United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study



Invitations to participate in the United Methodist Clergywomen Retention Study were sent to 2945 of the estimated 4000 United Methodist probationary members and members in full connection who are women on record with the Division of Ordained Ministry.  The researchers recognized that clergywomen in connectional relationships other than probationary or full membership (e.g., local pastor, associate member) may also experience similar issues to the ones that probationary and full members experience.  For the purposes of this study, however, the sample was limited to probationary and full members.  The women to receive the invitations were semi-randomly selected based on a list provided by the Division of Ordained Ministry (semi-random selection because of the inclusion of as many identified ethnic minority women as possible).  Clergywomen from the South Carolina Annual Conference were excluded from the selection because they were the subjects of the pilot project for this study (1993).  Inclusion of them in the larger study may have resulted in the duplication of information, with the possibility of their non-participation.

A total of 2796 current and former clergywomen received the invitation packets; non-receipt was due to incorrect address and inability to forward.  A total of 1388 completed questionnaires were returned for a response rate of 49.64%.  The self-selected sample of 1388 clergywomen was included in the questionnaire analysis.

From the questionnaire population, 159 participants were selected for the interview portion of the study.  Sixteen of the selected participants were excluded from the interviews because of their withdrawal, inability to contact them or schedule an interview, or similar other reasons.  Twenty of the completed interviews were excluded from the interview analysis due to transcription or coding problems (e.g., not completed in time, only one coder).  A total of 123 interviews were considered in the interview analysis.

The following criteria were used in selecting the interview sample:
50 participants who were not currently serving as pastor in any capacity in the local church;
25 participants from the five annual conferences with the highest attrition rates from the local church for clergywomen;
25 participants from the five annual conferences with the lowest attrition rates from the local church for clergywomen;
50 participants randomly selected from the remainder of the questionnaire sample, regardless of appointment type or geographic location;
9 participants who expressed a particular interest in the project.
The distinction between low, high, and other attrition rates is somewhat arbitrary.  The difference between the fifth and sixth highest attrition rate conferences is only 2.9%.  The difference between the fifth and sixth lowest attrition rate conferences is 9.5%.  This interview sample design was selected in order to acquire as much information as possible about the reasons clergywomen leave local church ministry.  The middle attrition rate group consisted of all annual conferences except for those in the top five and bottom five attrition rate groups.

For the most part, the questionnaire respondents are geographically representative of the proportions of all United Methodist clergywomen in each jurisdiction (see Table B1).  Such representation allows for the increased possibility of generalizing the results of the study to the larger population of United Methodist clergywomen.  The geographic representation in the interview sample was planned to a certain extent.  The high and low attrition rate conferences from which approximately 33% of the interview sample was drawn are jurisdictionally diverse:  Mississippi, Kentucky, Western North Carolina, and Northern Alabama are in the Southeastern Jurisdiction; North Texas, Little Rock, and Oklahoma-Indian are in the South Central Jurisdiction; the Dakotas are in the North Central Jurisdiction; and Desert Southwest and Yellowstone are in the Western Jurisdiction.  The Northeastern Jurisdiction is the only jurisdiction without representation in the high and low attrition rate groups.

Table B2 illustrates the distribution of study participants by attrition rate groups.  Twenty-six percent of all United Methodist clergywomen (which includes local pastors, associate members, and others) responded to the questionnaire.  Nine percent of all United Methodist clergywomen participated in the interviews.   Sixty-eight percent of all United Methodist clergywomen in high attrition rate conferences responded to the questionnaire, while only 15% of all United Methodist clergywomen in low attrition rate conferences responded.  The high response rate among participants in high attrition rate conferences may indicate an increased motivation on their part since their conferences are losing clergywomen from local church ministry at the highest rates.  Fourteen participants interviewed were from low attrition rate annual conferences (Desert Southwest, Little Rock, North Dakota [now Dakotas], Oklahoma-Indian Missionary, Yellowstone).  Eighteen participants interviewed were from high attrition rate annual conferences (Mississippi, Kentucky, Western North Carolina, North Alabama, North Texas).  The other 91 interview participants were members of annual conferences that fall in the middle attrition rate groups.

