The United Methodist Church could split this weekend. Here's why and how.

One of the nation's largest religious denominations could be headed for a split this weekend.

"What the United Methodist church will look like in March will likely be very different than it is today," said the Rev. Ron Robinson, a chaplain and religion professor at Wofford College, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. "This has the most significant potential for major division out of anything in my lifetime."

When delegates meet in St. Louis this coming weekend for a special session of the General Conference, they will hold a critical vote on whether to ordain openly gay clergy and allow individual churches to conduct same-sex marriages. The outcome will likely reshape the denomination, and could potentially tear it apart.

"We are already having this conversation," said Bishop Ken Carter, president of the Council of Bishops for the United Methodist Church, regarding what comes next.

He said even before the vote, the denomination has already been changed: Some people have decided to stay, some have left and others are planning to do one or the other.

What's driving the split

The United Methodist church is one of the largest Christian denominations, with 12 million members internationally. In South Carolina, only Baptists are more common.

The forces pushing the church toward a split are a growing international church with traditional views on marriage and a shrinking national church more inclined to accept gay pastors and same-sex marriages.The international church, primarily in Africa and Asia, is relatively united on keeping and enforcing the church's current prohibitions against homosexual clergy and against homosexual marriage. Read more via Greenville News