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.
The United Methodist Church, which began as a movement and a loose network of local societies with a mission, has grown into one of the most carefully organized and largest denominations in the world. The United Methodist structure and organization began as a means of accomplishing the mission of spreading Scriptural Holiness over the land. John Wesley recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” which was an interlocking system of classes, societies, and annual conferences.
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 Africa or bicycles for Cuban pastors, is the work of “the connection,” as opposed to the work of a single congregation.