What is Methodism?

Methodism is a major denomination of Protestant churches that arose from the 18th-century movement in England led by Charles and John Wesley and George Whitefield. The term “methodist” was originally used derisively to describe the movement’s followers and the disciplined way of methodically attending to one’s spirituality. Although centered in the British Isles and North America, Methodism spread worldwide. The total world Methodist community is estimated at more than 38 million, the largest single group of which is the United Methodist Church in the United States, with about ten million members.

The origins of Methodism are inseparable from the careers of the Wesley brothers. In 1738, influenced by the Moravians, they organized small “societies” within the Church of England for religious sharing, Bible study, prayer, and preaching. Doctrine was based on an Arminian interpretation of the Anglican Church’s Thirty-Nine Articles but emphasized the personal experience of conversion, assurance, and sanctification.

The Wesleys and their associate, Whitefield, traveled widely, preaching to large and enthusiastic crowds of working people, many of whom were not necessarily welcome in the Anglican Church at the time. The movement spread through most of England. A striking growth took place in Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Wales and Scotland. To preserve personal fellowship, “bands” and “class meetings” were formed, and in 1744 the whole was brought together by John Wesley in the British Conference. By 1751, “methodism” covered the British Isles.

Methodism spread to America, and at the Christmas Conference of 1784 in Baltimore it took institutional form, when John Wesley himself signed the Deed of Declaration.  Francis Asbury, a circuit rider preacher who had answered Wesley’s call to bring the gospel to the American frontier and was well traveled in Delaware, effectively became America’s first Methodist Bishop.

The Methodist Church in America has taken many forms over the past couple centuries but particularly flourished during the evangelical periods in this country. Like its founder, the denomination has been known for its promotion of education, health, and social justice within society.

In 1968 the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren church to form The United Methodist Church.