“At its peak in 1974, UMW claimed 1.36 million members. This means the women’s mission group has lost 64 percent of its total membership since that time. It gets worse. The UMW has lost 114,742 members in just the last five years.”
An evangelical shift is unfolding in the United Methodist Church (UMC). Recent decisions out of the UMC’s governing General Conference strengthen the denomination’s pro-life stance. Most notably, UMC delegates from across the globe called on two of its agencies, including its 150 year-old women’s mission group United Methodist Women (UMW), to immediately sever a 40-plus year tie with a pro-abortion coalition.
An evangelical transformation will continue to aid the UMC in its global growth, but how will this trend affect one of its more unorthodox agencies? Herein lies a valuable lesson for Evangelicalism’s ladies flirting with liberal activism: Beware mission groups who thrust the word “justice” beside practices incompatible with Christian teaching and call it holy. Progressive policies do not attract growth.
It has long been observed that UMW supports unorthodox, left-leaning policies. Despite UMW’s progressive support of abortion-on-demand coalitions, anti-Israel workshops, and celebrating clergy who defied church teaching to perform same-sex marriages, the UMC women’s group continues its decline.
Back in 2014, the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Alexander Griswold refuted UMW’s false claims of nearly 800,000 members. “The last time there were 800,000 UMW members was in 2001: 811,289 to be exact. By 2012, that number had fallen to 528,156, a decline of 34.9%,” noted Griswold.
Latest data from the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration shows UMW membership in 2013 fell to 513,340 and in 2014 landed at 480,066 members. Nowhere close to 800,000 members. Meanwhile, UMW’s website continues to brag “approximately 800,000 members” on recent press releases and within its URL excerpt section.
At its peak in 1974, UMW claimed 1.36 million members. This means the women’s mission group has lost 64 percent of its total membership since that time. It gets worse. The UMW has lost 114,742 members in just the last five years. That makes UMW’s average rate of decline 23,000 members per year. At this rate, UMW will be deceased in about 20 years.
It’s worth noting a decline in membership means a corresponding decline in membership funding. As Griswold noted previously, the bulk of UMW’s operating revenue is generated from member contributions to mission giving, designated gifts, and bequests and other long-term gifts and contributions. UMW’s annual financial reports show between 2009 and 2014, mission giving declined by 15 percent while designated gifts fell by 38 percent and bequests dropped 40 percent over the five year period.