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November 15, 2012

Out with the Old Women’s Ministry

A new approach to impact women for Jesus


During the past decade, the landscape of key leadership positions within churches and non-profits has changed. The number of female senior pastors has doubled and there are more women than men leading non-profits.

Sadly, a strange dichotomy is occurring within the American church. While there are more women in key leadership positions than ever before, women are leaving the church at a startling rate.

As a women’s leader in my local church, this news is alarming and yet not surprising. Just this morning I was talking with an educated professional woman in her early 30s. She was vehemently stating a sentiment I have heard several times during my tenure as a women’s leader: “I hate women’s ministry. I think I will die if I hear the words ‘spa,’ ‘tea,’ or ‘girlfriend’ one more time.”

Earlier in the week I met several influential Christian women who are thoughtful and committed to making a difference in the lives of others. One is an attorney who spends her life advocating for girls trapped in human trafficking, another woman ministers to women suffering with lupus, and another spent the majority of her life establishing churches behind the Iron Curtain. Spas and teas seem frivolous in comparison.

Most women I know work full-time, many are single parents, and many are looking to spend what little free time they have doing something of value, something that will impact and influence others for Christ. The traditional women’s ministry model of group teas and Bible teaching doesn’t meet that need anymore. No matter the size of your church, each congregation includes a diverse background of women: educated, uneducated, rich, poor, single, married with children, married without children, divorced with children, divorced without children, various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, women suffering with addictions, women with debilitating ailments, and the list can go on and on. There is no one-size-fits-all model, but there is a model that affords every woman within your church an opportunity to lead and impact others for Christ: the free-market small group model.

The free-market small group model consists of groups formed out of a felt need within the church. For example, at Bayside Community Church, the 10th-fastest-growing church in America, where I serve in the small group ministry, Heidi had a passion to reach women caught in the sex trade within her community. She developed a small group of women who minister to girls employed at strip clubs. Because they developed life-giving, authentic relationships with the dancers, one club allowed Bayside to stream its services in the dressing rooms. Women who typically would not step into a church are hearing the gospel via the Internet and experiencing the love of Christ through relationships with the women in this small group.

There are three major benefits to the free-market small group model:

1. The groups are passion-driven, springing forth out of felt needs among the women themselves. Therefore, the variety of groups is endless. We’ve had gourmet cooking groups, MOPS groups, financial-planning groups, marriage groups, in-depth Bible studies, mentoring groups, softball groups, weight-loss groups, divorce-recovery groups, 12-Step groups, and groups for singles. We encourage them to meet in homes and other venues around the city. Because the groups are passion-driven, the leaders are committed to their success and tend to lead multiple groups and/or lead during every small-group cycle.

2 . Groups spawn new leaders. This model inherently encourages new leaders. For example, Millie led a small group for mothers with young children. Each mom took a turn hosting the group in her home. The women in the group developed significant life-giving relationships that attracted more women to the group. The original group spawned another group, which required a leader. Leaders receive small-group training and are encouraged to identify other potential leaders within their groups.

3. Groups provide leadership opportunities for women. The free-market small group model encourages every woman to lead a small group. Potential group leaders attend a leaders’ orientation, receive training, and get the support of a coach. A coach is a woman who comes alongside the small-group leader to support, encourage, and pray for her and for her group members. Each coach has a lead coach who is charged with identifying women leaders, providing leadership development, praying, and encouraging her coaches.

Groups provide life-giving atmospheres where women can connect with one another and with God. Ultimately, life change happens within the context of relationships, and the free-market small group model provides the opportunity for every woman to connect with other women in authentic relationships and grow in her relationship with Christ.

The free-market small group model has transformed the way women experience church at Bayside. Through our coaching structure, women are empowered to use their passion to create small groups so women can impact our community with the gospel. Along with the plethora of small groups that are running this year, we have our first small group for military wives as well as one for wives whose husbands work protecting our community: policemen, firemen, and EMTs.

We are moving forward with the following initiatives: establishing online small groups to meet the needs of women who have childcare issues or atypical work schedules; strategically placing small groups around the city so working women can meet on their lunch breaks; establishing year-round groups so women coming through the doors of Bayside for the first time don’t have to wait until the next semester to get connected but can plug into a group right away. Connecting women with other women and helping them grow in Christ is one of the best gigs on the planet!

