United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study II in the U.S. Context


  • Our results show that the retention rates of clergywomen have improved. In order to make this claim as a whole, we would like to suggest that a retention study for both clergywomen and clergymen is needed. This further research may provide a clearer sense of how UMC clergy maintain their local church ministry, and how the UMC supports their clergy in a reciprocal way. It is also important to extend this research to include the global context as we recognize the importance of the UMC global bodies and their contexts more and more in recent years.
  • The data of United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study I in the U.S. Context was collected in 1994 prior to establishment of the Order of Deacon in 1996. For an exact comparison, United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study II in the U.S. Context followed the same format of the previous study. Because of this reason, our study did not investigate how the Order of Deacon impacted on discerning the call or their primary reason for seeking ordination. Research into the gender composition of that order and the reasons for choosing the permanent deacon order over the elder’s order for both women and men could be very illuminating, and possibly could help to explain the higher percentage of women in local church ministry found in the current study. Therefore, it will be interesting to do a further research on this issue and distinguish clergywomen’s vocational intention between elders and deacons.
  • We are aware that the UMC like other mainline denominations in general is experiencing difficulties in maintaining their church memberships; many churches have been closed over the past twenty years. It is expected that it will be hard to find a local church position as a pastor in the near future. When there are open church ministry positions, there are more people to apply for the position. The competition is getting tense. Moreover, the current economy has fallen; economic difficulties in the church have affected the life of the church and ministry for clergywomen and clergymen. Considering the current situations, there is one hypothesis to offer. Even though our results show that the retention rates of clergywomen have been higher, it does not necessary mean that the status or situation of clergywomen has improved. Rather, it is possible to think that the retention of rates for clergywomen (and clergymen) increased because there have been decreasing local church ministerial opportunities with more numbers of pastors, and there are a very few other options that clergy could explore outside of the church ministry compared to before. Consequently, clergywomen and clergymen tend to maintain current pastor positions. Therefore, it would be helpful to study how this situation influences clergywomen (and clergymen) and their ministry.
  • Creating an exit interview process – in order to improve the quality of life for the clergywomen, the UMC needs to develop their exit process.  This process can greatly assist in the retention of clergywomen, as well as assist in the unique structure of UMC. It will help annual conference leaders and clergy colleagues understand the problems and improve on a lack of support in the hierarchal system.
  • Clergywomen are exiting the local church due to family responsibilities and the overall appointment system. These are the top two reasons to leave local church ministry for clergywomen. In our previous research, we suggested to develop “a more open and honest appointment system.”[1] It would be great to do a study on how churches and the UMC as a whole can effectively find a way to communicate among district superintendents, congregations and appointed pastors for their better work-life balance prior to placement of clergy.
  • A lack of support from hierarchal system was a consistent answer to many of the questions. Further research is needed on the meaning of support from the hierarchical system in a reciprocal approach. How does the UMC define it?  What does the UMC view as its responsibility?  How do UMC clergywomen serving in congregations define it?  What do they view as the UMC responsibility? In conjunction with this inquiry, it is also important to do further study for offices of Bishop, district superintendent, general agency, and other UMC denominational offices that sustain and help clergy maintain their ministry in local churches.
  • Along those same lines, with the increasing number of women serving in that same hierarchical system (district superintendents and bishops), research on their experiences would be fruitful.  What support might they be attempting to provide to clergywomen under their supervision?  How has it been received?  What supports do they need, and how might those supports be different from when those clergywomen were in local congregations as pastors?
  • Regional/District health and welfare surveys should be conducted on a periodic basis to assess target areas pertaining to clergywomen.  We want to suggest that a further study can be focused how the UMC can incorporate this process as a part of the evaluation process.
  • As we discussed above, the result of this research does not prove that the well-being of clergywomen in the UMC has been improved. It is important to conduct research on how clergywomen manage their ministry while they balance their personal lives. How do they do care for themselves? What are the main difficulties/struggles that they bear while they serve church/ministry? How do they network and create their support group?

While we observed actively increasing participation from racial ethnic clergywomen, we found that they still experienced racial discrimination from the hierarchal system and congregations. It will be necessary to investigate how racial ethnic clergywomen experience their struggles in the hierarchal system and local congregations.

Last Page: Method

[1] Margaret S. Wiborg, and Elizabeth J. Collier, United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study,) Anna Howard Shaw Center: Boston University School of Theology, 1997), 35.