"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's Mary, who's home with kids 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's 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 ? "
So what are we to do with these challenges that face us in ministry? Some churches continue with traditional sewing circles and bake sales, while others experiment, offering ministries such as video-style Bible studies in the marketplace. Some churches try a general-interest approach, inviting all women to quarterly Saturday brunches. Others slice the pie more thinly and attempt to promote programs and activities for specific women in a variety of situations.
From what I can see, a number of the strategies that transcend differences in church sizes, available resources, or types of women are working. Here are a few:
1. Remember your mothers. Women's ministry leaders are nearly unanimous: mothers' groups work. Some ministries target mothers of teens, employing a variety of formats in doing so.
2. Offer meat-and-potatoes spirituality. Leaders of women's ministries continue to see Bible studies flourishing. "Although Bible studies build relationships and provide opportunities for caring, that's not the only reason they work," says Janie Miller, a women's ministry leader. "Women want content and application, and a Bible study accomplishes both purposes."