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Not Your Mother's Church Social

3 fresh ways ministry leaders are reaching out to women today.

Lacy tablecloths and flowery centerpieces. A light brunch and "special music." After a speaker encourages everyone with uplifting words, attendees peek under their chair to look for a sticker. Surprise! Those with a sticker get to take home a centerpiece.

Sound familiar? It should. I've just described a women's ministry "tea," and it's a staple at most churches. But while many women enjoy these traditional gatherings, others seek events that are more challenging, unconventional, or relevant to the life they lead. Fortunately, there are some fresh and fun approaches to women's ministry out there to inspire your church's events. Here's a look at three.

1. Gone to the Dogs

What's the most exhilarating feeling you can imagine? How about fresh, icy air blowing around your face as you race faster and faster along the ground? Now imagine you hear your girlfriends laughing, even shrieking with delight. And on top of it all, you realize you're doing something totally amazing. What would turn this scenario into a reality? Dogsledding!

Sue Lennartson is the women's pastor at Eagle Brook Church in Minnesota, which has more than 8,000 regular attendees. Sue and her team provide many traditional events for the women who prefer them. But she admits to lurking in the halls of her church and listening to the women who say they long to be shaken out of their comfort zones, to be stretched by an adventure that challenges them to grow. That's why she decided to plan a dogsledding trip, the first of what promises to become an annual adventure-oriented event.

Just so you're clear, Sue is not a twentysomething who spends her summers backpacking in Europe or rock climbing in the Alps. She's a 60-year-old grandmother. But she is willing to push her comfort levels aside. "I believe we need to put ourselves in situations where something is going to happen. We need to take a few risks," Sue says. "God works through the unexpected and the uncomfortable."

Guided by that gut instinct, Sue gathered a group of 16 women last winter and headed out for a four-day trip in northern Minnesota.

"We were led by professional mushers, and every single woman had the experience of dogsledding. It was something none of us had ever tried. At night, after a full day of dogsledding, skiing, and snow shoeing, we went to a log sauna right next to the lake. We dug a hole in the thick ice, held onto a tree branch, and took a 'polar dip.' And," Sue gasps, "that was very challenging. But we tried it—and it was great!"

Mixed into their adventures were regular periods of Bible study, worship, and other devotional activities—all with the goal of inspiring hearts and lives.

Cynthia Smith, one of the women who joined Sue, says, "I had a sense of accomplishment. I did it. God gave me the strength to conquer a challenge. I was filled with joy." Another participant, Joni Anderson, relates, "It was an outstanding experience—far more meaningful than I anticipated."

2. A Sweet Retreat

Chocolate. Just say the word, and most women's eyes light up. In fact, your heart might have skipped a beat just reading that word right now. For some women, even talking about chocolate can be an emotional experience!

Now consider taking those feelings about chocolate and using them as a metaphor for God's extravagant grace: We need it, we want it all the time, and we wish others would share it with us. That's the idea behind a women's retreat kit called Chocolate Boutique: Where Women Taste and See That the Lord Is Good (Group Publishing).

And if using chocolate to help women grow closer to Jesus isn't unique enough, Chocolate Boutique is an event that doesn't require a speaker. All the leader guides, music, games, and other resources needed to lead this sweet retreat are included in a box.

"It's about time," says Diana Anderson, a women's ministry leader who recently attended a Chocolate Boutique retreat in Loveland, Colorado. "Holding a women's retreat not only costs money for a speaker, but also takes hours upon hours of planning," she explains. Diana was thrilled when she learned she could simply open a box and find all the pieces she needed to lead a retreat at her church. "As a ministry leader, I could participate in the event rather than simply orchestrate it," Diana says.

So is a retreat with chocolate all about eating and indulgence? Nope. Tastes of chocolate all relate to a spiritual truth. For example, during one session women tasted bittersweet chocolate and learned how the bitter-tasting chocolate liqueur is blended with sugar to create a flavor many of us love. Then participants were challenged to share a time in their lives when God used a bitter situation to bring sweetness to their relationship with him. In a different session women listened to a song about God's grace and his love for them while a small piece of chocolate melted in their mouths. These sensory experiences helped participants grasp spiritual concepts in a tangible way.

