What Women Want Women's Ministry Leaders to Know

Sept. 21, 2013 Karen Waddles

Session Transcript

Karen Waddles: Why don't we open our time in prayer? God, our Father, we thank You and we praise You for this opportunity to share what You've placed on the heart of Your women in churches around this nation. We pray, Father, for hearts to hear and just a willingness to receive and embrace Your truth and to walk in the light. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Good morning, again. My name is Karen Waddles, and I am a pastor's wife. I've been involved in women's ministry for probably around forty years now. I'm still so full from the session that we just came out of. I'm so grateful to Nancy and to the Revive Our Hearts team that's allowed this opportunity to share with you what we've learned as the result of a survey that's been conducted over the last three months with women who are involved in women's ministry—as well as women who are not engaged in women's ministry—to ask some key questions, to help us to understand where the gaps are, what we're missing. What's on the heart of women who are not engaged in women's ministry? They come to church every Sunday, but they can't seem to find themselves plugged into the ministry of women. I'm so excited about what we'll be able to share with you today.

You will receive a handout when you leave that outlines the six key takeaways from this study, as well as provides recommendations of resources that you might want to follow up on, to really revitalize and make your women's ministry all that it can be.

We're going to move through these first few slides very quickly so that we can kind of get to the meat of the survey, which talks about basically what they [the women] want to say to you.

I thought we would begin with just kind of establishing the biblical mandate—and I know we're already aware of this—that we have a call from the Lord, from Scripture, that is very specific, about who is to lead in women's ministry, that there are mature, godly women who are pouring into the lives of young women and wives and single mothers.

Basically, the Word provides the curriculum for us, that all of us need to be taught love for and submission to husbands, for those of us that are married; love for children; discretion and chastity; and care for the home. This is kind of the tone of the survey. I know, a lot of times, when we're talking about a survey you think, Okay, this is just an opportunity for high-maintenance women to vent! (laughter) Right? That's not what this is.

The tone of this survey, from the inception, has been the concept of stimulating one another to love and to good deeds. That's what this is about. The writer of Proverbs says it like this: "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (25:11).

So who were the participants? The survey went out to 100 women who work at a Christian evangelical organization, and they were encouraged to pass that survey onto their friends. What we ended up with were 153 completed surveys.

And of those 153 women who filled out those surveys—it was interesting that it was heavily weighted toward women who are not engaged in women's ministry—58 percent of those were persons who were not engaged in women's ministry. So let's look at the results.

First we will look at what did women who are already invested in pouring themselves out into the lives of other women—what did they have to say to the survey? This is just a little bit of information that you will see about them. One of the first questions that we asked them was, "How were you introduced to women's ministry?"

Seventy-four percent of them—that large yellow area—were introduced to women's ministry (and this is a key theme you will notice as we go through the feedback from the survey) by a personal interaction with a woman who was already involved in the ministry. There was that personal, eye-to-eye, one-on-one, interaction.

When they were asked how long they've been in women's ministry, what's interesting is that 70 percent of those women have been involved in women's ministry for more than six years. So these are women who are invested and very committed to the aspect of women's ministry.

Then when asked what is their role is in women's ministry, 67 percent of the respondents are involved in some form of leadership in women's ministry. Only 32 percent are women who are just participants in women's ministry. So basically, this survey probably looks very much like what we would get if we were to survey those of you in this room today. So these are sister-friends who are in the trenches just like you and I are, who are sharing their heart.

When asked, "Why do you participate in women's ministry?" the number one response was "for spiritual growth." The second response was "for fellowship." When asked how they would rate their women's ministry, the strongest area of ministry—this was very interesting—was the ministry to singles.

That's very interesting, because we'll see later on, when we look at the responses from women who are not involved in women's ministries, this is an area of disconnect. For these women that took this survey, they felt their strongest ministry was their ministry to singles, and their next strongest ministry was to married women.

When asked, "What are the issues that you want your women's ministry to address? the number one response was Bible study. And the number two response showed up in the option where they were able to fill in the blank. These are the responses we received—what they really want their women's ministries to address are real-life issues.

They wrote in: depression, self-esteem, abuse, substance abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and single parenting. So there's a clear understanding that if women's ministry is to be effective, we have to somehow make the connection to dealing with the real-life issues that the women are presenting in our churches.

