response: Sept./Oct. 2021

New Wineskins for Growth

Exciting new programs are coming to United Methodist Women! Here’s why.

New Wineskins for Growth
Tonya Lanier once thought United Methodist Women was only for older women. Now she’s a longtime leader in the organization.

"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins."  —Mark 2:21-22 (NIV)

United Methodist Women is making new wineskins so that new generations of women can join in the joy of turning faith into action with a community of like-minded women.

Members soon will have the opportunity to experience exciting innovations to popular United Methodist Women programs like Mission u and Leadership Development Days as well as use templates for new programs like Soul Care Retreats. Each will enrich the experience of current members and create welcoming spaces for new women seeking to grow spiritually and act on their faith to improve life for women, children and youth here in the United States and around the world.

What’s coming?

Some of the offerings you can look forward to are more tools and templates to support local members in retaining existing members and attracting new members; greater options for membership engagement, including a new national membership option; more programming opportunities to expand our horizons and welcome new members; a refreshment to our brand, logo, messages and visuals to reflect the relevancy and vibrancy of our organization; and new website with more member-focused content and valuable resources.

These changes are outgrowths of a process that began during our 150th anniversary celebrations. While we honored our foremothers and rehearsed our history, we also invested much time and energy in assessing our position, prayerfully discerning God’s call, then exploring opportunities to remain relevant and vibrant well into the future.

What we learned

Research and discovery were part of this exploration process. Through numerous surveys, focus groups and interviews, we engaged with more than 24,000 people—United Methodist Women members, United Methodist but non-United Methodist Women members and other Christian women respondents. We asked what they knew about United Methodist Women and what they thought about us. We asked women things like what they were looking for in a faith-based organization, what appealed to them and how they preferred to gather and to give. We looked at the demographics of our organization, our church, other denominations and the nation.

Overall, the data show that most members (80 percent) feel positively about United Methodist Women, but that only 50 percent of nonmembers over 55 years old and 42 percent of nonmembers under 55 share that positive feeling.

The data also show most members (70 percent) found the way United Methodist Women meets inviting, but only 30 percent of nonmembers over 55 and 20 percent of nonmembers under 55 like the way we traditionally gather.

We also looked at research following national trends on religious involvement in the United States that showed an age schism related to participation in organized religion. Millennials—particularly 18- to 24-year-olds—are less interested in church, while adults 35-49 are more receptive to religion and its offer of spiritual development.

A growing number of people in the United States self-identify as spiritual but not religious. Likewise, 62 percent of women of all ages in our surveys considered themselves “spiritual” and understood that to mean being a whole person who is connected to humanity, nature and the Bible.

This research and discovery were enlightening and affirming. United Methodist Women members feel passionate and committed to the great work we have been doing locally, nationally and internationally. We are proud of the organization’s strong history and traditions, and many feel a sense of connection between their own identity and that of being a United Methodist Women member.

However, to grow and sustain membership with additional, up-and-coming new members who can carry the torch well into the future, data show current members need clear support and new tools to be successful. This finding supports what we knew from years of members asking for help in recruiting new women into the organization.

And so, United Methodist Women is proactively responding to this data with brand shifts and program innovations that will communicate the welcoming, inclusive and relevant aspects of our organization in ways that will serve current members and attract others to join us. The innovations and refreshed brand and programs that will be rolled out in 2022 are data based.

What we can do

To grow our ranks, we need to expand our base by attracting United Methodist women who are over age 60 but who are not members to join our organization by directly asking them to share their talents and time, making them feel welcomed and inspiring them with the impact of their work. We can also welcome Christian women of other traditions to participate in our programs and join.

As mentioned, surveys of nonmembers under age 55 showed 42 percent feel positively about the organization, and only 20 percent found the way United Methodist Women gathers to be inviting. In addition, nearly 48 percent of the United Methodist nonmembers under 55 thought the average age of United Methodist Women was too different from their own, presenting a barrier to their participation.

One way to reach these younger women of faith is by meeting them where they are and making it easy and inviting for them to participate by offering more flexibility and more options for them to engage and join. A new national membership option launching in 2022 will allow women, particularly younger women, to join and participate virtually through the national organization’s website. From there, these new members will be able to participate in programs and activities that interest them virtually or remotely as well as learn about physical units and events in their area such as Mission u, and connect with local units, if they choose to.

Oh, and by “younger” we mean women under 59, particularly women 35-59. Women of all ages are welcome, but research conducted by United Methodist Communications show the 18- to 24-year-old millennials we usually have in mind when we refer to “young women” aren’t as interested in church at this stage of their lives. So, while we will continue to reach out and be welcoming to all women, including millennials, research indicates we are more likely to successfully recruit more women in the 35-59 age range.

The research also suggests special outreach to women of color is not just part of our core commitment to racial justice but a great opportunity for membership growth.

Black people represent 4.5 percent of United Methodist Women membership, 6 percent of The United Methodist Church and 13 percent of the U.S. population. Nearly 80 percent of African American women self-identify as Christian.

These numbers reinforce the need to prioritize recruiting new, more diverse women of faith by providing a place where women of color feel welcomed, empowered to act and inspired to be part of a sisterhood that is working for real change.

It’s an exhilarating time for our organization, as we commit to even greater inclusivity, action and impact. We remain women of passion and power, united by God’s love in our mission to help women, children and youth.

Yvette Moore is director of public relations and marketing for United Methodist Women.

 

Posted or updated: 9/2/2021 12:00:00 AM
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