Response: November 2014 Issue

Welcome: The Pathway to Membership Growth

Welcome: The Pathway to  Membership Growth
United Methodist Women prepare to plant trees for United Methodist Women’s 150th anniversary at Scarritt-Bennett Center in August.

Ever wondered how to get more women to engage with your United Methodist Women local unit or circle? We have heard United Methodist Women members at all levels of the organization express their desires for membership growth. Over the past three years United Methodist Women's national office has been asking the same question and more. Questions like: What does it mean to "belong" in today's 21st century context? What factors impact the growth of membership organizations today? What does United Methodist Women offer that women don't get elsewhere? What attracts women to United Methodist Women? What blocks them from joining United Methodist Women?

In answering these questions, we learned through surveys, face-to-face conversations and focus groups with multiple audiences, including United Methodist Women members, women in The United Methodist Church but not involved with United Methodist Women and women not in The United Methodist Church or United Methodist Women, that:

  • Women of all life stages—young, retired, seasoned—are looking for opportunities to know God more deeply, for fellowship and support, to grow through education and make a difference through hands-on service or social justice advocacy.
  • It takes one month or more of engagement with an entity—whether the organization is civic, professional or United Methodist Women—to continue involvement or join as member, and it takes four or more invitations before a woman participates.

Things that hinder women from involvement in United Methodist Women include:

  • Meeting structure. Too much business and not enough spiritual growth, fellowship or action.
  • Few members in their age group. Women want to be with others their age. There is a perception that United Methodist Women is for older women.
  • Inaccessible meeting times and places. Meetings scheduled during work hours or when a woman has other responsibilities can deter participation. Venue also matters. Try meeting in coffee shops, community centers or homes. Activities should include hands-on mission opportunities and child care services.

Learning this, we realized that while United Methodist Women is a pathway for fulfilling women's interests and needs, United Methodist Women groups will have to shift their attention to the interests and needs of the women they seek to engage if they want to experience growth. Therefore, the next steps became developing a guide for local units and circles on how to share their United Methodist Women story in new ways for new women.

The result is a new resource, "Welcome: United Methodist Women Welcoming Event Toolkit." The toolkit is a guide for planning a welcoming event to invite new women to engage with United Methodist Women. The toolkit helps groups focus on radical welcome through inviting, welcoming, engaging and ongoing follow-up with new women as a pathway to membership growth.

The toolkit was tested in six pilot sites of local church United Methodist Women units and circles throughout the five jurisdictions of The United Methodist Church. Each site used the toolkit to plan and host a welcoming event. The pilot sites represented the diversity of United Methodist Women in church, unit and circle size; language—Spanish, Creole; location; and age and racial ethnic identity. Sites hosted welcome events from January through May and provided feedback on how to improve the toolkit for serving the realities of multiple local contexts.

The welcome event format involves a 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-hour theme-based gathering that comprises four segments: 1) opening inspiration, 2) learning together—large group learning about the theme, 3) learning from each other—small group conversation, and 4) wrap-up—recap event, promote United Methodist Women and next steps.

Each pilot site's welcome event was unique, based on the identified interests of the women in their respective contexts.

With help from others in their unit, the six members of Community United Methodist Women's Breakfast Club circle in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, invited women from their community to create "vision boards" as part of their goal setting for 2014. Their welcome event resulted in follow-up engagements and formation of a new United Methodist Women circle.

The predominately Spanish-speaking Coral Way United Methodist Women in Coral Way, Florida, chose to make its welcome event a family affair, inviting husbands and children to a fellowship meal. The theme was "Why Don't You Come?" Pilot site representative Alicia Alvarez reported they received valuable feedback to help the unit in planning for the future.

Crossroads United Methodist Women in Washington, Illinois, adapted an event the group had already scheduled to incorporate the toolkit guidance. The group's Mother-Daughter Talent Show welcomed more than 75 women, children and youth plus the congregation's United Methodist Men, who prepared and served the banquet meal that preceded the talent show.

The predominately Creole-speaking Hallandale United Methodist Women in Hallandale, Florida, welcomed women from the community in a gathering space beyond the church, a local event center. Members sent personal invitations to more than 100 women, and 55 new women of diverse ages, mostly young women, attended their welcoming event. The theme was "Discover a New Joy." The new joy, of course, was to discover mission with United Methodist Women.

Wantage United Methodist Women in Wantage, New Jersey, wanted to expand its understanding of fair trade and buying local efforts. Members' small rural farming community became the focus of farm-to-table nutrition and food justice as mission. They invited local vendors to participate.

"People stayed longer than the expected time frame," said Shelly DeFeo, the pilot site representative. "Vendors thanked us loudly for including them and for it being free so that they didn't have to pay a vendor fee to be represented or for their information to be on our resource list that went home with attendees. It was truly enjoyable from beginning to end—especially the Equal Exchange fair trade chocolate sampling!"

Windsor Village United Methodist Women in Houston, Texas, chose a topic of interest to local women: domestic violence. The group's theme was "Destined for Victory: Overcoming Domestic Violence." The group planned for 100 women, and about 40 attended.

"Although a rain storm impacted our attendance, we felt lives being liberated as women found safe space to talk about the impact of domestic violence in their lives," said Karen Clay, pilot site team member.

Learn more about the pilot site welcoming events at the upcoming Leadership Development Days where pilot site representatives will lead a workshop about their experience of using the welcoming event toolkit. Also, hear updates and watch the promotional video online at

Sally Vonner is assistant general secretary for membership and leadership development for United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 10/31/2014 11:00:00 PM