The State of Ministry to Women report from Lifeway Research confirms that intentional ministry to women strengthens the whole church.
By Rick Thompson
I recently heard about a pastor who told his wife she should start embracing her problems. So, she stopped what she was doing, walked over to him, and gave him a hug.
When I first heard that story, I laughed out loud (nervously). It reminded me that self-reflection is one of the most important, albeit painful, disciplines of my pastoral leadership.
The State of Ministry to Women report from Lifeway Research gives pastors like me much to reflect upon. It confirms what wise pastors should know: A strong, active women’s ministry is vital to the health and discipleship of the church. According to a far-reaching Pew Research study, women make up at least 55% of evangelical congregations.
A pastor who is not focused on the discipleship of women in his church is committing a kind of pastoral malpractice. A football coach is not effective if only focusing on one aspect of the game—either offense or defense. And a pastor is not effective if he is not tuned in to over half of his congregation.“A strong, active women’s ministry is vital to the health and discipleship of the church.” — Rick Thompson Click To Tweet
A pastor might respond that the Bible teaches there should be no difference in the way men and women are treated, even in discipleship and other ministries. After all, “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female” (Galatians 3:28a, CSB). But this discipleship philosophy ignores the obvious differences between men and women. And it also ignores the multiple examples in Scripture and in church history in which women gathered for ministry in unique and powerful ways.
The eye-opening truth about women’s ministry
Dr. Elizabeth Marvel, who teaches medieval history at Baylor University and has dedicated her life to studying the history of women’s involvement in Christian ministry, recently made this observation to me:
Historically, women have been both early converts and eager servants in the Christian church. Despite the shifting cultural landscapes, women consistently, and at times relentlessly, pursued space to practice their faith and minister to their communities. From medieval convent schools and hospitals to the Christian queens instrumental in early European conversion, women have played pivotal roles in the expansion of God’s kingdom.
The State of Ministry to Women simply reveals women are ministered to more, feel more needed, learn more, and have better relationships with other women when their church offers a women’s ministry. These findings should not be that surprising to pastors, but the emphatic nature of the statistical data is eye-opening. For instance, with a women’s ministry in place in a church, 79% of the women in that church state that the ministry has helped them personally. Only 10% say it has not been helpful.
Together with Vickey Banks, the women’s minister at my church, Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Oklahoma, I came up with the following reasons we believe a women’s ministry is vital to the health of the local church:
1. Provides mentorship
The Bible commands us to invest in women. Titus 2:3-5 commands older women to teach and train younger women. While this can be done in environments other than a formal women’s ministry, a dedicated ministry increases the opportunity for a greater number of women to be taught by other women (and for more women to teach). In fact, the State of Ministry to Women bears this out. One in 3 (33%) women whose church has activities for women say an older woman has mentored them.
2. Encourages transparency
Women’s ministry gives space for the type of vulnerability and depth of sharing that happens only when men are not in the room. While this can also be said for men in men-only environments, most women in our complementarian contexts will not even engage in biblical or related meaningful discussion when in groups with men. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it is the reality for many churches and small groups. According to the State of Ministry to Women, 58% of women say women’s ministry provides a place to ask questions and 56% say it provides a space for transparency.“Despite the shifting cultural landscapes, women consistently, and at times relentlessly, pursued space to practice their faith and minister to their communities.” — Elizabeth Marvel Click To Tweet
3. Cultivates spiritual gifts
Women’s ministry makes it easier to recognize and cultivate women’s gifts. In general, pastors and other male church leaders do not have strong relationships with women outside their own wives’ friendship groups. So, they do not know the depth and giftings of the larger network of women within their congregation. Women’s ministry broadens that network.
This makes it easier to foster involvement in a setting in which multiple gifts are needed to implement strong programming and effective ministry. Consequently, a women’s minister can give her pastor a deeper understanding of the wealth of ministry gifts within the congregation. One in 3 (36%) female churchgoers says because of her church’s women’s ministry she has found a place where she can use her giftings to serve those in her church.
4. Strengthens pastoral care
Women’s ministry provides more comprehensive pastoral care that is specific to a woman’s unique needs. The study reveals that when women’s ministry is offered, the majority of women (73%) say the church has offered a ministry that has met their needs. Miscarriage, postpartum, marital issues, hormones, menopause, sexual abuse, etc. are topics that male leadership cannot address holistically. While it is true that women often feel more comfortable talking to other women about spiritual issues in general, they invariably will only talk to other women about these sensitive topics.
5. Meets women’s unique needs
Women have a deep need for relationships with other women. The reality is that women go where they can connect to other women. If a church does not provide this, women will go to events and ministries at larger churches and parachurch organizations to find it. Our relational needs move us, and this is especially true for women.
The State of Ministry to Women found 68% of women say their relationships with other women are stronger because of women’s ministry. Young women need seasoned voices in their lives. Older women need and want to mentor and care for younger women. From the time that faith communities emerged in the Old Testament, biblical sisterhoods have played a big part in the spiritual development of women.
6. Promotes church health
Women’s ministry is essential for the overall health of the congregation. The study revealed 44% of women say the ministry encourages more of what the church as a whole is already encouraging. The Bible teaches that the church is a family. For instance, in John’s account of the crucifixion, we read that “when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26–27, CSB). At the instruction of Jesus, Mary and John became family. And we get a glimpse of the dynamic nature of the early church.
When Paul wanted the Roman church to welcome and help Phoebe, he called her “our sister” (Romans 16:1). When Peter commended Silvanus, he called him “a faithful brother” (1 Peter 5:12). The New Testament often refers to the congregation as “brothers and sisters.” The people gathered in your church on a Sunday morning are family, biblically speaking. Every family needs the mother’s influence and voice. In the same way, every church needs godly “mothers” who are encouraged to speak into the lives of younger women. Additionally, leadership in churches should have godly women who can act as spiritual mothers and speak wisdom from a needed female perspective.“Every family needs the mother’s influence and voice. In the same way, every church needs godly ‘mothers’ who are encouraged to speak into the lives of younger women.” — Rick Thompson Click To Tweet
7. Creates evangelistic opportunities
Women’s ministry can be an effective evangelism outreach. Three in 10 (30%) women in the study say they are more confident in sharing their faith because of women’s ministry. Additionally, ministry leaders say the ministry mobilizes women toward evangelism. Our church has begun summer book clubs through our women’s ministry. It is a low-commitment way for women to invite friends who do not know the Lord to be a part of a community of women who are having interesting conversations on a variety of topics. Most people come to Christ because they have formed relationships with Christians. Women’s ministry is an excellent way to facilitate those relationships.
These are just a few of the ways we have found women’s ministry to be a vital part of the health of our church. As a pastor for almost 40 years, it took me a while to understand the importance of this significant ministry and the problems that not having it brings. The State of Ministry to Women reminds us that a pastor would do well to embrace the problem before the problem embraces him!
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.