Expanding the Circle of Women's Ministry: Part 1 Welcoming Millenials

Recently, my brother and I were watching a popular television show from the 1980’s. Even though I remembered the general gist of the program from watching it over thirty years ago, we were both very amused by how much things had changed.

Take for instance: phone booths. There are no phone booths anymore. As characters wandered around looking for a tiny glass box where they could insert their dime and make a call, my brain just couldn’t help but think, “Why don’t they just use their cell phones?”

Computers were very different, too. They were enormous! Rather than asking Siri a question, the “modern” people in this show would type their questions into a computer the size of my washing machine and talk about the latest technology!

No one had even heard of the Internet, let alone Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, or Pinterest. (As we were all reminded during the Super Bowl when Katie Couric and Bryan Gumble reenacted their famous “Allison, could you explain the internet?” commercial.)

Yes, things have changed.

It isn’t just technology.

People have changed.

Families had changed.

Women have changed.

No longer following the stereotypical demographics of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s or even early 2000’s, the roles, opinions, and basic demographics of women have changed in our society. The question we need to be asking ourselves as Christian women seeking to minister to the needs of all women is, “Are we keeping up with the times?

What should Women’s Ministry look like in 2015 and beyond?

What adjustments do we need to make in our hearts, minds, attitudes, and programs to spread a net wide enough to welcome and include ALL women in our Women’s Ministries, our churches, and ultimately the kingdom of God?

Before we go any further, I want to clarify that I am not saying we should compromise our values, our beliefs, or our theology. We’re not doing anyone any favors if we compromise the truth of the Word of God. Of course, the principles found in the Bible are already universal and can be applied to any woman, in any stage of life, in any circumstances, so this isn’t really where the challenge lies.

The challenge lies within all of us.

We are the ones who need to open our minds to include women who don’t fit into the typical model targeted in women’s ministry.

We need to understand that the world is a different place. If we are going to reach out and make a difference in the world around us and truly do the work of evangelism and discipleship, we’re going to have to accept women where they are and allow God to change the demographics of our women’s ministries to include ALL women, not just those who are married with children.

As I’ve been praying about this and asking the Holy Spirit, “How do we enlarge the tent of Women’s Ministry to reach ALL women in today’s society?”, I believe He’s shown me 4 demographics of women that need an extended invitation.

They are: the young (Millenials), single women, divorced women, and our Senior Saints.

Over the next few month’s we’re going to discuss the needs of each of these groups and talk about how Women’s Ministry can tear down the barriers keeping these women from joining our groups and build bridges that invite them to jump on board. This month, we’ll start with the Millenials.

Millenials

The Millenials are teenagers and twenty-somethings, born between approximately 1982-2000. That’s the “official” definition.

In real life she’s the 19 year old woman that’s aged out of youth group, but chose to either attend community college or not to go to college at all. She’s still attending the church where she grew up, but she’s wondering “Where do I fit?” She’s a young woman now, not interested in hanging out with 13 and 14 year olds in youth group. But is she welcome in the Women’s Ministry? Only we can answer that.

Look outside the church and down the street to the college campus. It’s filled with women between the ages of 18-25 in desperate need of a surrogate family, a mentoring relationship, and a place to feel useful. What is Women’s Ministry doing to reach them and welcome them into our circle?

Advance the age beyond the college years and see the young women in their twenties. Many of them are single, working (maybe at a job they love, maybe at a job they are settling for as they seek to pursue their career). Are they being welcomed and accepted into the ranks of women’s ministry?

Are we treating them as complete, adult women or do they feel like they need to get married and have children before they can graduate from the kid’s table?

These are questions all Christian women need to be asking themselves. Leaders need to explore their attitudes and their programs to meet the needs of this unique demographic of women. Those who aren’t in leadership need to explore their hearts and attitudes to ensure that these young women feel welcome to not just attend Women’s Ministry functions, but fully participate in the activities, ministry, and leadership of the church.

Here’s some suggestions for how to get started:

First, extend a generous invitation.

I believe that one of the reasons Millenials aren’t participating in Women’s Ministry is that they don’t think they are invited or wanted. The only way to overcome this mentality is for those who are actively involved in women’s ministry---leaders and participants---to go out of their way to extend a warm invitation.

Perhaps could send out personal invitations to events to the younger women.

Make it clear whenever you advertise an event, whether from the pulpit, in an announcement, or any advertising material, that all women over the age of 18 are welcome to attend.

You might even want to host an event specifically geared toward welcoming them into Women’s Ministry. Make them the guests of honor, take time to explain ways they can get involved, and then afterward, have women assigned to consciously follow-up and keep the connection going.

Don’t just look inside the church but remember the local college students as well. Go out of your way to invite them. Remember good food is a great incentive when you’re living away from home.

