Our Wesleyan Heritage
The Wesleyan Church is a Protestant, evangelical, holiness denomination with a rich heritage. We see it as our special mission to emphasize the message of "full salvation from all sin." We teach that a victorious Christian life is possible for all believers through the experience of both forgiveness of sins and the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Where We Came From
The name "Wesleyan" is in honor of John Wesley, a priest in the Church of England who became the inspiration behind the Methodist movement. It was their disciplined routine (or method) of spiritual devotion and social work that earned Wesley and a few of his friends in ministry the nickname "Methodists" beginning in 1735. The name stuck later to the unique new organizational structure Wesley designed to provide prayer and spiritual care for tens of thousands of converts who found Christ through his work.
Wesley was an outstanding scholar, yet regarded himself as "a man of one Book" the Bible. It was while studying the Bible that he received assurance of his own salvation through faith. It was the Bible which motivated his vision for offering Christ to the common people of England in a way that led to that nation's greatest spiritual revival. It was biblical truth that inspired Wesley to develop a school for orphans, job programs and medical assistance for the poor, efforts to reform inhumane prisons, and arguments for the abolition of slavery, a great evil of his time. Confidence in the Bible as "the only and sufficient rule for Christian faith and practice" (to use Wesley's own words) is still a hallmark of The Wesleyan Church today.
Although we respect his example, John Wesley is not the person Wesleyans worship. "A Methodist," he said, "is . . . one who loves the Lord his God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength." In fact, "perfect love" for God and for other people is the priority goal for Christian disciples emphasized in our churches.
The first Methodists came to America in 1766 and organized the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. In 1843 a group of pastors and local churches left that denomination because of their strong antislavery convictions and their preference for a more democratic form of church government. They adopted the name of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, later changed to The Wesleyan Methodist Church in America. A number of smaller groups of churches merged with them over time, especially between 1948 and 1966, including the Alliance of Reformed Baptists of Canada.
During the late 1800s, a widespread emphasis on the teaching of holiness swept across various denominations in America. This resulted in the formation of holiness unions (groups of people interested in encouraging this teaching in their own denominations), rescue missions, camp meeting associations, and new congregations. Mergers among many of these groups from 1882 on eventually resulted in the organization of the Pilgrim Holiness Church in 1922.
In 1968 The Wesleyan Church was created when The Wesleyan Methodist Church in America and the Pilgrim Holiness Church united in order to serve Christ more effectively together. As part of its historic past, The Wesleyan Church celebrates the involvement of its early leaders in the first ordination of women for Christian ministry in 1843. It was also the first denomination ever to adopt a formal statement of faith in "entire sanctification," God's work of making believers pure in heart, holy character, and empowered with the Spirit of Jesus witness and service.
The Wesleyan Church Today
Around the world Wesleyan churches and missions are now found in over 80 nations. In 2011, worldwide Sunday morning worship attendance was 475,000 persons in more than 5,000 congregations. Worldwide total membership was 368,000. There were more than 1,700 local churches in the United States and Canada, with 122,000 total members and an average of 208,973 in Sunday morning services.
Five colleges and universities are supported by the denomination in the United States and Canada: Houghton College (New York), Indiana Wesleyan University (Indiana), Southern Wesleyan University (South Carolina), Oklahoma Wesleyan University (Oklahoma), and Kingswood University (New Brunswick, Canada).
In addition to worship services and Sunday schools, many local churches provide other unique programs to reach children, youth, and adults with dynamic spiritual formation opportunities.
Our Government and Organization
The Wesleyan Church is organized at three levels for effective ministry. Laypersons and clergy are involved at each level in leadership.
1. The Local Church
Local congregations are the basic units of caring, growth and outreach for the denomination. Each is led by its own pastoral staff, a Local Board (or a Local Advisory Council if the church is not fully established), and other officers and boards depending upon local needs. Senior pastors are called by the majority vote of the members of the church, but serve only when appointed by the district conference. Titles to property are usually held in trust by both the local church and its district. Annual and special local church conferences allow every member opportunities for involvement in church government. Individual members are encouraged to develop their full talents and potential by active service through their local church.
2. The District
Wesleyans practice interdependent, not independent, church government. Being part of a larger body of believers holds each church to a higher degree of accountability for its resources and ministries, and also makes it a partner in goals best pursued together. Each local church is assigned to a network of churches called a district. Delegates from each local church and all ordained members of the district meet annually during the District Conference to govern its affairs. The District Conference elects a District Superintendent, a District Board of Administration, and other officers and boards with special duties. The district credentials and appoints pastors and other licensed workers, supports area church colleges, provides camping programs and other special ministries, and participates in denominational emphases.
3. The General Church
The General Conference meets every four years and consists primarily of lay and clergy delegates elected by the district conferences. At this level the church is organized to insure unity in doctrine, practice, and priorities. Three General Superintendents and a General Board are elected to oversee the work of each aspect of the denomination between General Conferences. Directors of eight General Departments or offices are elected to provide a variety of services to the local churches, districts, and the denominational operation. They include the General Secretary, General Treasurer, General Publisher, and General Secretaries of Communication, Education and the Ministry, Evangelism and Church Growth, Global Partners, and Spiritual Formation. Offices for denominational work are located at The Wesleyan Church World Headquarters in Fishers, Indiana.