Exerpts from umc.org/who-we-are and The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.
When you hear the term “annual conference,” it could be referring to any one of three things. The annual conference is a regional body, an organizational unit, and a yearly meeting.
Many of these yearly meetings happen in the U.S. in May and June. You can read reports from the 2014 Annual Conference Session on our Annual Conference Reports page.
The annual (sometimes referred to as ‘regional’) conference is described by the church’s Constitution and (other parts of the ) “Book of Discipline” as the ‘basic unit’ of the church.
In the United States, an annual conference may cover an entire state, only part of the state, or even parts of two or more states. There are also three missionary conferences in the United States, which rely upon the denomination as a whole for funding.
The United States has 57 annual conferences, which are supervised by 46 bishops. There are 76 annual conferences in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines, which are supervised by 20 bishops.
In the U.S., the annual conference has a central office and professional staff that coordinate and conduct ministry and the business of the conference. It likely has a director of connectional ministries, treasurer, directors of program areas (such as camping), communications director, and other staff as deemed appropriate for the annual conference and as required by the “Book of Discipline.” Clergy and lay persons may also serve on conference boards, commissions, and committees.
“The purpose of the annual conference is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by equipping its local churches for ministry and by providing a connection for ministry beyond the local church: all glory to God” ¶ 601
Annual Conference sessions
Each year an equal number of clergy members and lay members attend their conference’s Annual Conference Session for worship, fellowship, and to conduct the business of the conference, which may last 3-5 days. During these sessions members of the conference hear reports of past and ongoing work; adopt future goals, programs, and budgets; ordain clergy members as deacons and elders; and elect delegates to Jurisdictional and General Conferences (every 4 years). The bishop presides over these meetings.
Annual Conference Membership
The clergy membership of an annual conference shall consist of deacons and elders in full connection, provisional members, associate members, affiliate members, and local pastors under full-time and part-time appointment to a pastoral charge. ¶ 602.1
The lay membership of the annual conference shall consist of a professing member elected by each charge, diaconal ministers, deaconesses, home missioners, the conference presidents of: United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, Youth and Young Adult Ministries, the conference lay leader and district lay leaders, one youth (age 12-18) and one young adult (age 18-30) from each district, and the chair of the conference college student organization.
If lay membership should number less than the clergy members of the annual conference, the annual conference shall provide for election of lay-equalization members.
Lay members must be members of and active in the United Methodist Church at the time of election (with some tenure requirements) ¶ 602.4
The above mentioned have voice and vote at the Annual Conference Session. Other representatives (¶ 602.9) are given privilege of the floor (voice) without vote.
It is the duty of every member of the annual conference to attend its sessions and furnish such reports in such forms as the Discipline may require. (¶ 602.8)