When asked what type of Bible study they use, 27 percent of them use Beth Moore; 19 percent use Kay Arthur or Priscilla Shirer. And on the next slide, we'll see that 9 percent of them write their own Bible studies, which is very interesting. And 5.6 percent of them use either Nancy DeMoss materials (amen?) or the Bible. That's kind of cool, isn't it? Three percent use John Piper's resources.

When asked the strengths of their women's ministries, the number one strength, by 32.8 percent, was fellowship and encouragement. One lady said, "Fellowship for the older ladies, and encouragement for the younger ladies." Another one said, "Good fellowship, sharing ideas, prayer for one another, and spiritual growth."

Another lady said, "New women seem to quickly knit in, and women who have been coming for some time have a genuine and practical love for one another." So fellowship and encouragement.

The second strength was a focus on spiritual growth, love for God, and prayer. One respondent said, "We pray together, we meet regularly all year long. We've seen the men's group grow as a result of our praying and example."

Strength number three—good leadership, leadership training. One lady said, "We have a very strong women's ministry director who's committed to involving every woman in our church in one or more of the many Bible studies and programs offered in women's ministry and developing a deeper personal relationship with Christ."

"We have a women's ministry prayer team who prays for every woman in our church, every year." That's powerful, isn't it?

Strength number four is Bible study. This lady apparently attended one of those women's ministries where they write their own Bible studies. Her response was that "the Bible studies we write are really good at leading you into the Word, to study it more than the book. The book is merely a tool to get you thinking. The leaders put great emphasis on the Word and thinking and studying. They're willing to be open and share how it is impacting them and what they've learned."

Strength number five—variety. "The women's ministry at our church is very consistent in making available a variety of groups in which the woman can engage: Bible studies, coffee break, widows' connection, Christmas tea outreach, book clubs, etc."

Strength number six—would you read that with me? Consistency. One respondent said, "Consistency, variety in material study, attracts women from other churches."

Strength number seven—and I'm moving through these kind of quickly because I want to get to the more open-ended responses, so we can hear their hearts—is outreach in a service project. She said that they are involved in several projects that help the deprived in the surrounding church community.

When asked, "What are the weaknesses of your women's ministry?" the number one response was "lack of commitment, lack of consistency; a lack of participation and a lack of resources to deal with the issues women are facing in today's society."

Another woman shared that follow-up is a weakness. "When someone has been missing from church, and they are regulars, we need to find out why, or let them know that we're thinking about them."

Weakness number two—15.6 percent of the ladies felt like their women's ministry was superficial and cliquish. Now remember, again, these are women who are heavily invested in women's ministry. One woman said, "Many women put on a mask and are not transparent, meaning they don't feel comfortable showing weakness."

Another lady said, "We don't talk about real issues." I think we've heard a lot of this from Elyse in her message yesterday, that we've got to struggle, as women's ministry leaders, to know that it's okay for us to take the mask off.

Weakness number three—interpersonal leadership issues and poor planning. One lady said, "There is little team building done with the leaders, a lack of planning and no one really wants to take charge." Another one said, "There is some struggle for leadership among some of the women." I see some of you nodding your heads, so some of these responses are resonating with you.

Weakness number four—well, 12.5 percent of the ladies said, "Absolutely not. We have no weaknesses in our ministry." (laughter) One lady, "I can't think of any weakness, as our women's ministry offers something to reach out and encourage females of every age, single or married, working, retired, or staying-at-home."

Weakness number five—a lack of participation of young women. Huge. "The lack of participation by younger women is a weakness. We have never asked them about their interests or taken a need-assessment." Another lady said, "Our challenge has been reaching single women, as much of the teaching has centered around marriage, family, and parenting." That again is another key thing you will see when we get to the latter part of the survey.

Weakness number six—scheduling. "Bible study is held when most of the women cannot participate. Women are often busy with responsibilities, and personal growth gets shifted to the top shelf. Other things take priority."

Weakness number seven—I think a lot of us would love to have this problem—for 4.6 percent of the women, they said their group was too large. "The church is large, so if a woman is not involved—and even if she is—you can feel like it doesn't matter if you're there. What's one more person?"

Weakness number eight—not enough fun; 4.6 percent of the ladies said they need a consistent fun night.

