Seven of 12 districts experienced membership increases in 2007, breaking Holston out of a spiraling decline for only the second time in 40 years.
Holston leaders celebrated immediately after Annual Conference, when they learned that the recently tabulated numbers showed a 172-member increase conference-wide. The 2007 total membership for Holston's 900-plus churches was 166,987.
Knoxville District showed the largest membership increase, with 213 more members in 2007 than in 2006. Other districts showing increases are Maryville (137), Morristown (105), Oak Ridge (72), Cleveland (37), Johnson City (37), and Wytheville (6).
Districts showing decreases are Abingdon (148), Kingsport (105), Tazewell (70), Big Stone Gap (62), and Chattanooga (50).
Knoxville is the largest-membership district, with 23,822 members. Chattanooga is second, with 22,158 members. Smallest are Tazewell (7,715) and Big Stone Gap (6,216).
The Rev. Doug Fairbanks, Knoxville District superintendent, attributed his district's increase to leadership and the congregations themselves.
"We have some vibrant larger churches in Knoxville, and those are Cokesbury, Christ, Powell, Fountain City, and of course, Church Street," Fairbanks said. "They have the leadership and congregations who are in sync with reaching out and creating an atmosphere that attracts new members. They want to do it, and they're doing it. It's no accident. We also have some smaller churches, like Trentville, that have that mindset."
The Rev. Chuck Starks, Wytheville District superintendent, said that although some districts experienced decreases, the entire conference should "dance a little jig and enjoy a little hope."
"To not do so is sort of like saying we can't celebrate a new birth in the family because someone else in the family has not yet conceived," Starks said.
"In the Wytheville District, I've been celebrating the fact that we had a net gain of six. That's a small number but it's six souls that we get to have the privilege and responsibility of disciplining ... This should be a conference-wide joy," he said.
United Methodist News Service recently reported that of 50 annual conferences submitting reports, Holston is one of only seven with membership increases.