This post is by Liza Kittle, president of RENEW, a network for evangelical women within the United Methodist Church.
According to the group’s website, RENEW “is also a voice for renewal and reform of the Women’s Division, the governing body of United Methodist Women.”
This commentary first appeared in a different form in the March/April issue of Good News magazine. Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com — Ed.
Membership in United Methodist Women (UMW) now stands approximately 570,200 women — a figure that represents only 13 percent of the total U.S. female membership in The United Methodist Church.
According to 2010 local church statistics (recently released by the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration), UMW lost 24,608 individual members in 2010. Over the past decade, UMW has sustained a cumulative loss of 241,089 individual members and 3,867 local units, averaging a loss of over 26,000 members and 420 units per year.
True, the United Methodist Church as a whole has experienced substantial membership losses, but UMW losses are occurring at a much faster rate.
The chart at right illustrates that while the UMC has experienced a 25 percent decline in total membership since 1974, during the same period the membership drop for United Methodist Women has been 58 percent.
It is heartbreaking that our beloved church is in crisis, but these data can prompt us to make necessary changes for the future health of the United Methodist Church, especially as we approach General Conference 2012.
New ministries for women
In just a few weeks, GC delegates will be debating and perhaps adopting legislation to restructure the denomination. The goal of restructuring is to help to reverse the UMC’s downward spiral by increasing the spiritual vitality of local congregations.
We believe that allowing new avenues for women’s ministry should be a critical component in the restructuring process.
United Methodist Women has historically been a mission-oriented organization. Other women’s ministries could provide nurture, healing, and outreach to women sitting in our pews.
Sadly, the Women’s Division of the UMC has consistently fought efforts to open doors for other women’s ministries. But our hope and prayer ist that delegates to General Conference 2012 will facilitate expanded ministry to women, simply by inserting language into the Book of Discipline that would allow additional women’s ministries (i.e., in addition to UMW) to be formed under the authority of the local church council.
RENEW has submitted a petition (PDF) that would accomplish this, using similar language already present in the Discipline regarding United Methodist Men (¶256.6). That language allows for a variety of men’s ministries at the local church level. We also have submitted a resolution (PDF) that would encourage the UMC to endorse the establishment of vital women’s ministries in local churches.
Ministry models already in place
Some larger UM congregations already have other women’s ministries in place, but these ministries are not officially recognized by the denomination. One women’s ministry, Celebration, has been officially recognized by the Texas Conference.
The Celebration ministry is winning souls for Christ, nurturing women in the Word of God, and transforming lives. (And, yes, chapters of Celebration have prospered in churches that have UMW groups and both ministries operate successfully.)
Regrettably, women in many small and medium-sized churches have a difficult time starting ministries for the women in their congregations. Lack of pastoral support, along with negative pressure from UMW and an absence of church resources are just a few of the hindrances such women face in trying to “think outside the box” and offer new women-focused ministries.
We believe that strong, diverse women’s ministries (including but not limited to UMW) would have a positive impact on the spiritual vitality of the United Methodist Church and its local congregations.
So many women are desperate for a fresh encounter with the living God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Let’s use this opportunity of church revitalization at General Conference 2012 to have “open minds, open hearts, and open doors” for expanded women’s ministry in the UMC!