On Jan. 8 the Southern Asia Conference of the United Methodist Church will cease to be a unit of the American denomination and will become the autonomous Methodist Church in India. But it will still have ties to the church in this country.

"I am confident this is not a breaking of relationship but a redesigning of it," said Bishop Joseph R. Lance of Lucknow, India, in his address to the United Methodist Council of Bishops meeting here.

Bishop Lance expressed "profound gratitude" to the church on behalf of the four Indian bishops who were attending their last council meeting as bishops in the United Methodist Church.

In April the 1980 United Methodist General Conference passed enabling legislation for the autonomy move after the 11 annual conferences of the church in India overwhelmingly approved a draft constitution, articles of faith and plan of organization in 1979.

The 600,000-member church began to consider autonomy after it voted against joining the Church of North India, which was formed in 1970 through a union of Anglican, Presbyterian and Congregational, Baptist, Disciples of Christ and British and Australian Methodist churches.

The United Methodist Church in India, which is the largest United Methodist body outside the United States, withdrew from the union plan partly because it was about the same size as all the other uniting churches put together. The church stood to lose far more of its denominational identity, influence and property control than did the other participating bodies.