I watched a slew of strong, confident women chime in: “Yep.” “Me too.” “Absolutely.”
Traditional women’s ministry in the church is facing a sizeable PR problem with younger Christian women today (myself included). Why do you think that is?
If women still long for authentic connection with other women, and if we recognize our female friends meet some of our deepest relational needs, why do so many women have an aversion (some might even say a repulsion) to women’s ministry?
The Aesthetics of Women’s Ministry
I am a feminine woman who loves wearing yellow. I melt whenever my husband sends me flowers. And yet I find the branding of women’s ministry (or what I have in my mind as the brand of women’s ministry) as inauthentic. It’s just too pretty. Real womanhood isn’t a beautiful (white) woman standing in a wheat field with a pink scarf around her waist blowing in the breeze. She isn’t Proverbs 31. In fact, she’s messy. She’s a juggler, a multi-tasker, a smart, hard-working endurer who longs for freedom, grace when she makes mistakes, and opportunities to make our world better. She’s an advocate—a fighter, a creative problem-solver, a leader.
When I walk into a women’s event at a church I expect several things:
1. It won’t be funny. Because unless you’re Tina Fey, women are generally not funny. And Christian women are especially not funny. (And I suppose I expect not many men's ministry events will be funny either--although our male counterparts are usually more willing to make fools of themselves (in a good way) than we are.)
2. It will be pink. Or sage green. Or sky blue. Because we want the room to be inviting, soft, beautiful, and comforting for all the exhausted women who might come. There will also be lovely table decorations and centerpieces.
3. It will have lots of surface chatter. I need to come prepared to engage in small talk: How are you? How are the kids? How’s your remodel? Are you still going to the gym? Did you see The Hunger Games? When did you get your last pedicure? Where did you get your shoes? What are you doing this weekend?
4. We’ll partake of some sort of baked good, dessert, or chocolate. Because you can’t have a women’s event and not serve sugar. (It’s true. And I’m not complaining.)
5. Attendees will look their best. From A-line skirts to snappy jeans to scarves, boots, handbags and headbands, we will wear our makeup, use our flatiron, and actually try to look nice for each other.
6. The teaching will be simple. Kinda like reading Teen Fiction.
These are my perceptions. And now you might know a little more about my wounds too.
I bring this up not to speak negatively about what has done real good in my life and in the lives of so many women. I raise it because many other women are raising it too. (Check out Nicole Cottrell's post "Why I Don't Like Women's Ministry"; Sarah Bessey "Why We Don't Need Women's Ministry"; Bianca Olthoff's 'Why Women Don't Like Women's Ministry")
Women as World Changers
Perhaps we should look more closely at who this next generation of females are. What do we know about them? For one, they are getting married later, (the average woman now marries at 27). Females are successfully engaging in the workforce before they get married and before they start a family. There they labor alongside men as colleagues (as well as other female cohorts), and do so in such a way as to retain their femininity without being excessively girlie. A professional woman learns to hold her own emotionally, dress in a manner that garners respect, and dialogue about issues that cross gender. She's fully aware her colleague won't take her seriously if she looks, talks, and acts like Elle Woods.
Also, a 2010 Census report indicated women today outnumber their male counterparts in bachelor's and graduate degrees. Women are becoming more educated, and they seek intellectual, theological, and cultural dialogue. We appreciate beauty, pink tablecloths, and cupcakes, but we also value content that elevates our minds.
Another essential mention is that a large percentage of women today continue working after they start a family. According to a report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee titled "Women and the Economy 2010," 64% of mothers in 2008 with children under the age worked, and 78 percent of mothers with children ages 6-17 were a part of the labor force."
Whether or not a woman should go back to work after having children is a debate we females have beaten into the ground. The reality is, over 64% of females today do. If the bulk of your women's ministry is intended for stay-at-home mothers or empty nesters (offered during the day, revolving around mothering only, focused on stay-at-home mothering issues), you are missing a sizeable portion of the women's ministry market.
And finally, women today are more networked than ever before. Women are connecting every day on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and on well known female blogging communities like InCourage, SheSpeaks, Patheos, and BlogHer. 20 years ago this was not an option for women. Today pockets of female biblical teachers, theologians, authors, counselors, and influencers are popping up, propelled by social media and the sharing of other female 'friends.' There's a chattering community of women online, and these relationships, though not of great depth, were brought together through overlapping professional sectors, interests, mothering stages, networks by region and cause, mutual friends, link ups, etc. We get plenty of surface conversations through our networks. (Perhaps that's why we're looking for authentic, real life connections).
What do we do then? What can you do to improve women's ministry at your church?
Initially I suggest looking at the branding of your women's ministry. What message are you conveying to your congregation about who women's ministry is for and why it exists? To reach a younger generation of women (<40), stop using frilly, romatic, overly girlie fonts, themes, decorations, and colors. Choose to brand women's ministry as feminine but empowering.
Also, diversify your program and focus on fostering authenticity. Choose to offer classes that appeal to women other than SAHMs and empty nesters. A few ideas:
- An expository, theological class for the more academically minded woman.
- A series for working professionals specifically addressing professional woman's issues. Perhaps divide into small groups for sharing: working mothers, working singles, working widows.
- A 4-week study on Female Leadership: "Using Your Gifts as a Female Leader in Today's Church" that fosters healing, sharing, and encouraging one another.
- PRAY. Have a women's class centered entirely on praying with and for one another.
Do you have any thoughts to add? I would love to hear your opinion.