By Amber Van Schooneveld
Do you know what the women in your church really want?
Recently I attended a women’s conference that thousands of women across the country attend each year. I sat for hours (in a very uncomfortable seat) listening to the speakers chat about what great friends they were with each other and how much it impacted their lives. When one went through depression, the rest were there to support her. When one experienced the joy of grandchildren, the rest delighted with her. It was beautiful. But after sitting and listening for about three hours to the glories of their friendship, I left with little more than a numb backside and an even more pain fully acute knowledge of what was lacking in my life. I left with the knowledge of what I needed, but not with the means to get it.
Trust me, it’s no secret to us women what we want and need in order to flourish in life, in church, and in our relationship with Jesus we want deep friendships. We want to feel that we belong to a group of friends who accept us just as we are. We want to feel that our lives are significant because of the impact we have on our friends and the people around us. The problem is getting this.
Girlfriends Unlimited helps women get it. The founders, Lisa Jernigan and Patty Wyatt, met each other at a time when support and friendship were vital to them, having both recently lost their mothers. Much like the speakers at the conference, they grieved with one another, loved one another, and supported one another. They realized together how vital this kind of relationship is in the Christian life. Girlfriends Unlimited was born out of these two women’s conviction that what they really wanted and what the women around them really needed in order to thrive in the church and in their relationship with Jesus was real friend ship someone to care for them, be silly with them, and share life’s pain and joy with them. And they set out to give this to other women.
Lisa and Patty started Girlfriends Unlimited as a place for women to connect and find the three things they really want: (1) Someone to care, (2) a place to belong, and (3) significance.
After starting as a small effort in Lisa and Patty’s church, Girl friends Unlimited has spread to churches across the country (and even to a couple international churches). The backbone of the ministry is prayer Lisa and Patty’s prayers and the prayers of Heart Whisperers in every ministry women who are devoted to praying diligently for the ministry and for every event.
The heart of Girlfriends Unlimited is the Girlfriend Groups (G! Groups). Each Girlfriends Unlimited church has a number of interest-related clubs, such as Lit’n’Latte, Hiker Chicks, Sassy Scrappers, and Cuisine Queens. In these clubs women who love hiking develop deep friendships while out on hikes. Dedicated scrapbookers find a place to share their hearts while creating masterpieces. The clubs are all about relationships, and women within the church are able to make and develop the kind of friend ships they’re longing for.
But it’s not only women within the church who are finding what they’re looking for. On average almost one-quarter of the women who attend these G! Groups are from outside the church. G! Groups are an easy, natural way to invite friends (who might never otherwise darken a church doorway) into relationships where they’ll experience the love of Christ. “It’s a safe place to invite your neighbor or co-worker,” Patty says. “I can come, have fun, and build relationships. It changes the perception of church for a lot of women.”
The G! Groups are also meant to help women experience significance. Women find purpose for their lives in sharing the love of Christ with new friends who’ve never experienced it before. Women also find significance in the clubs through giving back at least once a quarter. For example, quilting clubs create quilts to give to single mothers, or cuisine clubs help provide meals to families in need.
G! Groups are easy to get started you don’t need to have a seminary degree to lead one. The Funcilitators (leaders of the groups) are women who love a certain hobby and want to meet and involve other women. It may be hard to find women who will teach on the Bible once a week, but it’s not so hard to find someone who’ll head up a book club or a movie night. Does a woman in your church love God and love to knit? That’s all she needs.
Girlfriends Unlimited churches also connect women four times a year for GI Events, where women get together for a short devotional, for pampering pedicures, for lots of tasty snacks, for games, for crafts, and, of course, for friend ships. The serious focus of these nights is lightheartedness, giggling, and fun. Women find a place to belong because they can come exactly as they are silliness included and find acceptance while having a great time.
In Patty and Lisa’s experience, 30 to 40 percent of the women who at tend these G! Events are from outside the church. And when new women experience love and acceptance at these G! Events, it spills into the rest of the church, too. They’re more likely to attend a G! Group, a Bible study, and even church.
Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Niwot, Colorado, has been a Girlfriends Unlimited church for several years. According to lead pastor Alan Ahigrim, the program has had a huge impact. He says, “One of the best things our women’s ministry has been involved in is Girlfriends Unlimited. It has helped hundreds to connect in a healthy and happy way. I’ve been amazed by its success it’s now even drawing a huge number of nonmembers. It’s far more of an outreach than I had ever imagined, with about one-third of group members coming from outside our congregation. A growing number of women are being drawn into a growing relationship with one another and with Jesus Christ.
Look at the women’s ministries at your church. Are they informational or are they relational? Do your ministries tell women what they need, or do they give it to them? At your typical women’s ministry event, do women shuffle in, listen to someone talk for one hour, spend five minutes afterward chatting, and then shuffle out again? If so, women probably aren’t getting what they really need and want. Don’t get me wrong information is great. We need the truths of the Bible poured into us. But if we spend 95 percent of our time ingesting information and only 5 percent of our time applying it in relationships, we’re not going to gain meaningful friendships, we’re not going to gain a sense of belonging, and we’re not going to gain significance in others’ lives. We need a place to grow our friendships and invest in others and this is what Girlfriends Unlimited is all about.
Lisa and Patty have a huge vision for Girlfriends Unlimited. “We see Girl friends as the #1 resource for women’s leaders to do effective and explosive ministry for churches,” Lisa explains. “We want to provide resources and tools and give them permission to see beyond a speaker-oriented ministry, which comes through relationships and women sharing their stories. We want to sprinkle Jesus on people so that they want to know him.”
Girlfriends Unlimited is now a part of Group Publishing expanding its influence to many more churches across the country. Churches can join for an annual fee. With this fee, they get training, a how-to manual, publicity resources, rights to use the name and logo, access to the members-only sections of the Web site, new programming each month, networking, lots of new ideas, and more. Check out more information at www.girlfriendsunIimited.com.
Amber Van Schooneveld is a project manager at Group
Excerpted from REV! may/june 2007 rev.org
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.”