Generations of Women

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Approximately 30 years ago women’s ministry shifted from a missionary and outreach focus to increasing concern about the spiritual development of women in the local church. Women’s ministry became more relational in an attempt to educate, equip, and empower women for Kingdom service. This model of an inward focused ministry designed to serve and build up the local church body thrived for over two decades.

The millennial generation’s influence began to significantly impact the church in the early 2000s with existing women’s ministry leaders often at a loss as to why ministries that had flourished for decades were now drawing fewer women and in many instances were becoming obsolete. Women began leaving the church at alarming rates and traditional women’s programs were no longer of interest to young women.

Social media and personal blogs have provided anecdotal reasons for the millennial woman’s flight from the local church, but there is limited research on how women’s ministries may need to evolve to remain relevant in the local church. A recent investigation sought to begin that discussion by asking women’s ministry leaders to establish areas of agreement on the future role of women’s ministry, how it might best be organized and applied in the church, and to identify any factors that may impact the direction of the future of women’s ministry.

The Future of Women’s Ministry

A total of 59 women participated on two expert panels with one panel representng millennials 18 to 35 years old and the other panel representing non-millennials 36 years and older. All the participants had a minimum of two years experience with women in ministry and agreed to an evangelical belief statement.

Results of the study showed that millennial women view the purpose of women’s ministry similarly to non-millennials, but how they design and implement ministry is very different. Also, both groups agreed on several factors that may impact women’s ministry, but did not agree on which factors would have the greatest impact.

Regarding the purpose of ministry two of the top three priorities were shared between the two panels. Both “discipleship training that includes spiritual growth in various forms across all generations” and “support for family, marriage, and parenting” were listed by both panels as one of the top three purposes of women’s ministry. The top three responses for how women’s ministry will be organized and applied, and factors that may impact women’s ministry did not share any of the top three priorities between the two panels.

Results from the study support previous reports stating millennial women do not want to participate in traditional women’s ministry activities and are looking for new ways to express their faith and spiritual beliefs. When asked to identify how women’s ministry should be organized and applied in the local church, only two items were shared between the two panels. Both panels agreed women’s ministry should be more focused on relational ministry and incorporate a greater use of technology. However, none of the top three responses for how women’s ministry should be organized were listed by both panels. Thus, millennial women and non-millennial women have different views on how women’s ministry should be designed to fulfill the purpose previously discussed.

This suggests millennial women do want to participate in ministry with other women, but they choose to engage in activities that may not have been provided by non-millennial women’s leadership. If women’s ministry leaders hope to attract millennial women they need to understand the desires of young women. Women’s ministry will need to be organized in small groups, focused on building relationships, and be made available at various times to meet the schedule demands of today’s modern woman.

The study also revealed that the millennial and non-millennial generations shared several concerns about factors that may impact the future of women’s ministry. Seven items were shared between the two age groups including leadership opportunities and development for women; technology and social media; home life and family issues; racism and ethnic relations; gender issues; prominence of national women’s ministries and their leaders; and generational differences.

Although there was general agreement on the factors potentially impacting women’s ministry the two panels did not agree on which factors will have the greatest impact. The millennial generation was more focused on factors arising from the church including clarity of the mission and vision in the church, focus on previously taboo subjects, and home life and family issues. The non-millennial panel was more outwardly focused listing leadership opportunities and development for women, rising numbers of un-churched and de-churched, and postmodernism and relative truth as most significant.

Similar Purpose with a Different Process

The results illustrate the disparity in how women of different generations understand the future direction of ministry with women. The non-millennial panel described women’s ministry as becoming more intentional and focused on relationships and mentoring, but they also maintained the desire for organized events and retreats. Structure was still a significant part of the women’s ministry design and application. The millennial panel, in contrast, described women’s ministry as becoming casual and organic, focused on local small groups, and being relational at all levels. They recognized the use of large national gatherings, but did not suggest local conferences and retreats would continue. The informal and organic nature of the ministry would by design limit the hierarchy of leadership and authority.

The women’s ministry panels made two things clear. First, women of the millennial and older generations have shared beliefs on the purpose of women’s ministry and agree that ministry specifically for women by women should continue. That said, the results also show the future of women’s ministry may depend on leadership recognizing the unique culture of the millennial generation and the desire of young women to take control of their own faith development and opportunities for spontaneous spiritual growth.

