Calling All Girlfriends
By Amber Von Schooneveld
Imagine there were a place you could go to let loose—a place where you could really be yourself, where you could have serious fun, and where you could be just plain silly.
Imagine a place where you could go to develop friends who’d be there in a second, friends that stick closer than a sister in the trials of life.
Imagine a place you could invite your neighbor or coworker to experience the love of Christ-the place they’d want to be even if religion freaks them out.
Do you have a place like that?
Imagine if that place were your church.
When the founders of Girlfriends Unlimited, Lisa Jernigan and Patty Wyatt, first met, they both needed a place like this. Each had tragically lost their mothers, one to cancer and one to murder. Because of their similar circumstances, Patty and Lisa developed a friendship, finding support and encouragement to sustain them through their grief. They became friends that could call each other at any time to grieve, to cry, to laugh, or just to unwind…God blessed them so much through their friendship, they learned how vital that kind of support base is.
At their church, there were great Bible studies and classes offered for women, but Patty and Lisa saw so many women in the community and the church who were still going it alone. They also saw that, although they were surrounded by so many women, few were coming to church. When Patty or Lisa asked neighbors to church or Bible study, they would be too intimidated to come. The girlfriends wanted to give these women a safe (and fun) place to “test the waters” of church.
Lisa and Patty also noticed that women who were coming to church weren’t connecting with others. Women came, but they didn’t necessarily build friendships. Patty and Lisa were convinced that these women needed a place to be authentic and develop deep friendships.
Through a lot of prayer, they developed their idea of adding a “front porch” to their women’s ministry, a place where women could hang out and belong, that would be an entryway to church and life-changing friendships. Girlfriends Unlimited was born. It started as a ministry in their church, and now Girlfriends Unlimited is a ministry that is spreading across the country-hundreds of women gaining a place to find friendship, purpose in Christ, and a whole lot of fun.
Central to Girlfriends Unlimited are G! Groups (The G! is for God!). G! Groups are shared-interest clubs where women who love to bake, or scrapbook, or hike, can connect with other women with the same passion. At these groups, they meet new people and build deep friendships. The Hiker Chicks might go on a hike each Saturday; the Sassy Scrappers get together to gab while creating their art; the Cuisine Queens test out fun new restaurants. Besides being fun, the G! Groups are also a comfortable, non-threatening way for women to invite their friends who wouldn’t come to church, to a place where they can experience the love of Christ. In fact, almost one-quarter of the women who attend these G! Groups are from outside the church. Patty says they are “a safe place to invite your neighbor or coworker. You can come, have fun, and build relationships. It changes the perception of church for a lot of women.”
G! Groups also give women an opportunity to give back, sharing the love of Christ with others by serving. The Cuisine Queens might make meals for a family in need, Chick Flickers (movie buffs) might participate in a charity event, or the Lite `n’ Latte group (book clubbers) might donate books to a school. These groups are easy to start and maintain. Girlfriends Unlimited provides a how-to guide for starting different G! Groups and lots of ideas for maintaining them. And it’s not hard to find the Funcilitators who lead the groups-they’re just normal women who have a particular interest and want to reach out to others.
The next level of Girlfriends Unlimited is the G! Events-over-the-top themed events where women experience pampering, indulge in lots of tasty treats, play games, and have a short devotional. These nights are all about fun-they’re a place to unwind, as well as have a great time with friends. The theme may be a masquerade party, a beach party, or a spa party. Girlfriends Unlimited provides all the plans for each of the events-promotional materials, event activities, food ideas, and more. The G! Events are also a great outreach opportunity. Patty and Lisa say that about 30 to 40 percent of the women at these events are from outside of the church. Many of them have been attending G! Groups, and the G! Events are their first introduction to the church. Once women have experienced the warmth and love of the body of Christ, they’re likely to go deeper, attending a Bible study, a small group, and even church.
I recently attended a Girlfriends Unlimited Training Summit where women’s ministry leaders gathered and shared about their experiences with Girlfriends. As women shared their stories, one theme kept coming up. Ministry wife after ministry wife shared their stories about how Girlfriends has changed their lives. Ministry wives are often put on pedestals or in a box. Girlfriends, however, is giving these women a chance to step out of that box, and be themselves, treated as just another girlfriend. One woman shared how Girlfriends helped her overcome a year-long depression through the authentic friendships she made, drawing her out of isolation and allowing her to be herself. Girlfriend’s founder Lisa, a pastor’s wife, says, “Girlfriends gives me permission to be myself. This ministry tears down walls between pastors’ wives and other women and frees me to be me.”
Marcie Haymaker, a pastor’s wife and leader of Girlfriends Unlimited from Western Reserve Grace Brethren Church in Macedonia, Ohio, shared how Girlfriends allowed her to commit herself to what she’s passionate about-helping women grow in Christ all while having a lot of fun herself. She said, “It’s not draining or drudgery. You want people to grow in Christ, and this is a fun, fresh way to reach that goal. Ministry wives want to have fun just like everyone else and Girlfriends is an outlet for me to relax and unwind while I’m doing everything that I’m passionate about.” The most important thing she would share with other ministry leaders about Girlfriends Unlimited is how easy it is to add to your ministry. “You don’t have to stop anything you’re doing. With Girlfriends, you’re unifying your different ministries, bringing them under the same umbrella. It’s so adaptable to whatever ministries you already have.”
Now a part of Group Publishing, Girlfriends Unlimited gives women’s ministry leaders the resources they need to start and maintain a thriving ministry to its members. (You can find out more about all the benefits members receive on their website, www.girlfriendsunlimited.com.) Lisa and Patty are excited about how this movement is spreading across the country and affecting so many women. They say, “We see Girlfriends as the number one resource for women’s leaders to do effective and explosive ministry for churches. We want to sprinkle Jesus on people so that they want to know Him!”
Amber Van Schooneveld has been a contributing author to numerous ministry resources and has a passion for helping women find God’s truth and joy for their lives. Additionally, she enjoys spending time with her girlfriends in Colo. See ad on page 5.
This article “Calling All Girlfriends” written by Amber Von Schooneveld is excerpted from Just between Us Magazine a winter 2007 edition.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”