Weakness number nine—study of the Word and a focus on spiritual growth. There was a consensus from this group of ladies that their ministries are lacking real Bible study and spiritual growth.

When asked, "What do you want your women's ministry leaders to know?" the number one response was, "That you are appreciated." So if you would give the lady on your left and on your right a big hug, real quick. (laughter) I hope you feel appreciated.

And for both of groups of respondents—those who are in women's ministry and those who are not. This was another thing, that these women really appreciate and understand the sacrifice that each of you make to labor with us—to labor with women who have issues.

One woman said, "A good job in nurturing, encouraging, guiding, loving, teaching, and leading women down the right path for a joyful, personal relationship with God."

The second thing that they want to say to us, they want to ask that we lead with a gentle hand and with the Word of God. It broke my heart to read that first response there. This is a lady that attends someone's women's ministry regularly, yet she said, "I'm lonely."

Perhaps there are many ladies who sit under our tutelage week-after-week and month-after-month that share that same feeling. Another lady said, "Relationships develop slowly, but are important. Please extend grace for getting there on time, especially when bringing young children to the childcare ministries. Their attitude of frustration that people are not on time doesn't portray love, but annoyance."

Another respondent said, "Please be more kind and loving." And another lady said, "People sin, and it hurts when you don't realize this."

"Have a mentoring program for people who come from an unsaved background, because not everyone grew up in the church."

The third thing they would like us to know—they want us to continue to develop new leaders. "Leaders must have an eye of discernment, to see potential leaders who are fearful to step out and lead. They must be willing to take them by the hand and help them step into their gifts."

The fourth thing—and this is the last—they want to ask us to continue to reach out to more women. One respondent said, "Since I'm a leader, I would say what I would like us to know is how to recruit more help when it seems as if the most able and innovative among us are also the most busy."

The handout that you will receive as you leave shortly has some resources that should hopefully address that issue.

The second part of the survey interviewed women who are not involved in women's ministry. They go to church every Sunday, but they are not engaged in women's ministry. There were eighty-nine of those women who completed the survey.

The first question was, "Have you ever been invited to the women's ministry? Have you ever received a personal invitation?" What is interesting, in their feedback, 70.1 percent of those ladies said, "Yes, I have received a personal, face-to-face invitation from someone who was already engaged in women's ministry."

And so the next question was, "How many meetings did you attend after you got that invitation?" What was interesting is that 66 percent of those women attended at least one meeting. Some of them attended more than eleven meetings, so that speaks to the power of personal invitation, but it also says that the ladies are coming, but perhaps there's something happening when they're there that's not keeping them. So some of the other questions that we posed to them will help us to kind of address that.

The next question was, "Why are you no longer involved in ministry?" The number one response was that scheduling is a problem. That is another theme throughout the study. The second answer was, "My life is too busy." The third answer was, "My church doesn't have a women's ministry." There were quite a few women who attend church, whose church does not actually have a women's ministry.

When asked, "Which topics would encourage you to participate?" the number one answer was, "Bible study." I think you'll see a little bit later on, that when the women are asking for a Bible study, they're asking for a little bit more than Bible study. They're asking for the Word, but what they're really asking for is, "Help me know how to connect the Word to life. Help me draw those connections, so that when I read and I understand what it says, I can understand what difference that should make in how I treat my husband, in how I engage as a single woman in a world that is constantly bombarding me with images that do not help me as a single woman." They're looking for Bible study.

The number two response was a category where they could literally fill in the blank, and this is what they said as to the topics that would encourage them to participate. And once again, that is the theme that we've already heard—real-life issues. The responses that they wrote in were lessons on blended families.

We know that many of our families are dealing with divorce and the blending of families. So divorce was the second issue. The third issue was addictions, and the fourth issue was sexual abuse. So these ladies are crying out for help in some messy areas that, perhaps, make us uncomfortable, but we've got to figure out a way to allow the Lord to show us the avenue to communicate His Word in a way that connects to the messiness of everyone's life.

The next question was, "What is your perception of your women's ministry team?" And this was a positive one, so embrace the lady on your left and on your right again. (laughter) For these ladies, even though they're not engaged in women's ministry, they have a positive regard—33.7 percent.