Recommendations For Change in Women’s Ministry

The study provided recommendations for generational preferences for women’s ministry. Specific recommendations for modifying women’s ministry programs for millennials include:

  1. Design discipleship training that focuses on spiritual maturity as a priority.
  2. Provide support for families, marriage, and parenting needs.
  3. Provide opportunities for organic mentoring to develop.
  4. Use small groups to make ministry more relational.
  5. Recognize women’s hectic schedules and add variety to ministry opportunities.
  6. Design and express a clear vision and mission for the women’s ministry.

Recommendations for ministry with women older than 35 years of age include:

  1. Design discipleship training that focuses on spiritual maturity as a priority.
  2. Provide support for families, marriage, and parenting needs.
  3. Provide opportunities for cross-generational involvement and mentoring.
  4. Provide Bible literacy training in addition to theology-based education.
  5. Ensure activities are intentional in nature with a faith development focus.
  6. Provide leadership training and opportunities for ministry leadership.

Conclusion

Women’s ministry is in the midst of change as the millennial generation moves into positions of leadership. The church must continue to address the issues of engaging and retaining women in women’s ministry programs and ultimately in the church. Intergenerational ministry should be the goal using Titus 2:3-5 as the foundation. Ministry leaders can build on the shared purpose between generations to establish the mission and vision of the ministry. Areas where the generations agree on ministry design may form the cornerstone of the ministry with satellite activities focused on generational preferences. Women’s ministry leaders will want to watch for ongoing change in the church culture and to be proactive in adapting to the changing needs of women.

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This information is from my dissertation completed for the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree through the Cook School of Leadership at Dallas Baptist University. I want to thank my committee members Dr. Scott Floyd, Dr. Norma Hedin, and Dr. Sue Kavli (chair) for their input on earlier versions of this material. – Barbara J. Parker, Ph.D., Ed.D.

6 thoughts on “Generations of Women

  1. Excellent work and summary, Dr. Barbara Parker! So very proud of you!
    Generations learning to work together, respect, and even enjoy, each others’ preferences is key to effectively ministering to each other. In a sense, that is a ministry love language. We must choose to learn to love fluently intergenerationally. That will make our separate generation times and methods effective and our intergenerational times like holidays – things we remember that sustain and build us up.

  2. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing your findings. I am curious, what size churches were represented and were the women all from one area? I also wonder if there isn’t still a need for events and retreats but executed differently than they have been in the past. I know a lot of millenial women that love a good “girls weekend” or “night out”. Perhaps with more of a mission-focused, relational, small group mentality vs. sitting in rows with a speaker and listening (not that women don’t benefit from that too)…

    • We did not collect a lot of demographic information based on the needs of this particular study. The women were from at least 5 different states and several evangelical denominations. I do not know church size information. I agree with your thoughts on different execution – but it needs to be very different according to the results. The two panels shared 6 items regarding the purpose of women’s ministry and 7 items related to what may impact women’s ministry but only 2 items on how to design or implement women’s ministry! The girls night out plays directly to the millennial desire for relational ministry, but they clearly wanted so much more! The days of sitting women in rows and listening to a speaker or pushing for the emotional response are limited. I am watching closely for not only how discipleship training will continue, but the outcome of the new process as well. I am submitting the full results for publication so hopefully it will be available in the near future. The dissertation will be available through ProQuest in the next few weeks. The results were very interesting. I was surprised how similar the purpose statements were, but was not surprised the different generations wanted the ministry to look and feel different. Thank you for your comment!

      • Thanks for your response, Barbara. I look forward to reading the full results and sharing bits of what you’ve uncovered with my readers. 🙂

  3. As a non-millennial woman who would like to be more involved in women’s ministry (as an older woman teaching younger women), I have been very frustrated by the general church emphasis on recruiting well-known women speakers to entertain the rest of us. Since no doors have opened up to me in that area (one seems to either have to know someone or have a ministry degree for that), I have decided to get more involved in missions trips. That way, I get to use my language skills and pray for the sick, interests I am passionate about. I used to write skits for women’s ministry and children’s ministry, but some pastors don’t do that anymore and those in charge of women’s ministry in my area find it more expedient to look up plays online. The internet has really changed things in terms of ministry. That’s why I blog now, and make comments on other blogs. Through Facebook, I was also able to meet up with a weekly prayer group. Learning to roll with new technology has been difficult but necessary for communicating with people, especially the women in my family.

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