Julia Mateer serves as the director of women’s small groups at Bayside Community Church. A writer, speaker, and professional Christian counselor, she lives in Florida with her husband, Mark.

Related Tags: groups, leadership, ministry, outreach, women


I like the ideas you have proposed for the free market group model. I use the online method and have made attempts to use telephone conference. I have found that I get little feedback however from those included in the group process, therefore, I do not always know the interest of the group. I also am frequently asked 'How is your ministry going?' I don't think others realize that ministry belongs to GOD and the presenter is just a vessel being used to bring GOD's message to them. I like this article.

I love groups! They can be an incredibly powerful vehicle of connection, equipping, empowering and inspiring. I've felt a call to help equip others for small group facilitation/leadership as well as helping wen find their voice. Thanks for posting about the free market model.

The problem I have with "women's ministry" groups is that each and every one I've gone to, it's no more than a social club for women to connect with their friends--i.e., clique up and circle the wagons so newcomers and outsiders are left out. This is the main reason I have a hard time finding a church: the men welcome my husband, but the women are self centered and treat me as unwelcome competition (and I might add I'm not Miss America or pushy, either--in fact, I try to reach out, but no one wants to reach back), so I get thrown out the window. It's easy to point the finger at me and say, "you need to forgive"--but that's just avoiding Jesus' requirement to examine yourself first and take care of the log in your own eye before you point out the speck in my eye. So why can't women open up to each other? Are they so insecure that any newcomer is a threat? My prayer is that I can find a women's ministry that is actually a ministry and not just a social club of finger pointers.

Andrea, I am sorry that has been your experience. You are very correct we christian women are often cliquish and not as welcoming as we should be. I have experienced it and have watched if from afar.
I may encourage you in a few ways. Pray, be bold and ask God for a church and a friend. He will guide you to that right group of women. He will send that special friend you are needing. Next, one thing women do when we are lonely is project our feelings out a bit on those around us, which sometimes keeps us from seeing that one person who is feeling just like us. Finally I ask your forgiveness for those women who really do lack the eyes to see you needing that hug, that hand of friendship, that woman to come alongside and draw you in to their fellowship as a sister.

Andrea, I don't know where you live but I'd love to have you in my church women's group. We offer warm, rich friendship to all comers both new and current, young and old. Social activities that allow us to get to know one another better, service opportunities for our community, Bible study and prayer are blended in our women's ministries. God receives all the glory for keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Andrea. I am sitting here puzzled with your raw honest remark. Call me crazy, but He just spoke these words for you to my heart. Our Father is asking you to be the leader. You are trustworthy and called into womens' ministry. I think He wants you to fill this role. You to make a difference and BE the living example of what you want so desperately. HArd thought right. Not for you and Him together. Asking right now for Him to speak to your heart vision and purpose in women's ministry. As your sister in JC, come in the opposite spirit and love those ladies!

Women's ministry is changing because it needed to change! Women today serve multiple roles, lead busy lives and don't have the time for fluff. Women today want to be connected to God and to other women. We were not meant to walk this Christian walk alone, we need one another. Having sisters in Christ to love, encourage and support each other is the only way we can truly grow in our faith because these are the same women who aren't afraid to speak truth into our lives. Thanks for the great article!

Thanks to all who responded to me and God bless you.

First of all, I'm Janeway, NOT Andrea (poor Andrea must be wondering why everyone thinks SHE wrote my comments--the author is listed BELOW the post, NOT above).

Secondly, I have purposely left out the town that I live in, for I know if I identify it, someone from my town will recognize me, and say, "Aha! I know who she is"--and then, once again, point fingers at me instead of admitting what SHE and her group did to make me feel this way to begin with (remember the little Scripture I quoted about the log in YOUR OWN eye???). So--for those who would want to invite me to your group, chances are we live across the country from each other, so obviously I can't come. (And in response to those who would want to counsel me to move somewhere else, I KNOW I'm where God wants me, so THAT'S not the issue--WOMEN are).

And also, it's easy to say "our group is different", when you're an established member of the group (how much do YOU reach out to newcomers yourself--and NOT just the first time they come, either, but on a consistent basis??).

