Women by the Numbers/May 2015

By Amanda Mountain

We at the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) often get asked, “Why do you still count? Why count at all?” We are told, “You all make people uncomfortable.”

Simply said, counting gives us an unbiased picture of how far we’ve come, where we are currently and how much farther we have to go as a denomination for the full inclusion of both men and women in the life of our church.

GCSRW counts many things: we count the number of female seminary students, ordained clergy, elders and deacons, bishops, members, full-time local pastors, part-time local pastors, board members of the general agencies. We count the participation of women in church meetings, large and small.

So, why is counting important?

GCSRW is mandated by our church’s Book of Discipline to “challenge The United Methodist Church, including its general agencies, institutions, and connectional structures, to a continuing commitment to the full and equal responsibility and participating of women in the total life and mission of the Church, sharing fully in the power and in the policy-making at all levels of the Church’s life” (Paragraph 2102). In paragraph 2103.2, it specifically states, “… shall continue to gather data, make recommendations, and suggest guidelines for action as appropriate to eradicate discriminatory policies and practices…”

If we do not count, we cannot measure how far the denomination has come – and where we currently are - in our work for inclusiveness. Measuring where we are impacts how and which goals should be adjusted to move us further down the path towards the full inclusion in our denominational decision-making bodies and leadership.

How does counting uncover patterns, larger truth?

GCSRW uses quantitative research to live out its disciplinary mandated task. This type of research is defined as “a study involving the use and analyses of numerical data using statistical techniques” and “poses questions of who, what, when, where, how much, how many, and how” (www.dmeforpeace.org). For example, GCSRW uses this method when we examine how many female and male clergy there are in a given year. The data collected is then analyzed to “explain a phenomena” which points to a larger truth (www.sagepub.com).

The main advantage to this type of research is that the results are unbiased, more reliable and objective and can illustrate a pattern or reality. By counting the number of female and male clergy, GCSRW is able to identify who are the leaders of The United Methodist Church.


How is our research similar to the U.S. Census?


Another example of quantitative analysis is the U.S. Census. You may remember in 2010, receiving your U.S. Census questionnaire in the mail and seeing the commercials on TV advocating for you to complete the survey. This census provides “accurate data reflecting changes in your community,” and “is crucial in apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and deciding how more than $400 billion per year is allocated for projects like new hospitals and schools” (www.census.gov). The quantitative data collected through the U.S. Census directly affects how many seats each district and state gets in the legislative (decision-making) branches of the U.S. government.

Why analyze who is at the decision-making table?

In The United Methodist Church, the General Conference is “the only body that can set official policy and speak for the denomination,” (www.umc.org). General Conference is “an international body of nearly 1,000 delegates” and meets every four years. Annual Conferences, the regional bodies of our denomination, elect the delegates to represent their areas and are guaranteed at least one lay and one clergy delegate each. But, “just as the U.S. Congress redistricts every 10 years following a national census, the number of lay and clergy delegates elected from each annual conference changes each quadrennium based on the number of lay and clergy members” (www.umc.org).

In other words, by counting the number of members in an annual conference, this ensures equal representation at the only gathering of United Methodists who are able to set the official policies of the denomination. If we don’t count, we don’t know how many delegates each conference should have to ensure equal representation. Without an accurate count, one country may having more votes and voices during the session and thus a larger influence and impact on the decisions made. For example, if more delegates attend from the United States, then a predominantly American voice is heard and seen in the types of decisions made, resulting in a misrepresentation of the majority view or opinion of the denomination.

GCSRW monitors large events such as General Conference, makes a commitment that “confirms anew recognition of the fact that the UMC is part of the universal church, rooted in the liberating message of Jesus Christ, that recognizes every person, woman or man, as a full and equal part of God’s human family,” (Book of Discipline, 2102).

By counting the number of women present as voting delegates at General Conference, by counting who speaks during debates and by counting women leadership, GCSRW ensures that all voices and views are valued and heard at the decision-making table, regardless of gender.

Want to know more?

To read the Book of Discipline in its entirety, a free version is available here:

To read more about quantitative research, visit:

To read more about the U.S. Census, go to:

We want to hear from you!

What are your thoughts? Why do you think it is important to count? What is the value you see in GCSRW’s mandate to monitor the numbers?