It’s About Relationships
If you are a United Methodist Women member, “How do we welcome younger women to United Methodist Women?” is a question you’ve probably heard or asked yourself. The answers to this question, of course, are as diverse as the women we want to attract, but they are answers worth seeking.
So what attracts young women to United Methodist Women? In January I asked United Methodist Women mission coordinators for membership nurture and outreach at the conference level for names of active younger members who would like to join in a roundtable discussion about why they participate — or not — in United Methodist Women. I received a few names and contacted the women.
Then in February I posted the following question on the United Methodist Women Facebook page: “Are you a 22- to 35-year-old who participates in United Methodist Women? Would you like to join a roundtable discussion on why (or why not)?” I received 26 replies from women who wanted to participate. All but two responded the same day. (In fact, I received five responses within five minutes of posting the question.)
On Mar. 10, via a Web chat, I hosted the roundtable.
response: How did you come to attend your first United Methodist Women event or meeting?
Shelia Bickle, 40, Providence Village, Texas
I took the initiative to attend that first United Methodist Women meeting on a day when my kids were in school, since [they didn’t have] child care.
Lauren Reinhardt, 34, Charlotte, N.C.
A friend asked me to the “welcome” event to learn about United Methodist Women. I was guilted into going. Not too many in my age group were there.
Ginny Love, 24, Nacagdoches, Texas
Lauren, that was what I felt like! My first event was a tea/luncheon. I was a little girl. In college it was a unit meeting at which I was the key presenter. I don’t think that I would have ever attended a meeting by myself. …I joined a group after I was asked to attend repeatedly!
Robyn Schock, 35, Ashley, N.D.
I was invited by one of the women to attend a monthly meeting as a guest.
Alicia Shelley, 34, Madison, Ala.
I was new to the town and to the church. I had a grandmother who had always been active in United Methodist Women. So when I saw the Lydia Circle — for ladies who worked during the day — in the bulletin, I attended of my own initiative.
Selena Ruth Smith, 34, Mayesville, S.C.
My first meeting was at the age of 12. I went with my mother and have been active ever since.
Angie Lauver, 23, Wilmington, Ohio
I went with my mom to the “Mother–Daughter Banquet” when I was about 4. Then my mom brought me to the meetings where the ladies were working on crafts for the bazaar.
response: Does the demographic of your church mimic the demographic of your United Methodist Women group?
I’m the youngest in my unit. My church has lots of younger folks, families, etc., but as a large church we have other activities that seem to attract the younger demographic more than United Methodist Women.
Our church seems to have an “older” population. My Sunday school class is one of two for the 20- to 30-somethings, which is quickly becoming the 30-40s.
My church is definitely a gray congregation. However, our college population is increasing!
I’m in the middle at my church. We have a growing base of young families. Our college group is . . . respectable. We have plenty of brand-new married folks younger than I am. Someone said the age group I’m in is where the older women were when they started taking charge. Essentially we are the age where things start to fall on us.
response: Are we an attractive organization to younger women?
Talking to others in my district, I’ve noticed that in the smaller churches it’s easier to attract a larger population relative to the size of the church because it’s the only “women’s” group. In my large church, we have small groups, Bible studies and a lot of other groups that compete for a woman’s time.
There are a lot of things competing with time, especially school-related things. Each time I wasn’t able to attend an event, the United Methodist Women didn’t make me feel bad but instead kept asking me to participate in events and welcomed me each time I was able to participate.
It seems that most of the younger women in our church get involved in leading the kid’s Sunday school classes or doing youth activities. There really isn’t too much else to get involved with otherwise.
What United Methodist Women stands for and is about needs to be talked about more — it’s not our job just to purchase items for the church. When the majority of pastors don’t understand our Purpose, it’s a problem. United Methodist Women is powerful and folks don’t see or understand that. We have to educate.
I’m a newbie to United Methodist Women, so I’ve been doing research. United Methodist Women is incredible! But I don’t think folks get it.
I didn’t realize until I was in high school that we are in multiple churches, states and countries. We are awesome!
response: How can United Methodist Women be more welcoming to younger women?
In my community’s case I feel it is a bit of “set in their ways” as well as the fact that people . . . don’t have time, or they are afraid they will “get roped into” something they don’t want to do.
For the 20-somethings, they’re tech savvy. Move the local unit into social networking to get them involved.
As a mom to two, I get that parents want to be part of what their children are doing. But mine are still so young they aren’t involved in too much. I’d prefer child care . . . so I can do more outreach.
Child care — that’s big for me and my ability to be involved in any ministries.
When I asked what United Methodist Women did, I got a strange look, and was told, “We support missions locally and globally.” That translated into “We give our money.” Younger women tend to be short on cash and rich in passion and want a cause to get behind. We are lacking that.
