For centuries, women have been the oft-silent underpinnings of church ministry. Mostly volunteers, these female church members made up a behind-the-scenes force that not only greased the gears of the local church but also functioned as the gears themselves. Even today, roughly 57 percent of church volunteers in the U.S. are women, leading everything from prayer groups to Sunday school classes.

But this dynamic might be changing. According to a longitudinal survey released by the Barna Group last week, the numbers of both men and women attending church may have dropped in the past 20 years. Although the sample size is too small to draw any firm conclusions, the research indicates that the greatest amount of decline in church attendance has been among women. Barna found that since 1991, the overall number of women attending church dropped 11 percentage points, down to 44 percent. Bible reading among women also declined by 10 percentage points, Sunday school involvement by 7 percentage points, and volunteer activity in churches by 9 percentage points (the latter representing a 31 percent reduction in the non-paid female work force at churches).

The study added that the "only religious behavior that increased among women in the last 20 years was becoming unchurched. That rose a startling 17 percentage points—among the largest drops in church attachment identified in the research." Here it is also important to note that the number of unchurched men also increased, but only by 9 percentage points.

George Barna summarized these findings by noting that "while the genders are far from a state of convergence, the frightening reality for churches is that the people they have relied upon as the backbone of the church can no longer ...

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