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Out with the Old Women’s Ministry

A new approach to impact women for Jesus

During the past decade, the landscape of key leadership positions within churches and non-profits has changed. The number of female senior pastors has doubled and there are more women than men leading non-profits.

Sadly, a strange dichotomy is occurring within the American church. While there are more women in key leadership positions than ever before, women are leaving the church at a startling rate.

As a women's leader in my local church, this news is alarming and yet not surprising. Just this morning I was talking with an educated professional woman in her early 30s. She was vehemently stating a sentiment I have heard several times during my tenure as a women's leader: "I hate women's ministry. I think I will die if I hear the words ‘spa,' ‘tea,' or ‘girlfriend' one more time."

Earlier in the week I met several influential Christian women who are thoughtful and committed to making a difference in the lives of others. One is an attorney who spends her life advocating for girls trapped in human trafficking, another woman ministers to women suffering with lupus, and another spent the majority of her life establishing churches behind the Iron Curtain. Spas and teas seem frivolous in comparison.

Most women I know work full-time, many are single parents, and many are looking to spend what little free time they have doing something of value, something that will impact and influence others for Christ. The traditional women's ministry model of group teas and Bible teaching doesn't meet that need anymore. No matter the size of your church, each congregation includes a diverse background of women: educated, uneducated, rich, poor, single, married with children, married without children, divorced with children, divorced without children, various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, women suffering with addictions, women with debilitating ailments, and the list can go on and on. There is no one-size-fits-all model, but there is a model that affords every woman within your church an opportunity to lead and impact others for Christ: the free-market small group model.

The free-market small group model consists of groups formed out of a felt need within the church. For example, at Bayside Community Church, the 10th-fastest-growing church in America, where I serve in the small group ministry, Heidi had a passion to reach women caught in the sex trade within her community. She developed a small group of women who minister to girls employed at strip clubs. Because they developed life-giving, authentic relationships with the dancers, one club allowed Bayside to stream its services in the dressing rooms. Women who typically would not step into a church are hearing the gospel via the Internet and experiencing the love of Christ through relationships with the women in this small group.

There are three major benefits to the free-market small group model:

1. The groups are passion-driven, springing forth out of felt needs among the women themselves. Therefore, the variety of groups is endless. We've had gourmet cooking groups, MOPS groups, financial-planning groups, marriage groups, in-depth Bible studies, mentoring groups, softball groups, weight-loss groups, divorce-recovery groups, 12-Step groups, and groups for singles. We encourage them to meet in homes and other venues around the city. Because the groups are passion-driven, the leaders are committed to their success and tend to lead multiple groups and/or lead during every small-group cycle.

2 . Groups spawn new leaders. This model inherently encourages new leaders. For example, Millie led a small group for mothers with young children. Each mom took a turn hosting the group in her home. The women in the group developed significant life-giving relationships that attracted more women to the group. The original group spawned another group, which required a leader. Leaders receive small-group training and are encouraged to identify other potential leaders within their groups.

3. Groups provide leadership opportunities for women. The free-market small group model encourages every woman to lead a small group. Potential group leaders attend a leaders' orientation, receive training, and get the support of a coach. A coach is a woman who comes alongside the small-group leader to support, encourage, and pray for her and for her group members. Each coach has a lead coach who is charged with identifying women leaders, providing leadership development, praying, and encouraging her coaches.

Groups provide life-giving atmospheres where women can connect with one another and with God. Ultimately, life change happens within the context of relationships, and the free-market small group model provides the opportunity for every woman to connect with other women in authentic relationships and grow in her relationship with Christ.

The free-market small group model has transformed the way women experience church at Bayside. Through our coaching structure, women are empowered to use their passion to create small groups so women can impact our community with the gospel. Along with the plethora of small groups that are running this year, we have our first small group for military wives as well as one for wives whose husbands work protecting our community: policemen, firemen, and EMTs.

We are moving forward with the following initiatives: establishing online small groups to meet the needs of women who have childcare issues or atypical work schedules; strategically placing small groups around the city so working women can meet on their lunch breaks; establishing year-round groups so women coming through the doors of Bayside for the first time don't have to wait until the next semester to get connected but can plug into a group right away. Connecting women with other women and helping them grow in Christ is one of the best gigs on the planet!

Julia Mateer serves as the director of women's small groups at Bayside Community Church. A writer, speaker, and professional Christian counselor, she lives in Florida with her husband, Mark.

November15, 2012 at 2:04 PM

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