Basically, do whatever is necessary to make sure that Millenial women know they are invited and welcome to join the Women’s Group.

Here’s a very important component: Eliminate the pecking order.

Let’s be real: we all know that in many churches women’s ministry has a line-up of women who are waiting to run the show. Often times, women who are waiting their turn feel threatened when a dynamic, talented younger women starts attending the Women’s Group. They’re afraid that she’ll cut the line and take their place of leadership.

Ladies, it’s time to let things like this go. The truth is that it’s ridiculous for this attitude to even exist in the church. If we were really doing the work of evangelism and discipleship to ALL women, there’d be more than enough work for anyone who wanted to lead and had the capability to lead to do so.

If we want Millenials to join our Women’s Ministry and our churches, we’re going to have to offer them a seat at the table rather than a ticket to get in line and wait 20 years for a place. They won’t wait. This is a passionate generation that wants to use their knowledge, capabilities, and talents to make a difference in the world.

True, they may be open to a mentoring relationship, but they will want it to be give and take. They’ll want to learn from you, but they’ll also want to teach you the things that they understand far more than you do.

If we want to include the Millenials in Women’s Ministry, we’re going to have to set the pecking order aside, and provide them with opportunities to shine. Make them feel like they have a purpose; like we’re open to their ideas; as if they are welcome to contribute, not just attend.

They will probably be more outreach driven. Don’t squelch this. Encourage it.

Remember, they will have more free time. Don’t be afraid to let them use it to do the work of the kingdom of God. Instead, combine the energy, resources, and passion they provide with the wisdom that comes from experience, and watch what the Holy Spirit can do with this dynamic combination!

Finally, if we are going to welcome the Millenials into our Women’s Ministries, we will need to accept that they are different from us and they see the world from a different perspective.

One of the biggest ways this will be exhibited is that although there may be some Millenials who choose to marry young and start a family, many Millenial women will be single. The church needs to stop acting like they’ve done something wrong or as if they are to be pitied.

Reality is that most Millenials wait until they are in their late twenties or early thirties to marry and start a family. The world accepts this as normal. Unless, we want our young girls to abandon the church and find their place of acceptance in the world, we’re going to have to drop the concept that every woman needs to be married.

Instead, encourage these young women to live for God during their season of singleness. Encourage them to live pure lives that are dedicated to serving God and wait for a godly man to come into their lives.

Encourage them to find their place in God’s kingdom and fulfill it---married or single. Change your language to include married and single women; talk about topics and Biblical principles that are relevant to all. Mostly, stop trying to fix them up or ask when they are going to “settle down”. Don’t make marriage the goal---make discipleship and fulfilling God’s kingdom purposes the goal if you want Millenials to come into your Women’s Group.

Millenials aren’t just different when it comes to the topic of marriage and family. Having grown up in a modern society, they see the roles of women from a completely different perspective than we did 20 or 30 years ago.

This was very obvious to me a few weeks ago when I was at a ministry event with a group of college students and a friend who about 10 years older than me. As we were sitting around waiting for the workshops to end so we could get back to work, we asked one of the college students what she planned to do after graduation. Without hesitation she said, “I feel called to pastor a church.”

Honestly, I was a little surprised at her tenacity. I would have never had the audacity to make such a bold statement at her age. When I went to college, women who wanted to be pastors were thought to be pushing a feminist agenda. Even though I’ve seen the attitudes towards women in ministry change over the years, her confidence that she would be accepted and allowed to do whatever God called her to do reminded me how much women’s roles are changing.

If it surprised me, it completely shocked my friend who said that in her era a woman would never have had that opportunity. It just wasn’t done. Although my friend has served for years as a pastor’s wife, also she’s experienced years of criticism and people trying to box her into a specific role as a woman that my younger friend and I can’t even imagine.

It’s time the church realized that the roles of women in the world and in the church are changing. Millenials didn’t grow up with the same barriers that the women have gone before faced. If we try to tie them down to our old, antiquated ideas, they will simply leave.

The church shouldn’t be a place that squashes a young woman’s dreams, ideas, and aspirations. Instead, a young woman’s church family should encourage her to be all she can be, learn and grow as much as possible, and fulfill her God-given destiny to make a difference in the world around her. Rather than trying to impose the limitations that we know on her, we need to encourage her to stand on the ground we’ve gained and go even further. As one woman’s ministry says, “Our ceiling should be their floor.”

That’s the kind of Woman’s Ministry I want to be a part of….not just because it’s hip and trendy but because it’s what’s women’s ministry is truly meant to be…all women, despite their demographic differences, working together, mentoring each other, and helping each other reach and fulfill their full potential in the kingdom of God.

Who’s with me?

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