New entry points into Women of the ELCA are necessary to build the organization, the director of intergenerational programs told leaders in Chicago, Feb. 22-24.
“How many of you say, ‘How do we get more young women involved?’” Elizabeth McBride asked those attending Women of the ELCA’s annual Conference of Presidents (COP).
That’s not the question you should be asking, said McBride, who is also editor of the online magazine for young adult women, Café.
“You should be asking, ‘How do we get more new women involved?’
“We don’t have an age issue, we have an access-to-entry issue,” McBride said. She suggested moving ministries like quilting, book clubs and service events outside the church.
“Move your event for human trafficking to include your local youth group or a campus ministry near you if you have one,” she suggested. “Visibility is access.”
During the conference, presidents and their representatives were the first to see the 2020 gathering theme and logo. (Read about it here.)
They also heard reports on the state of the organization, and they attended workshops about suicide prevention, advocacy, and immigration.
Decline in membership
In her state of the organization report, Executive Director Linda Post Bushkofsky said a decline in participation results in a reduction in giving.
In 1988, the ELCA had “something like 5 million members in 11,000 congregations, and we had Women of the ELCA units in nearly all of those congregations,” she said.
Today, the ELCA has 3.5 million members in 9,200 congregations with Women of the ELCA units in about 4,500 of those, Bushkofsky reported.
“Like the ELCA and most mainline Protestant denominations, Women of the ELCA has seen a decline in participation since our constituting convention in 1987,” she said.
And that means offerings have dropped.
Gifts to Regular Offerings have dropped from about $1.2 million in 1997 to about $330,000 in 2018. Regular offerings are collected in congregational units and benefit the unit, the synodical organization and the churchwide organization.
Thankofferings have declined from nearly $1.6 million in 1997 to about $647,000 in 2018 or about 81 percent of the $800,000 anticipated for fiscal year 2018. Thankofferings are special offerings made throughout the year and collected during a dedicated worship service and forwarded 100 percent to the churchwide organization.
“Thankofferings are designed to be a reflection of your experience of God in your life,” Bushkofsky said. “It’s your personal reflection of God’s presence in your life and how you perceive that presence.”
“The reality is things have to change if Women of the ELCA is to exist in the future,” she said. “There is much room for growth in our organization. But we have to act now.”
Strategy for change
In her annual address to presidents, Executive Board President Lisa Plorin reported that the board formed an exploratory committee in April 2018 to help the organization grow into the future.
The committee is seeking answers to three questions from Women of the ELCA participants, and it will make recommendations in the executive board’s October 2019 meeting. The questions are:
- If you could make changes to our constitutions to encourage more participation in the organization, what would they be?
- The triennial convention costs approximately $2,400 per voting member. Annual revenue from offerings has been insufficient to pay for the convention over the past two triennium. How could your SWO assist with the costs?
- Why is this organization important to you? If this organization went away tomorrow, would you miss it? Would it matter? Why?
Presidents had an opportunity, working in regional groups, to discuss these three questions. Their responses will be shared with the exploratory committee prior to its next meeting on March 23, 2019. (If you would like to share your answers to these questions with the exploratory committee, include them in the comment section below.)
Plorin encouraged women to ask themselves why Women of the ELCA is important to them.
“Would you miss it if it went away?” she asked. “I can tell you that if the Women of the ELCA went away tomorrow, it would be missed. This organization is an integral part of the church.”
Work in racial justice advocacy and human sex trafficking education would be missed, she said. The organization’s commitment to raising up healthy women and girls and its work to end domestic violence would be missed.
“I think I speak for everyone here in this room that the Women of the ELCA is an important entity within the ELCA,” she said. “When we all work together to fulfill our mission and purpose, we can make a difference.
“Let’s do this. Let’s grow this organization into the future!”
During the COP Saturday evening worship service, an offering of about $8,500 was collected and will be distributed to Women of the ELCA’s ongoing ministries (50 percent), to the All Anew Campaign for Katie’s Fund (25 percent), and to Lutheran Suicide Prevention Ministry (25 percent.) The conference theme was “Child of God: Matthew 18:1-5.”
Terri Lackey is director for communication for Women of the ELCA. Photo by Sarah Carson of Elizabeth McBride leading a session on visibility.