Third, to Heather in Asia Minor: all too often in my Christian life, I've heard from well meaning people like you, "This is happening because God wants YOU to do it"--which is a good way for the people responsible for the situation in the first place to get out of their responsibility to repent and change, and to dump the work on ME. That, my friend, along with the fact that God has shown me on several occasions that I am NOT called to leadership--and, most importantly, I have NO confirmation in my spirit that your word is a true word from the Lord, is why I do not receive your exhortation (I have learned to test the spirits, and I do NOT get a confirmation of your message).

If what you were really trying to say is, "reach out in faith"--if you re-read my original message, you'll see I have done exactly that--with NO results.

The problem, as I see it,(and the very reason for this article in the first place) is that women's groups need to reach ALL women--and THAT means WOMEN NEED TO SHED THEIR INSECURITIES AND REACH OUT TO OTHER WOMEN AND NOT JUST THEIR FRIENDS WHO THEY ARE COMFORTABLE WITH. AND THEY NEED TO DO IT CONSISTENTLY AND NOT JUST FEEL LIKE THEY'VE DONE THEIR "CHRISTIAN DUTY" BY GREETING THEM ON THEIR FIRST VISIT, BUT NOT AFTERWARD. THAT'S exactly the problem I run across time after time--the second time I come, I'm no more than a hole in the wall to the group.

I have no bitterness or unforgivness towards these groups, but it gets lonely and frustrating when I keep hitting my head against a brick wall.

Wow, Janeway...As I was reading down through these comments and came upon your last comment on Nov. 27th...I was really struck with just how angry and disappointed and hurt you are! It really made me sit up and take another look as I thought surely I have missed something. I was searching for new and different ways to reach out to women in our church when I came upon this article. When I read your last line "I have no bitterness or unforgivness towards these groups, but it gets lonely and frustrating when I keep hitting my head against a brick wall." My mind went straight to a passage in Acts 9:5 NKJV - Where Jesus is talking with Paul and said him "It is hard for you to kick against the goads" I do believe that you have been hurt and are still hurting or you would not have come out and swung such a hard blow against the women that were trying to reach out to you in love. It was done out of love not as a means of a putdown to you. We all need to stop knicking against the goads and take responsibility for our own actions and stop hitting and swinging out insults to each other but rather learn what it means to "love one another!" to speak boldly the "gospel of Jesus Christ" so others can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We so often look for "what can a church or a ministry do for ME" rather than how can I serve God and others through my church. It is a honor and a privilege to serve God. Instead of banging your head against the wall/goads and waiting for people to reach out to continue to reach out to others and love them inspite of how they treat you - live the example of our Lord Jesus! Love them whether they love you or not. Pray for them! And you will be able to see the change in your heart towards them and their hearts towards you!

Joey: OF COURSE I try to reach out to others, and if you read completely BOTH comments I made, you'll see that. What others have done does NOT affect my continuing to try to reach out.

BUT--your answer fits in with what these women have been doing: and in pointing the finger at me by NOT reaching out to me in love THOUGH you claim to see "how angry and hurt and disappointed" I am. WHERE are YOU looking at your log first instead of my speck in your answer? WHERE is the compassion and true love of Christ, where we are commanded to weep with those who weep, instead of pointing the finger at THEM?

Your response just goes to illustrate the point I ws making to begin with: women, like yourself, all too often say, "you're hurt so YOU do something"--instead of reaching out in love and humbling ourselves by asking forgiveness of our oversight of one another. I have seen all too many times people using this very technique you used to get out of searching THEIR hearts, repenting for THEIR sin, and making changes in THEIR behavior--which is EXACTLY what Jesus calls us to do.

It's crystal clear you did NOT get my message--and I suspect it's because you didn't want to.

No, my friend, it is not MY heart that needs changing--it is YOURS.

A name is only a name until love is the motive behind it.My name is Mrs. Dr. Hortense They. I'm on a mission. In ministry for over 60 years and now in my 80's, I'm still doing all my own stunts! That's OK because it's all for my Lord Jesus Christ and well worth the efforts to bring The Good News Gospel to all who need God's Love, Hope and Encouragement.

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