How We Revitalized Our Women’s Group
By Denise Ferrar
The yearning to send and support missionaries had for decades been the glue that held together the women’s ministry at Galilee Baptist Church in Denver. But by the time I came to the church, only a faithful few attended meetings and the weekly Bible study.
As I analyzed my new ministry, I remembered something I once read: “The greatest obstacle to growth and evangelization is a ministry preoccupied with its own existence. What is needed is a fresh approach and a little sanctified ingenuity.” I concluded it was time for a fresh approach.
Getting The Picture
A fresh approach, however, demanded a fresh perspective on what exactly was going on with our women.
We began by surveying the congregation. We discovered that of those who attended our church, 58 percent were women, 56 percent of whom worked outside the home, and many of these were divorced, widowed, or single parents. Young mothers, we learned, felt isolated, and singles felt ignored.
Next we studied the social currents that influence today’s women. Like many churches, we recognized that many “baby boomers” who rejected organized religion in the 1970s .have returned to church with their children in tow. We discovered that these adults are not loyal to denominational and theological distinctives as much as they are interested in hearing about practical faith: they want to know how it works in real life.
On the other hand, a significant portion of the U.S. population was born before 1945 – before credit cards, ballpoint pens, and panty hose. Many of these “pre-boomers” think baby boomers a rest-less, high-tech generation with a shopping mall mentality.
Our diverse population also includes 48 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 29, whom Time Magazine calls “baby busters.” This group questions the habits and values of the baby boomers, and even more so those of the pre-boomers.
For example, a quarter of the senior class at Wellesley Women’s College spurned pre-boomer First Lady Barbara Bush as their commencement speaker. “These baby busters were graduates who aspired to be president, not the president’s wife; to run the country, not the house,” says Rolf Zettersten, senior vice-president at Focus on the Family.
No longer, then, are women a seemingly solid block whose lifestyle and interests can be assumed. Women have changed; therefore our ministry to women needed to change as well.
Targeting Your Group
In spite of the furor, Barbara Bush addressed the senior class at Wellesley. And when she did, she demonstrated the first step in successful ministry to women. She talked about the exhilaration of facing and adjusting to change. Then, showing she under-stood her audience, she closed by saying: “Who knows? Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the President’s spouse, and I wish him well.”
They loved her! She had targeted her group and hit the bull’s eye.
When it came to women’s ministry, our church used to have a one-size-fits-all mentality. That meant we probably didn’t fit anyone well. Our challenge, as I saw it, was to target the subgroups of women in our church. However, I also wanted to build rapport between the subgroups.
Initially, we targeted the easiest group: women at home.
As I mentioned, our survey revealed that the young mom at home felt alone. She wanted to become involved in something meaningful and stimulating. She didn’t want to be entertained; she was eager to learn. She also wanted her children to learn and grow spiritually.
In many cases, our non-working pre-boomers. who no longer had children at home, were also looking to grow spiritually as well as use their gifts and years of experience. All the women, regardless of age, were looking for a place where they would be known, affirmed, and accepted.
The women surveyed said they wanted biblical perspectives on relationships, child rearing, integrity, and time management. Therefore, we planned the ministry around continuing Bible studies, using retreats and a yearly luncheon as supporting activities.
In her book, Life Is Worth Living, Betty Carlson tells of a wise, elderly nun giving a group of graduating girls some farewell advice. With a wave of her hand she challenged them, “Never die of ordinariness.”
We didn’t want to be ordinary, so we began by giving women a choice of two daytime Bible studies. One is taught by a dynamic, humorous teacher from our church. The other is an in-depth video Bible study called “Precepts” by Kay Arthur.
Along with the Bible studies, electives such as craft projects and time-management seminars are offered, and they often attract non-Christians, too. With a variety of choices, we not only target the non-working women, we’ve been able to blend at-home women of different generations.
It has been said, “If you pat a child’s head, you have their mother’s heart.” When women attend Bible study, they want to be confident their children are cared for and learning something valuable. Therefore, offering a quality children’s program has been a priority of women’s ministry at Galilee.
However, this has been one of the most difficult parts of our ministry. It has taken four years to develop a children’s program with a quality curriculum and trained teachers. After much prayer and research, we decided not to use volunteers. We wanted consistency in the children’s program, so we chose to hire a teaching staff and charge mothers a quarterly fee. (A special fund provides for mothers who cannot pay the fee.) Consequently, our children’s program has the quality we feel is vital to attract and hold younger women.
Expanding To The Working Woman
As our morning women’s group grew, we saw a tremendous opportunity to begin an evening study for working women and single parents. Experts predict that by the year 2000, more than 80 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 55 will work outside the home. Seventy percent of those who presently do so, do it out of necessity. Many are single; many of these are widowed or divorced and the sole support of their children. Many husbands of working women are unemployed or working at jobs paying less than $25,000 a year.
When we designed our evening program, our biggest mistake was to pattern it after our morning group. Working women’s needs are different. They have little free time, and most of their needs to socialize are met on the job. They are not looking for fellowship so much as a few close friends and solid content. So we chose to focus on instruction rather than fellowship.
After trial and error, we finally developed a pro-gram that works. We offer an evening Bible study with a choice of two teachers. One mines those little nuggets of truth that new believers and non-Christians find especially helpful. The other teacher appeals to women who want in-depth biblical perspectives on their life and work.
Expanding To The Workplace
Not all working women are interested in an evening activity, even a dynamic women’s program. Statistics reveal the fastest growing segment entering the marketplace are women with children under six: -For many such women and their spouses, balancing work and parenting presents logistical challenges worthy of an air-traffic controller. This balancing act is further complicated for the single parent and the woman married to an unbeliever (who may feel uncomfortable leaving her husband at home while she attends Bible study). For such women, a study integrated into their workday schedule is a much better fit.
A year ago we began taking 20-minute video tapes of our evening Bible studies into the marketplace. We meet at noon once a week in conference rooms located within ten minutes from most downtown locations. We design each lesson to fit into a tight lunch-hour schedule. Discussion time is brief, but we allow for sufficient interaction to create an atmosphere where relationships can develop.
We find this downtown ministry especially effective for women who want to spend evenings at home with their spouse and children.
With the cooperation of their congregations, we’ve invited women from other churches in the Denver area to these studies. Women tell us they love meeting other Christians in the workplace. They also appreciate the opportunity to invite their non-Christian co-workers to the group.
Tapping Our Resources
As in any ministry, the key to success is prayer. A handful of women prayed faithfully for eight years before this new women’s ministry was born. God removed obstacles and changed hearts to pave the way.
In addition, God has helped us see today’s woman for what she is. As Karen Mains puts it: “The church woman of the nineties . . . is insisting on investing wisely, giving her time and abilities where they will be most effective. It is not that she is uninterested in missions. Often she is keenly concerned about out-reach – not just across the seas, but also across the street. Her mindset is not just missions for missions’ sake; she is less inclined to fill a church hole simply because a church hole exists. But she is mightily concerned with her own development as a potential missionary within her sphere of society. . . . The women’s groups that are mushrooming are doing so because they understand the new mentality of to-day’s women.”
That insight encourages us to continue trying creative approaches as we minister to the variety of women within the church’s sphere of influence.