According to Cindy Jakel-Smith, another Chocolate Boutique retreat participant, "This approach gave me the opportunity to take a break from my crazy-mom-of-three schedule. I had time to worship, reflect on my faith, and make new friends. We all need time to slow down, laugh, worship … and have a little chocolate!"

3. Mom's Night Out

For single mothers, it's a challenge to find time for pampering. In fact, it's a challenge to find a few minutes alone for a shower. This truth, and a desire to bless and encourage moms, was the start of a life-changing ministry at Vineyard Church Ann Arbor.

Once a month during the school year, single moms are invited to attend Mom's Night Out. Activities and childcare are provided for all children, infant through high school, during this evening. Women are treated to a gourmet dinner prepared by volunteers from the church and served at tables set with linen tablecloths, real china, glasses, and silverware (no fast-food napkins allowed). After the meal, women choose between a parenting class, an opportunity for individual prayer, or discussion groups that focus on relevant topics and conclude with prayer.

Then women are invited to "shop" at the Pink Bag Boutique. Here they're welcomed to fill their bags with a vast array of donated household goods such as detergent, soap, lotions, diapers, prepackaged snacks, and more. The shopping, dinner, and childcare are all a gift to these women.

Nancy Wilson, pastor to single moms at Vineyard Church Ann Arbor, leads women in reaching out to others. And the stories of lives changed are touching. One mom told Nancy, "Every time I attend, I'm blown away by how much love is put into each event. It amazes me that the people who watch our kids care about them as much as they do. The prayer is great. The food is awesome, and the servers and cooks are the greatest. And on top of that, being showered with all that we're able to take home? You guys rock."

One evening, volunteers treated women to foot massages, haircuts, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and more. One note of thanks said, "I was pampered and loved so much that I forgot to eat! As a single mom I often feel isolated and even disrespected at times. But I feel God's love through you."

Nancy and the women who volunteer with her are encouraged by these words, knowing their actions bring women closer to God. "For this ministry to have the greatest impact," says Nancy, "it must be about relationships first. The giving of goods and services must come second, because what endures, sustains, and empowers us all is love."

With so many great ideas out there for new and exciting ways to touch the hearts of women, what's holding you back? Sue Lennartson of Eagle Brook says, "Take a risk, sisters! Get out on the edge. God has things to tell you about who he is and who he created you to be—in more ways than you can ask or even imagine."

Amy Nappa, an author, editor with Group Publishing, and women's ministry volunteer, lives in Colorado. You can read her free webzine for families at www.nappaland.com.

Creative Connectors

Need a few fresh ideas to connect women in your church?
Try some of these:

• Movie Night. Whether you show up at church with pillows and PJs, crowd into a nearby cinema, or head for the local drive-in, movies are always more fun with girlfriends. Choose one that allows for great chats afterward. Check www.christianitytodaymovies.com for discussion questions for current and past flicks.

• Paintball or Laser Tag. For the wilder at heart, try one of these active outings. Many locations give discounts for groups—and you might get some teenagers to join you.

• Game Night. Twister anyone? Dust off the board games, ask everyone to bring snacks, and have an evening of laughter, challenges, and … well, more laughter!

• Coffee Club. Try out a different local coffee shop each month. Vote on the gooiest cinnamon buns or richest scones. Make awards for your favorite shops!

Volunteer. Let ladies bond as they walk, run, or bike in fundraisers. Give blood as a group. Garden together, then donate your fruits (and veggies) to a shelter. Relationships deepen through serving together!

For More Ideas …

www.creativeladiesministry.com From goodie-bag suggestions to ice breakers, this site provides fun tips for your event.

www.lifeway.com Click on Women to sign up for a free newsletter, "Solutions for Women's Ministry."

www.grouppublishing.com Group offers a variety of women's retreat kits, including HeartSpa: Where Women Are Refreshed in Jesus and The Bloomery: Where Women Blossom in Faith and Friendship.

www.womensministry.net will plug you into an array of resources for ministering to women.

www.girlfriendsunlimited.com Register to attend a G.U.T.S. (Girlfriends Unlimited Training Session) to learn how to lead this innovative movement to bring women together in your church.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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