What Factors May Impact Ministry?

impact

I recently asked two groups of women to list factors that may impact the future of women’s ministry. The first group represented the millennial generation with women between 18 and 35 years old and the second group represented older generations with women 36 years and older.

It was interesting that the two groups did not agree on which factors will have the greatest impact on women’s ministry. 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 older generations were 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.

The top five items listed by each group are listed below

Millennial

  1. Clarity of the mission and vision for the church
  2. Previously taboo subjects
  3. Home life and family issues
  4. Leadership opportunities and development for women
  5. Technology and social media

Older Generations

  1. Leadership opportunities and development for women
  2. Rising numbers of unchurched and de-churched
  3. Postmodernism and relative truth
  4. Scheduling of time and resources
  5. Family dynamics such as women working outside the home, and single parenting

How can you use this information when planning for your women’s ministry? The lists give us a window into what each age group values as important. They are concerned about specific influences that may impact the way they view ministry. Ask your women this same question and you will learn about their interests and concerns. Then use that information to develop support ministries, mentoring, and outreach to share the Gospel and disciple women to be mature in their faith.

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.

Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down – A Review

ordinary-bookI had a mixed reaction to Tony Merida’s book, Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down, published by B&H Publishing in 2015. The premise was good. Christian faith isn’t about light shows and performance. Faith is lived out everyday in our ordinary lives. My concerns were not with the idea of practical faith, but with the insistence in how that faith would be accomplished.

The author explicitly states that salvation is a gift of grace (p. 24), so he is not describing a works-based system of salvation. However, he has added his own how-to list for what Christians must do. The author itemizes at least twelve things that Christians must do to love their neighbor, but the Bible has no such list that applies universally to all Christians.

“My point is that we must have an open heart/home toward people that extends beyond what’s comfortable…,” (p. 41).

“Every Christian must do something to care for the orphan,” (p. 80).

“Sometimes we must do emergency relief; but we must also tend to the matters of restoration and development,” (p. 82).

“So we must help provide financial aid,” (p. 84).

“First, churches must strengthen their relationships with orphanages,” (p. 85).

“Further, we must help our Christian businessmen and women get a vision for orphan care,” (p. 85).

On the positive side, the book challenges us to take care of our neighbors and addresses several social issues and taking Scripture back to the basics. I found the book to be a great mechanism for self-evaluation. It provides a way to examine what we each are individually doing to share God’s grace with our community.

I would recommend this book to mature Christians who understand the biblical mandate to love God and love others does not come with a specific to do list. We should let God challenge each individual to use the gifts and talents they have been given to advance and glorify the Kingdom of God in their own way.

 

Disclosure: A free copy of the book was provided in exchange for a review of the text.

New Year – New Opportunity

fresh-beginning-scripture

The new year has arrived and social media is filled with predictions for change. Why do people make promises that starting on January 1 they will make some change? If we wanted to change something couldn’t we have done it just as easily on any other day?

There is something special about the beginning of the new year. There is an anticipation of things to come, opportunities unknown, and building on the foundation of work we previously began. The new year brings new hope.

Take time over the next few weeks to evaluate where your women’s ministry is and where you would like it to grow over the next year. Do your women understand and participate in worship, evangelism, missions, discipleship, and fellowship? Is there more emphasis on one area leaving another ignored?

There are many things to consider when reviewing a ministry’s effectiveness. Here are a few items to help get you thinking about what 2017 might bring:

Leadership: Is your leadership strategy and style inline with the mission of the church?

Innovation: Can you identify opportunities for new or enhanced ways to reach women?

Negotiation: Can different generations serve together through effective negotiation?

Change: How will you lead organizational change while inspiring others to serve?

Values: Do you implement biblical decision-making strategies across the ministry?

As you begin 2017 consider Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Use this time to listen for the Holy Spirit to give you direction and then boldly step out to make positive changes in your women’s ministry.

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2

For Christians, Christmas is about the Incarnation of God. John described Christ as light coming into the darkness and he said that the darkness could not extinguish it. The Greek literally means: “The darkness could not take it down.” God’s light has come into the world to overcome the darkness, and the darkness is helpless against it. This Christmas season embrace the light of God’s truth and Jesus Himself, who is the Light of the World.

god-with-us

Defining Women’s Ministry

WM leading series

I read a post tonight that said women’s ministry is almost nonexistent in large evangelical churches!  Since when?  I think the author was meaning that traditional, event driven women’s programs are becoming extinct, but I can assure you that women doing ministry is alive and well!

There is nothing in Scripture that indicates the local church must have a specific, formal program called women’s ministry; however that is what most people think of when they hear the term women’s ministry. Ministry among women can and should occur in a variety of ways (Nielson, 2015, para.4). When placing the word women in front of ministry, it describes any action performed by women in service for God. Therefore, women’s ministry is not to be defined only as ministry performed by women for other women. 

Elizabeth Elliot (1976) best described this idea when she stated,

We are called to be women. The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman. For I have accepted God’s idea of me, and my whole life is an offering back to Him of all that I am and all that He wants me to be (p. 43).

CULTURAL CHALLENGES AND CHANGES

I think we would all agree that women’s ministry is reacting to the pressures resulting from cultural shifts in gender relations, generation preferences, economics, politics, and religion.  As early as 2009, women’s ministry leaders were acknowledging changes were happening and women’s ministry would no longer function as it had during modern times (Taylor, 2009, pp. 2-4).

During the past decade a clearer picture of what those changes would be has emerged. Research has shown that teenagers are leaving the church during early adulthood or may not affiliate with a church at all or until later than previous generations (Kinnaman & Lyons, 2007, p. 22). One in four members of the millennial generation are unaffiliated with any particular faith (Lugo, 2010, para.1). People no longer attend church as a cultural expectation, which presents challenges to those leading women’s ministry (Burke, 2015, para.1-2).

One result of the trend of remaining spiritual, but unaffiliated with the local church, has been the proliferation of independent ministries. Women are being drawn to national speakers as role models and for spiritual training, at a great loss to the local church. “National women leaders should be a reference point, but not a replacement for female leadership at the local church level” (Shellnutt, 2016, para. 25). 

So what are we going to do?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Pray for the women in your church. Pray for young  leaders to rise up and serve.
  2. Pray for the men in your church. Pray for a collaborative ministry between all members of the body of Christ for Kingdom growth.
  3. Build relationships with women of various ages. Mentor those spiritually younger than you and seek godly wisdom from those more mature than you.
  4. Be flexible. Women’s ministry is changing and we must be willing to adapt.
  5. Remain grounded in Scripture. Hold fast to the truths of Scripture so that the culture does not drive the ministry.

Do you have other ideas on how to define women’s ministry in the 21st Century? I’d love to hear your comments and ideas. 

Burke, D. (2015). Millennials leaving the church in droves, study finds. Pew Research. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/12/living/pew-religion-study/

Elliot, E. (1976). Let me be a woman. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

Kinnaman, D., & Lyons, G. (2007). Unchristian. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Nielson, K. (2015). Why women’s ministry: Questions you’re asking. The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-womens-ministry

Shellnutt, K. (2016). The bigger story behind Jen Hatmaker. Christianity Today. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/november-web-only/bigger-story-behind-jen-hatmaker.html?visit_source=twitter&start=4

Taylor, M. (2009). Brave new women: The transformation of women’s ministry in 21st century culture. Retrieved from http://leadnet.org/brave_new_ women_transformation_of_womens_ministry_21st_century_culture/