And they said, "They do a wonderful job of seriously considering how to help us as women grow in faith and trust in Jesus Christ for all of our circumstances." So there's great appreciation, once again, for your labor of love, and for the work that you do.

But the second perception was this—that most of our women's ministries are no place for single women or for women who work outside the home. This was the response of 11 percent of those eighty-nine women. One woman said, "Our women's ministry is for married women, especially married women with children, and everything they do is uber-feminine, like spa night. And it always involves lots of crying, for some reason."

Another lady said, "Women's ministry should be for all women in the church, but often targets only younger to middle-age mothers who don't work outside the home."

Perception number three—for 10 percent of these women, their perception of the women's ministry is that you can't make a genuine connection there. And I think a lot of what we have heard this weekend helps us in this area of how do we connect on a heart level with one another. How do we minister grace to one another? How do we give them Jesus, and how do we get our own self out of the way?

For one woman, her response was that her women's ministry is superficial, fluffy, and pink. Another lady said this, "I can't connect with women who say they pray for me, but never follow up with action or even question about how I'm doing or how the Lord is being faithful in my situation." There are some key messages there that if we hear them, we can begin to know how to respond.

Perception number four is that meetings are not open, inviting, or meaningful. One lady said that the meetings "are not very exciting, except for the same few women that have always done it."

Perception number five—poor leadership. That was true for 7.8 percent of the women. "Many times there is one leader whose style and preferences dominate the activity and exclude some of the women." Another lady said, "They lack meaningful leadership. The leader talks a lot, but very little is accomplished."

Perception number six— "I don't feel that I would fit in." That was sadly true for 7.8 percent of the ladies. One lady said, "It's getting better, more inclusive, and not such a clique. I just rarely feel welcome, like I'm not in the group. Plus, the fact that I'm a working mom is difficult. I feel as though they don't know what to do with me. It's like I don't fit the mold of what they think motherhood and being a wife should be. Needless to say, it's very discouraging." Another lady said, "It's for women that fit the traditional role of marriage. My husband is not a believer. I've never felt like I fit the mold to be involved."

I hope we're hearing the hearts of our sisters.

Perception number seven—for 7 percent of the women, they felt that their women's ministry focuses too much on the social aspect. One lady said, "I don't have the best perception of my church's women's ministry. We have dessert nights that are more social and don't provide enough spiritual nourishment. We have Bible studies, but they only seem to be seasonal. I feel like the men's ministry"—and actually, I heard this on a number of surveys—"is way more extensive than the women's. I don't really like a whole bunch of social hours for women's ministry. I want to go deep and learn more about the Word."

So when asked the question, "What would you like the women's ministry leaders to know?" this is what they said. The number one response was that single and young women need and want to be mentored. Number one response. One lady said, "Single women who work full time feel just as lonely for support and fellowship as moms—in some cases, more so, since they are also without the comfort of a nuclear family."

Another lady said this, "Too much marriage and family activities leave out the singles. Where there is balance, the ladies will come." And another lady said this, "I would love to suggest that they invite college-age students to attend. It would be a neat experience to be poured into by older wives, godly women."

They also want us to know that women want to go deep in the Word and have thought-provoking discussions. This lady said, "Don't be flaky and do fluff. Focus primarily on depth in Bible study and application. Encourage the women to visit one another outside of church. Practice hospitality, and pray together often."

They also want us to know that they need help dealing with pain and real-life issues. "Sometimes it's hard to share your heart, thoughts, and observations openly because there is such a pressure to be spiritual, like everyone else appears." Another lady said this, "Continue to strive to meet the needs of the scars and pains of women. Often they are too scared to talk about it or fear being judged too much."

They also want us to know that we need to reach out to more women. One lady said, "If a leader approached me and talked to me personally about the ministry and warmly invited me to an event, I would more so consider doing it, rather than just reading it in a bulletin"—and we'll see that as we share some of the key takeaways.

They also want you to know, "You're doing a good job. Please don't give up! Women have busy lives, so we don't often make it to events, but we desperately need connection with other women."

They also want us to know that we must consider the schedules and needs of working women. One lady said, "Singles and working women need to be able to partake in the Bible studies and social events, but often can't, as they hold a lot of those events during the day."

