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The Newest U.S. Mission Field: Women

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.

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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 be assumed to be available and willing when needed, as they were in days past.”

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Add to this the changes occurring in the academy and the workforce. According to the Census Bureau, women have now surpassed the number of men obtaining advanced educational degrees. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor also reported that 59.5 percent of women were in the labor force, a percentage that has steadily increased since the 1970s.

These changes have real consequences for how Christians reach out to their communities, which means we need to be asking ourselves some evaluative questions. For instance, in order to communicate with increasingly educated and professional women, Christian women must be able to articulate what they believe and why. How is the church equipping women for this? Are Christian women able to answer the basic theological questions of their neighbors, coworkers, and friends? And as more American women populate the workplace, how is the church supporting the Christian women in their midst? Are churches training women as effective missionaries in their fields of expertise?

Finally, is the church a welcome place to this new generation of educated, professional women? How might a newly converted, female CEO find her gifts expressed in an evangelical church? How might a woman with financial savvy or her own law practice be able to serve her local congregation? Will these women be welcomed as resources, or ignored and untapped? Churches have the choice between investing or burying the talents of these capable sisters; women are less likely to attend a church in which the latter is the norm.

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And, from The Urantia Book:

Woman, however, has always been the moral standard-bearer and the spiritual leader of mankind. The hand that rocks the cradle still fraternizes with destiny. ~ The Urantia Book, (84:6.4)

Please see Truthbook's topical study on WOMEN

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