The distribution of study participants according to appointment type can be found in Table B3.  Most questionnaire respondents were in local church ministry, while only 38% of interview participants were in local church ministry.  The differences in the proportions of interview participants’ appointment types are the result of intentional over-sampling for the interviews among those clergywomen who are not in local church ministry.  That over-sampling technique reflects one of the objectives of the study:  to identify reasons for women leaving local church ministry.  The sampling technique yielded almost twice as many women not in local church ministry.

Age distribution of study participants reveals that almost 67% of questionnaire participants and 70% of interview participants were in the 30-49 year age range at the time of the study (see Tables B4 and B5).  The relative youth of the participants is not surprising, given the fact that the greatest numbers of United Methodist clergywomen have entered ministry since 1970.  Almost 30% of questionnaire respondents (and approximately 25% of the interview sample) are age 50 or older.  Sixty-four percent of the women age 50 or older who responded to the questionnaire (and about half of the interview participants who were 50 or older) have been ordained elder 10 years or less, reflecting the increasing number of women who are entering ministry as a second career.

Sampling for the questionnaire and interview did not use ethnicity or marital status as criteria.  The majority of the study participants in both the questionnaire and interview samples indicated an ethnic background of “white” (see Table B6).  There are relatively few differences between the proportions of participants in other ethnic groups.  The study sample does appear to be overwhelmingly “white” with regard to ethnicity; however, the proportions of ethnic minority clergywomen in The United Methodist Church and in the questionnaire population are very similar (9.5% in the United Methodist Church, 9.3% of respondents).
At least 50% of the questionnaire sample were married or in committed relationships at the time of the questionnaire; 28% indicated a clergy partner (see Table B7).  The participants interviewed were more often than the questionnaire population married or in committed relationships, and more often had clergy partners.


In 1994, participants were sent an invitation packet that included a letter of invitation, informed consent form, questionnaire, and postage-paid return envelope.  The questionnaire requested information regarding basic demographic information, family and other support background, major life events and transitions, and professional ministry experience.    The questionnaire required approximately thirty minutes to complete.  Participants were asked to return the questionnaire using the postage-paid envelope provided in the invitation packet.

From the questionnaire population, the interview sample was selected using the criteria previously outlined.  One interviewer conducted all interviews by telephone, except for two interviews conducted in person.  With the permission of the interview participants, each interview was audiotaped for transcription.  The interviewer also made notes during the interview to assist transcription.  In the rare case a participant did not grant permission to audiotape the interview, the transcription was made from notes made by the interviewer.  Interviews lasted an average of 90 minutes.  The interview was designed to be semi-structured; thus, the questions were modified as necessary to accommodate the individual situation.  Pertinent areas beyond the scope of the interview instrument were also explored.

Content analysis was conducted on the interview transcripts.  Two independent readers coded the interview transcripts for 35 separate items in four categories:  Institutional, Congregational, Personal, and Community (see Table B8).  These four categories were chosen to represent four primary dimensions in the lives of  clergy; the researchers anticipated these dimensions being influential in whether or not a clergywoman remained in local church ministry.  The readers coded each comment that corresponded with one or more of these items as having positive and/or negative effects.   A positive effect was considered to be supportive of remaining in local church ministry, whereas a negative effect was considered not supportive of remaining in local church ministry.  Frequently, coders observed positive and negative effects; in that case, the item was considered ambivalent, since there were combined positive and negative effects. Statistical Methods
Frequencies of responses on the questionnaire were counted, as a whole and in the various divisions (eg., marital status, reason for ordination), and then converted into percentages where necessary.  Percentages based on the raw tallies of observed positive and negative effects for each item were used for the interview analysis.

In some of the interview analysis, crosstabulations (tests of the association between two variables) were performed to determine the statistical significance, if any, of relationships between particular content analysis categories and leaving local church ministry.  Crosstabulations also were used while controlling for certain factors such as marital status.  Chi-square statistics (which measure the probability and degree to which two variables change at the same time) were reported when the expected frequency for each cell in the crosstabulation was five or greater.  When the expected frequency was less than five in at least one cell, the Fisher’s exact test was reported.  P-values for all of these tests were considered significant if p was less than or equal to .10 (p<=.10).  In addition, differences in proportions between various sub-groups of participants were tested for significance.  P-values for these tests were considered significant if p was less than or equal to .05 (p<=.05)