One premise that has been espoused in favor of the ordination of women is that such a move would facilitate church growth. Admittedly, we cannot tell the future to say definitively that this premise is false, but we can look into the past and examine the histories of those that have gone before us in this direction. We will look primarily at three mainstream Christian denominations: The Presbyterian, Methodist, and Episcopal Churches.
Liberal Presbyterians began ordaining women to the ministry in 1956, and by 2001 there were almost as many women as men in the PCUSA clergy. But the Presbyterians have witnessed a 40-year decline in membership. In 1968, there were more than 4 million members, or almost 2 percent of the U.S. population; today membership hovers around 2 million, or about 0.6 percent of the U.S. population. Their membership was halved, and their percentage of the population was reduced by more than two-thirds. (1)
The United Methodists also began ordaining women to ministry in 1956 and first ordained a female bishop in 1980. Their U.S. membership has declined every year since 1968, from around 11 million (5 percent of the population) to 7.8 million (2.5 percent of the current population). (2)
Likewise, the Episcopal Church began ordaining female priests in 1974. Their American membership has declined from about 3.2 million to about 1.95 million.(3) Promoting female headship in the church does not appear to be a successful path to church growth and cultural relevance.
Generally speaking, the areas of the world where the Seventh-day Adventist Church is experiencing the most rapid growth are also those same regions that are not promoting the ordination of women as pastors. Conversely, other countries in the world, such as Germany and the Netherlands, promoting women’s ordination have comparatively stagnant church growth.
Of course it is understood that these statistics don’t necessarily prove anything definitively and by no means is this meant to be an exhaustive, scientific study. Yet this information is nonetheless very interesting and worthy of note. It may behoove us to see what future lessons we can glean from past history.
* This article contains, by permission, excerpts from an article written by David Read. Advindicate, ‘The Adventist Arab Spring’, July 9, 2012