As a small child I remember tagging along with my mom to women's ministry meetings to spend the morning in the church basement making quilts and knitting baby items for missionaries across the world. When this work was done, the women of mixed ages would gather around the table enjoying warm pieces of apple cake as they packed the items, sealing each box with brown packing tape and prayer. Sister Ella, the women's ministry leader, would paint a picture with her words, asking God to bless and protect the families, using the items to bring a bit of joy and helping them extend their reach. Sister Ella wasn't an eloquent prayer leader, but her simple words and heartfelt tears made an impression on my young heart. I wasn't even sure what a missionary was, but I knew they must be doing something important and that they were loved.
Women's ministry has come a long way. Such a long way, that I wonder if we've turned 180 degrees and are now facing the opposite direction. For many women's ministries, what started out as a gathering of women finding practical ways to help others has turned into elaborate retreats and Bible studies focusing on helping the women in the room.
Are Bible studies bad? Certainly not.
Are retreats a waste of time? No way.
But why then are so many younger women choosing not to get involved in the women's ministry at their church?
I've spent some time asking Millennial women this exact question, and they've shared honestly. A young mom with two kids and a full-time job candidly told me, "I don't have a lot of extra time to spend away from my work or family, and when I do, I don't want to go to another tea or meeting that focuses on me. I want to use my time to make a difference."
The conversation made me think of all the times I had planned events focusing on what I thought might bring women to an event and arranging the details around what I thought would help them grow. I didn't realize that she might want to invest her time beyond our church walls to touch someone else's heart and life. It made me feel as if I had somehow missed the point of what women's ministry really is all about, and it made me begin to ask some questions: What if we thought about a paradigm shift in women's ministry that moved our thinking from what our women need, to what God is calling them to do? What could our women's ministries look like if our focus wasn't on developing the women inside the church but releasing them to come alongside the ones outside, helping another woman take her next step toward Christ, even if it's a step no further than she is herself?