The Methodist Church

John Wesley John Wesley

The Methodist Church is the fourth largest Christian Church in Britain, after the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches and the Church of Scotland. It has more than six thousand churches and a total membership of approximately 330 000 people. There are Methodist Churches in nearly every country in the world and global membership numbers some 70 million people.

The Formation

A group of tutors and students meeting at Oxford University in the late 1720s became known as the Oxford Methodists. The group included John Wesley, Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. In 1735 these three men became evangelical missionaries in America.

After three years with the English settlers in Georgia, John Wesley and George Whitefield returned to England and in 1739 built their first Methodist Chapel in Bristol. Wesley and Whitefield also gave sermons in the open-air. They travelled the country where they mainly visited poor neighbourhoods. Wesley, who had emerged as the leader of the Methodists, told the people who attended his meetings that if they loved God in return, they would "be saved from sin and made holy". Wesley also had a lot to say about personal morality. In his sermons he encouraged people to work hard and to save for the future. Wesley also warned against the dangers of gambling and drinking.

Although there were Methodist ministers, John Wesley encouraged people who had full-time jobs to become lay preachers. This gave working people valuable experience of speaking in public. Later, some of these went on to become leaders of trade unions and reform groups.

By the time John Wesley died in 1791, the Methodist movement had over 76,000 members. After Wesley's death the Methodists formally separated from the Anglian Church. Membership continued to grow and by 1801 reached 87,000. The movement was weakened in 1808 when followers of Hugh Bourne were expelled. Bourne's followers became known as Primitive Methodists whereas those who remained were called Wesleyan Methodists.