover God’s will for the church. The word, conference, thus refers to both the assembly and organization of people as well as the process of discerning God’s call together.1
The list below begins with the local church and moves to ever larger, interconnected groupings.
When it comes to the United Methodist organizational structure, all roads lead back to the local church. As the visible presence or body of Christ, the local church is the place where members grow in faith and discipleship, putting their faith into action through ministry in the world. Learn more.
Each congregation in the United States is part of a district, which is an administrative grouping of approximately 40 to 80 churches in a geographic area. Learn more.
Local churches (and their corresponding districts) are organized into annual conferences or regional bodies that meet yearly for legislative purposes. Learn more.
Bishops are assigned by jurisdictional or central conferences to lead a geographical area, which is comprised of one or more annual conferences. The bishop lives within the bounds of the area and presides over its work. Learn more.
There are five geographic jurisdictional conferences, or regions, in the United States, which are comprised of eight to 15 annual conferences each. Learn more.
United Methodists in Africa, Europe and the Philippines call their comparable geographic regions "central conferences." Learn more.
As the primary legislative body, General Conference is the only entity with the authority to speak on behalf of the entire United Methodist Church. The General Conference meets every four years to consider the business and mission of the church. An equal number of lay and clergy delegates are elected from United Methodist bodies around the world to decide matters of policy and procedure for the denomination. Learn more.
Created by, and responsible to, the General Conference, general agencies equip local churches for ministry and help provide a connection for common vision, mission and ministry. Boards of directors — comprised of both lay and clergy elected jointly by the General Conference and regional organizations — govern the agency staffs. Learn more.
1 Adapted from What Every Teacher Needs to Know About The United Methodist Church, pgs. 31-33 © 2002, Discipleship Resources.