They also want us to know that they need help connecting deeply with each other. One lady said, "I seek women friends, but usually hear gossip, and therefore don't end up building relationships." That's a caution to us, isn't it? The thing here is that the ladies want fellowship, but they want it at a deeper level, and that's the challenge—how to connect, so that it's not just a tea or get-together, but that it goes deep and it allows them to share their hearts in some way with one another.

They also want us to choose our leaders carefully. "It's important to evaluate the spiritual maturity of the leadership before placing them in leadership. Not that 'I have arrived,' but the personality conflicts have to do, a lot, with leadership not handling situations in a mature manner."

So what are the takeaways, what are the messages, of this survey—as we have looked at the response from the women who are invested, who are engaged, who are pouring their hearts out in women's ministry every day? And we contrasted that, compared those responses, to women who come to church every Sunday but who are not able to find themselves planted and connected in women's ministry.

We need to ask ourselves, What are the messages that go across both of those groups that we can learn from and benefit from?

The first takeaway is clear. Let's read that together: "The majority of women in our churches are not involved in women's ministry." That's the first takeaway of this survey. Out of 153 respondents, eighty-nine were not involved in women's ministry. If the sampling is accurate and is representative of most of our churches, then that would indicate—in most of our churches—that women are not engaged in ministry.

Yet we have a biblical mandate from Titus 2, don't we, to have a comprehensive women's ministry that touches the lives of every single one of those women. So recruitment has to be one of our number one priorities. The handout that you received has some ideas that you might want to put into place to help us engage women who have a heart for women's ministry but have not been able to make that connection.

The second key takeaway is that personal invitations matter—just a little bit? In a huge way! Seventy percent of both groups of women received a personal invitation. Of the non-participants, almost 78 percent of those women went to at least one meeting.

We're in an age, aren't we, where we email, where we text, where we tweet. Those are wonderful, wonderful conveniences that are available to us, but perhaps they have dulled us to the power of human touch and to the importance of looking a sister in the eye and seeing her heart and engaging with her and extending that invitation.

The third key takeaway is that scheduling is a huge determinant of whether women will be able to participate or not. If it is true that most of our women's ministries target women who are the traditional model of wives and mothers, than it stands to figure that our scheduling kind of leaves out women who are single women, perhaps, and who work full time and who have very busy schedules.

Surveys can help us greatly in taking hold of the women in our churches and being able to find out what's the best time to meet them.

Takeaway number four is that single women and young women are an untapped area of ministry. Single women are desperate for community. They are desperate for mentoring. One of the resources that you'll be able to connect with when you receive the handout is entitled Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church. It provides great perspective for us and better ways to engage with young women and to keep them plugged in to the ministry.

Key takeaway number five is that women are hungry for meaningful relationships. Women love fellowship, but they yearn for much, much deeper connections, and they need safe places where they can take the mask off and be real and admit that we don't have it all together. We want to encourage ourselves, first of all, to take our own mask off before them and to give them permission to share what's in their hearts.

Key takeaway number six—and this is the last—is that women need and want a deeper study of the Word. They're asking for the Word in conjunction with how it applies, what difference it should make in their lives. We've talked about it, and what surfaced in the survey was a need for help in some really messy areas of life for our women.

That can scare us away, so we might pray about inviting a Christian counselor to a meeting and allowing the ladies to really open up and share their hearts. But it's important for us to not run from this reality, that the women in our churches—some of them—are dealing with some unspeakable difficulties, and we have great opportunity and great permission from the Lord to offer Jesus to them.

So what do we do with all of this? What's next? When you receive the handout, it has a lot of great suggestions for how to engage all of the women in our churches, how to make sure they get the Word and that it connects to life. But I want to encourage you first of all to stay before the Lord. Seek Him. Seek Him for His plan of action.

Proverbs 16:3 says—and let's read that together—"Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established." And Proverbs 19:21—would you read that? "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand."

Can we pray? Oh God, our Help in ages past, we thank you, Lord God, for the women who were willing to open their hearts and to share from the depths of their hearts. We pray, Lord, for receptive hearts and a will to respond in ways that give great glory to You.

God, I pray that these women's ministry leaders will feel empowered and encouraged and excited to be all that You can enable them to be, as they reach the unreached women in our churches for You and for Your glory. We pray it in Jesus' name, amen.