Our older folks are supportive to a point. When the younger ladies came to volunteer at an event . . . they were totally chastised because they didn’t follow the unwritten procedure by the letter. On the other hand, quite honestly, I think the young folks sometimes just push too hard for change for change sake, without first establishing a rapport with the older folks.
response: Does your church have a United Methodist Women Sunday?
What is United Methodist Women Sunday?
response: It’s usually a Sunday worship led by the local United Methodist Women.
That’s neat. I’m going to look into that at my church.
We celebrate it in April each year, and we lead the prayer in the service, we replace the ushers with . . . members wearing United Methodist Women shirts, and we also have a bake sale to raise money for mission lining the hallways. We’re super visible that Sunday. We have information booths set up at the bake sale points, the pastor mentions a little of what United Methodist Women does, and we have pictures of United Methodist Women events from the past year up on the screens in the pulpit.
response: How else can we educate people about United Methodist Women?
Visibility in the church is important, so we have to find lots of ways to — I shudder to use this term — to “market” ourselves.
response: “Market” isn’t bad! We don’t need to share that what we do is good. We just need to share what we do — because it is good.
Lauren (with laughter)
What do you think the original disciples were doing? It was all word of mouth testimony to people — social media!
I think it is tough to tell someone everything we do in a sentence. You can tell them about our mission in a nutshell, but . . . it takes a while to learn more about all the areas where we’re active.
Michelle Shoger, 31, St. Louis, Mo.
The best “advertising” is people who are passionate because they know the effects of mission.
response: Do you feel connected to United Methodist Women beyond your local church?
I feel I am connected on a state level but not much further.
I don’t feel connected to the national organization. And I’m not sure that we feel too connected to our district, except at Annual Conference* time.
I try to stay connected via response, but that’s about as far as it gets for me.
I feel connected to the district, because I attend district events, but not the conference, region or national. Facebook helps me to feel more connected to national.
I second Alicia!
Facebook does help me feel connected to United Methodist Women nationally.
Since “liking” the Facebook page, I’ve learned much more.
I love the Facebook page too.
And it goes back to the relationship thing — even via social networking!
Yes. I would not have become involved with United Methodist Women if I hadn’t developed the relationships with the women in my unit, but also my district and then further my conference. The women who continued to invite me to events and make me feel valued are instrumental in my involvement. They are my United Methodist Women godmothers.
response: Is that kind of shared identity beyond the local group important?
Yes. I think it is important to be connected on a national level. We can always bring more to our local table. Without a larger connection, how will we know what is out there?
We are, after all, part of a connectional church!
I serve at the conference level, and it’s important to be connected nationally. I make sure I visit churches so they can see a face that represents them.
response: How can we better connect with one another?
Besides district meeting, “cluster meeting” help groups connect in our area. We had women from three local churches with United Methodist Women gather for a meal and program. . . . Seeing the 100 women made all of us aware that we are a strong presence, and it created a higher sense of camaraderie.
[Officer] training is important.
Amen, Selena! I’ve been baptized by fire! Even little “job descriptions” would help. Are they already available somewhere?
response: United Methodist Women has the Handbook 2009-2012 available from the Mission Resource Center.
The local officer descriptions are all online.
I was placed on social action my first year, and no one knew what I should do. It was really frustrating. I wasn’t introduced to the manual until this year — three years later.
Our unit tries to do a training meeting once a year during which an outgoing officer passes on information to the incoming officer.
That seems to be a problem here too. The group half-heartedly tries to get new/younger people into positions, but no one can tell them what all is involved, what they’re responsible for.
But just because you don’t know what was done before isn’t totally a bad thing. You can use United Methodist Women resources and make the position truly your own, even without a star mentor.
response: With an intergenerational organization like United Methodist Women, it seems meeting in the middle is key.
Stephanie Greiner, 34, St. Louis, Mo.
We’ve finally seen some growth in our district with the success of our recent young woman’s retreat. . . . We’re working with two generations that have very different perspectives, but as long as we keep working that’s all that matters.
It goes back, again, to relationships.
response: One last quick question for you all: Why are you a member of United Methodist Women?
The support, encouragement and love I get from my sisters. I also see the seasoned sisters as my role models and mentors who help and encourage me on this journey through life. Knowing that I am not only connected to the women in my community but women around the world working for the rights of women, youth and children! It’s amazing to be in the presence of women all around the world coming together for one goal!
Relationships, the work we are doing around the globe, and knowing how we are all connected and working for the same cause.
response: I’m hearing: support, encouragement, relationship, connection and spiritual growth ?opportunities.
My efforts in mission are multiplied and made more effective through this amazing group, and [I have] the constant encouragement to continue growing in my own faith.
*Editor’s note: The United Methodist Church is a connectional church. It’s organized in geographic regions called jurisdictions and smaller areas, usually comprised of parts of one or two states, called conferences, which meet each year in Annual Conferences for worship, to set policy and to handle business. Conferences are organized into districts comprised of local churches in a specified geographic area.
Tara Barnes is managing editor of response.