Jim Henderson's recent book, The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to Be the Church’s Backbone? (Tyndale House Publishers, 2012), brings to light some startling statistics concerning decreases in women’s church involvement. According to research conducted by the Barna group, over the 20 years between 1991 and 2011:
- There has been a 20% decrease in the number of adult women attending church services
- 29% less adult women attend Sunday school
- The number of women who volunteer at churches has dropped 31%
- The proportion of un-churched American women has risen 94%
Though Henderson’s book offers some interesting proposals as to why such trends are occurring (and I’d highly recommend the book for further reading if you are interested in such matters), the problem will remain no matter the reason we may identify. Therefore, our churches need to begin to consider how to continue involving women and how to support God’s call on their lives. If women truly are the “backbone” of the church, then we must address these trends concerning the decrease in women’s involvement or risk losing what has traditionally been the church’s most committed base.
With all of this in mind, I’d like to offer some questions that may serve as conversation-starters for your congregation to begin considering its ministry among women.
1. How does your church minister specifically to women and their needs?
Twenty-first century women are complex, and our churches’ ministries to them should reflect that complexity. While models of women’s ministry that involve coffee, snacks and book studies still are quite beneficial to many women, not all women fit into that one model.
In the same way that we do not all wear the same size dresses, there are many “sizes” of women’s ministry, or ministry to women, that might fit better for each of us. Some women may find nourishment in a playground model so that small children can play together while moms visit, but other women may desire an environment separate from any distractions like children. Some women may gain from mixed Sunday school classes with male and female leadership, but others may find women-only Bible study groups more relatable.
I wish creating effective women’s ministry was as easy as identifying age-related or niche-oriented classes. But the truth is that our ages do not always specify how ministry works for us. Young or old, some of us just like to knit…some of us just like to zumba…and some of us just like to talk theology.
2. How does your church model leadership for women?
No matter how your church has determined women’s roles in the leadership functions of your congregation, women still need to have models and leaders to look up to. Many women, especially today, are leaders in the work and family aspects of their lives. They express their leadership gifts daily through their various work roles and in the guidance of their families. And for some of these women, they can experience dissonance when they do not see any, or many, models of female leadership in their churches.
So whether it be through using more sermon illustrations about women leaders, having a guest speaker/preacher who is a woman (in the right context for your congregation, of course), allowing more women to pray, take the offering, read the announcements, sing special music, teach Sunday school, or give testimonies about the way they minister with their lives – women need models they can relate to. Any of these ways mentioned, and many others, can be effective for modeling leadership to women and encouraging them to continue to commit their lives to the service of the Lord and His church.
3. How does your church encourage women to hear God’s call?
Beyond women, does your church regularly encourage all its members to listen for God’s call? Throughout the Bible, we can see numerous examples of how God called out men and women into His redemptive purposes. In this day and age, the number of people who claim religious affiliation, whether women or men, is declining. And God can use all of the called, committed ministers that He can get.
He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” Luke 10:2