"I thought planning women's programs would be easier," sighs the leader of women's ministries as she sits down in the pastor's office.
"What seems to be the problem?" he asks.
"Well, the women in our church are so different. There's Barb, who runs her own company. We designed an evening Bible study for her and some others, but since she is away from her family all day, she'd be more interested in attending a couples' Bible study with her husband.
"Then there is Mary, who is home with children all day, every day. She wants to get together with other mothers—anytime, anywhere, as long as she can get a break from her kids.
"Beth has a part-time, home-based business and doesn't know if she fits better with the career women's breakfast or the mothers of preschoolers.
"Nancy is a single mother who works full-time, and childcare is always a concern. Plus, she doesn't feel comfortable with any group in the church.
"Ellen is retired but works as a volunteer tutor—when she isn't taking care of her mother. So she doesn't have time to invest in a weekly program."
"And don't forget," adds the pastor, "our single women can hardly be lumped together: Lois is a widow; Betty is 40 and never married; Christy is 22."
"Our church isn't large enough to have separate ministries for each of these women," concludes the women's leader. "So, how do we minister to them all?"
Given the opportunities, choices, and stresses of today's woman, it's no wonder churches have begun to approach women's ministries creatively.
Tracking the Trends
A look at current social trends bears out the experience of churches: today's women are complex. Studying these trends also provides information that can help churches design effective women's ministries.
Consider just two trends that affect most church ministries:
1. Women working outside the home. In Megatrends 2000, John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene observe that "for the past two decades, U.S. women have taken two-thirds of the millions of new jobs created in the information era and will continue to do so well into the [next] millennium." This work force includes approximately 56 percent of mothers with children under the age of 6, and 73 percent of mothers with children ages 6 to 17. By the year 2000, some predict that 90 percent of women between ages 16 and 65 will be working outside the home.
"A highly visible consequence for the church," states Lyle E. Schaller in It's a Different World, "is the shortage of volunteers in those churches that have traditionally depended on homemakers to fill volunteer roles and the decline in participation by younger women in the women's organizations."
Pat Wilson, director of adult ministries at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colorado, has felt the impact of this change. "Last year we had 450 women attend the annual mother-daughter tea. This year, we could find only two volunteers to plan it, so we had to cancel it."
Because women working outside the home have less time to participate, they often opt to attend events that include family members rather than participate in activities strictly for women.
2. Women's quest for content and spirituality. Sherry Stahly, coordinator of women's ministries for the Rocky Mountain Conservative Baptist Association, developed a Needs Assessment Survey to identify churched women's concerns. Initial results show an increased interest in spirituality. She comments, "The survey assesses needs in areas such as self-esteem, emotions, parenting skills, and relationships. The responses we've collected thus far show the greatest interest lies in personal spiritual growth."