Just this morning I was talking with an educated professional woman in her early 30s. She was vehemently stating a sentiment I have heard several times during my tenure as a women’s leader: “I hate women’s ministry. I think I will die if I hear the words ‘spa,’ ‘tea,’ or ‘girlfriend’ one more time.” Earlier in the week I met several influential Christian women who are thoughtful and committed to making a difference in the lives of others. One is an attorney who spends her life advocating for girls trapped in human trafficking, another woman ministers to women suffering with lupus, and another spent the majority of her life establishing churches behind the Iron Curtain. Spas and teas seem frivolous in comparison (Mateer, 2012).
Women are increasingly becoming resistant to stereotypical evangelical Christian women’s ministries. This is due to the stereotype that women’s ministries are “superficial”, “pink”, “covered in flowers”, and “tea parties.” Many women also do not feel like they conform to the general type of woman who attends a women’s ministry (i.e. married with children, not employed). In some cases, age discrepancies occur, like older women or younger women being marginalized by the major group.
According to Bianca Olthoff (one of our favorite Christian speakers evah), women’s ministries became popular in the 1950s in the American South, when women were having children in their early 20s and needed socialization away from their families. Olthoff explains, “The ladies luncheons and bridge circles found in sororities and women’s clubs matriculated into the church as an alternative for those seeking community within the church” (para. 12).
However, for the 21st century modern woman, this kind of structure no longer seems appropriate or inclusive. Where does the woman in her 40s, unmarried but holds a high position at work, fit into this kind of social dynamic that values homemaking over a career? What about the woman in her mid-20s, who watches Dr. Who marathons and plays Dungeons and Dragons with friends? Where does she fit into this ministry that exclusively values femininity? It would appear that if a woman chooses a lifestyle outside of marriage and motherhood, her chances of feeling included into a women’s ministry are low.
Thus, there is a call for a kind of women’s ministry that will go deeper – whether that be in theology or small group discussions. Sarah Bessey, a Chritian blogger, says, “We’re choking on cutesy things and crafty bits, safe lady topics and if one more person says that modest is hottest with a straight face, I may throw up. We are hungry for authenticity and vulnerability, not churchified life hacks from lady magazines” (para. 2). It seems that women are progressively becoming exhausted from seeing cookie-cutter women’s ministries, and are yearning for a new way to worship and fellowship.
There is a need, then, for women’s ministry leaderships to see a different way of running their ministries. Without focusing on one type of a woman’s needs, a women’s ministry should take into account all the types of women who will be attending.
In order to connect women efficiently, similarities must be established. Knapp and Vangelisti (1996) found that friendships develop more quickly when similarities are discovered between two people. Similarities may include appearance, interests, beliefs, and goals (p. 149). Within women’s ministries, it is important for members to feel like they connect with other women and have something in common with them. This is why women are reporting so out of place thus far in women’s ministries. Women’s ministries shows emphasis to only kind of woman, thus alienating the rest as they find no similarities with the major group. Jackson (2011) found that Women’s Ministries assume that just because members are women, they must ‘love girly-girl things’. This does not include members, but isolates them.
Although there is much to be said about small group communication and church building in previous research, there is little formal research on how women feel towards Women’s Ministries. This topic seems to be restricted to bloggers and Christian online magazines. Thus, further research for the benefit of women’s ministries is undoubtedly necessary.
In conclusion, it was surprising to find such a limited amount of research on this topic of women’s ministries. Thus far, it only appears that common housewives themselves are writing about women’s ministries. They write in their blogs that not enough healthy communication is occurring in these types of ministries. Where are the communication scholars in this tension and struggle? How do modern women navigate an old-fashioned organization? Perhaps people need to start taking a look.
Other women have told me of their countless struggles with the gossip that occurs within women’s ministries. Ugh! Women can be cruel, even those who proclaim Jesus’ name.
What about you? What major issues have you seen in women’s ministries at churches you have attended? What do you think is the answer to this dilemma? (Of course, Jesus. But let’s go deeper, and think about how we can look to Jesus to strengthen our women’s ministries.) Talk to us – we’re listening.
- Bessey, S. (2011, October 1). In which I write a letter to womens’ ministry. Sarah Bessey Blog, para. 2. From: http://sarahbessey.com/in-which-i-write-letter-to-womens/
- Knapp, M. L., & Vangelisti, A. L. (1996). Interpersonal Communication and Human Relationships, 6, 149. Pearson.
- Mateer, J. (2012, November 15). Out with the old women’s ministry: A new approach to impact women for Jesus. Christianity Today. From http://www.christianitytoday.com/gifted-for-leadership/2012/november/out-with-old-womens-ministry.html
- Olthoff, B. (n.d.). Why women don’t like “women’s” ministry. Church Leaders. From: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/163607-bianca-olthoff-women-like-womens-ministry.html