What does it cost us when half the church’s gifts go untapped?
I’ve wrestled with this question quite a lot.
Conversations are stirring in the church world about our inability to engage the 21st century female.
“I don’t know where I fit in the church.”
“I feel like I don’t belong because I’m a single woman, and everything the church does is for wives and mothers.”
“I don’t want to just serve in the nursery or kids’ ministry, but I don’t know how to get involved in other ways.”
These are statements that I hear repeatedly.
Before I came on ministry staff full-time, I felt this way, too. I wrestled with identifying ways that I could serve using my gifts of leadership and administration. Many of the obvious opportunities to serve weren’t places where I felt comfortable or gifted to serve. So while I served out of obligation, I never felt like I was fully alive in service to God. I remained silent thinking I was simply the unusual one.
The truth is that the majority of the 20- and 30-something women in our churches feel this way, too. They may be attending regularly, but they are sitting quietly back out of respect and uncertainty. They wrestle with whether they fit in the church at all anymore.
Carolyn Custis James describes this well in her book Half the Church:
But culture shock awaits many women who migrate from the academy or the secular workplace to the church. In the former, opportunities are vast, and their contributions valued and pursued. In the church, what they have to offer often goes unnoticed or is restricted to “appropriate” zones within the church.
I believe the church is on the verge of a new crisis: failing to engage the young women in the church.
Today’s modern young woman does not see her place inside the church. Her talents, gifts and God-given calling are walking out of our doors and into the hands of businesses and other non-profits where her gifts are welcomed and celebrated.
Are we as church leaders creating a culture where women feel like their gifts, even those gifts that might stereotypically be thought of as more commonly belonging to men, are welcomed and valued?
My guess is that we want to. We never intended to alienate half of the population, but my fear is that our lack of intentionality is leading to a crisis that could be devastating to those we are called to reach.
Let me challenge you to consider two things:
1. Be aware of culture.
While our job as the church is not necessarily to follow culture, I do believe we’re responsible for being aware of culture and how it impacts reaching and discipling people. Gone are the days where every young woman pines away longing solely for marriage and children. Yes, they still want those things, but they also want an education, a successful career and a chance to develop their unique identity. Statistics tell us that the average age women get married now is 30 years old. This statistic has changed drastically from even as little as a decade ago. In addition, there are more single women than married women in the U.S. today, and we know that they are more educated than ever before. In light of these statistics, what are you doing differently to connect with today’s young woman? What are these women subconsciously hearing from your church?
2. Be intentional. Create a plan to more actively involve women in ministry.
Young women operate under the assumption that hospitality roles and kids’ ministry are the only options for them to serve. These are the traditional roles they have seen women serve in all their lives, so they assume that those are still the only acceptable roles.
Will you accept the challenge to communicate a different message to them? Will you show them that the church is eager for them to be a part?
Questions to consider:
Where do women most visibly serve in your church? The café, the nursery? How about production, on stage or on leadership teams?
What percentage of your key leaders are women?
When do you offer women’s groups and at what times? Are they mostly during the day and targeted to moms? Or do you have evening groups and subjects that connect with professional women and singles? If you are not consciously creating opportunities, you’re subconsciously telling them who you value.
If you were a single, professional young woman, would you be able to easily identify where you fit inside your church?
I fear that our lack of awareness of the changing dynamics of today’s young women is creating a chasm between their interest and engagement in the church. Will you consider how your church can reach them better and allow their God-given gifts to thrive for the Kingdom?
Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, leadership expert and the founder of The 4Sight Group, a consulting group focused on developing healthy leaders and thriving organizations through coaching, consulting and culture workshops.