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May/June response: Our Readers Write

The formula for 39 and under

by Kim Rice Smith

Can you think of anything more elusive in many United Women in Faith units than women under the age of 39? Younger women are hard to find, hard to attract once we find them, and even more difficult to keep as integral parts of the work we do around the world. We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy lamenting where they have all gone. Two young women from eastern North Carolina might be able to provide us some insight into what makes women under 39 want to become a part of not only a church family but United Women in Faith particularly.

Alisha Dahart is 35 years of age and serves as both the program coordinator for her local unit and the assistant church treasurer in a volunteer capacity. She is married and, in her professional life, is the code enforcement officer and zoning permit issuer for a town in western Carteret County, North Carolina. In addition, she is working on her master’s degree. 

Kim Rice Smith is a member of United Women
in Faith and a lay leader in the North Carolina

Jamie Leach is 36 years old with two sons in college and a job as a full-time general manager of a quick-service restaurant where she has worked for 14 years. She has been leading the United Women in Faith Book Club for her unit for the past three years. 

When asked what they looked for in a church family, both women had very similar answers. Leach looks for inclusiveness and a sense of belonging. Dahart looks for God in the people and their drive to do good for God and each other. They both landed in the same small church family. One common denominator for both women is that they were encouraged to and supported in taking leadership roles within that congregation.

Their roles within the church family build on their existing strengths and passions. “I am a hard-core book nerd,” says Leach. “My church people knew this about me and someone from church approached me with the idea, helped me find the book list, set it up, and advertise it. I love reading and spreading that love to others.”

Dahart’s experience with a local municipality blends the requirements of finance and her organizational strengths perfectly as well as being a part of the finance team for the church.

Jamie Leach

Digging a little deeper into why they believe younger women are such rare finds in many church families, their answers shed light on a bigger issue. “I think there is such a stigma about church,” said Leach. “People that haven’t attended church recently think of their absolute worst church memories and associate all experiences with that. A lot of the time that includes shaming someone for who they are and life choices they have made.”

Dahart added, “I think some women have an idea in their head as to what church and organized worship should be, and sometimes the reality is different from that idea. We are all just people: human, messy, full of feelings that are both beautiful and ugly. We serve a God who knows this because he created us. He wants us to come to him as we are. He accepts us, and in love we accept each other. At church we can do that and be messy together.” 

Building on the importance of acceptance, Leach noted, “I have been divorced twice, have numerous tattoos and piercings. For some, I am not the ideal person when they think of a church member, but I promise my heart is full of God whether I look like it or not to some.”

When asked about advice for congregations looking to grow their 39 and under numbers, both women gave incredibly profound reflections. “Don’t give up on your outreach. Continue to seek the younger generations out because everyone needs God. They can find him through us,” Dahart stated.

Leach added, “Love everyone where they are and encourage the younger ones to get involved. I have seen where older members want to control things and aren’t receptive to new ideas. We have so much friendship, love, and fellowship to share!”

Alisha Dahart

As to what they would say to encourage other 30-something women to give church and United Women in Faith a try, Leach shared her experience. “My absolute favorite things are the women and the events we plan! I have made lifelong faith-filled friends in my church. Some of them have become extremely close to me, some I look up to and strive to be more like, and some just wow me with their faith on a constant basis. Our congregation is full of human flaws, but they have loved me throughout my journey. Every woman deserves that in her life.” 

Takeaways from both women are acceptance, love, and allowing younger members to share their passions and gifts in leadership roles. United Women in Faith offers so many outlets for spiritual development, outreach, creation care, social justice, and more. Is your local unit reaching out to younger women and encouraging them to cultivate their passions as part of your own journey?

Change is hard. Especially when we have been doing things the same way for a long time. Change can also be exciting and empowering for women of all ages. Invite, accept, encourage, empower, support, and love. It sounds like a perfect formula to love as Jesus loves. 

Kim Rice Smith is a member of United Women in Faith and a lay leader in the North Carolina Conference.

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