A new year is always a time for reflecting on the past but focusing on the future. My mind is full of anticipation for a new year of meeting ministry leaders across the country as well as considering the top trends I’m observing in local churches. I’ve attempted to write on these trends before, and this year is no different.
This year I’ve included my personal observations, but I’ve asked leaders from across the country to weigh in and help me think through what they are seeing and how ministry may be changing. Of course, it can take several years for trends to completely shift. I went back to articles from 2013 to see if there were similar topics, and there are. Even though I believe there are shifts in the trends, some of what I list may sound familiar.
Another interesting thing about trends is that there are contradictions. Trends can forecast both positive and negative. One can seem opposite of another—especially when you think about technology vs. face-to-face interaction. Even so, it’s important to consider how contradictions are both signs of change and how they impact your ministry.
So, here we go. For better or worse, these are the top trends for ministry to women in 2019. I’d love to hear what else you’re seeing, so please feel free to add to this list in the comment section.
1. The #MeToo movement will continue to make headlines in 2019. Whether you are seeing this in ministry or the overall picture of culture, I don’t anticipate the stories of sexual abuse or sexual assault will diminish. Some statistics report that one out of every three women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime.1 Many of these incidents will surface from someone’s past, and some will go back many years.
So, how do you navigate this issue in ministry? This may be an entire article for the future, but look for ways to provide safe places for women to share their stories. Develop a network of resources, including counselors, where women can find help for healing. Talk with other leaders in your ministry setting and develop a plan and process for reporting cases of abuse or assault. Do not take this issue lightly.
2. Smaller is bigger. There is value in gathering women for large events, but don’t discount the impact of small gatherings. I see less and less Bible studies where there are large groups of women. Instead, I see women meeting in coffee shops, in homes, and around tables at church. If you have more than eight women in a study, there is a high chance someone is not talking. As a leader, don’t be discouraged with small numbers. Instead, pray for big impact, rich discussions, and life transformation. Instead of women sitting in chairs looking at the back of each other’s heads, make circles where you see faces.
I’m also seeing this trend in conferences and training. Women desire more of a coaching model and more of an experience when they attend training. Because women can gain knowledge online, leaders must be creative and innovative when teaching and equipping women. As a leader who offers training, I’m working toward teaching with more collaboration, more conversation, and more time for processing. I’m also trying to develop experiences that include intentionality and personalization. If you’re still teaching without visuals and hands-on experiences or conversations, it’s time to re-evaluate your method. Replace the lecture and PowerPoint with more interaction.
3. Online Bible studies and digital everything. We stream things and rent things, but we don’t own things. This is especially in line with a younger generation who desires less “stuff,” simplistic living, and access to content whenever it’s convenient for them. While I will always be an advocate for personal interaction and accountability in Bible studies, there are many women who aren’t able to attend your study because of their circumstances. Online Bible studies at LifeWay continue to increase, and our team often hears comments from women who live in remote areas or attend churches where studies aren’t offered. Some of them have physical limitations or unusual work schedules.
So how can you address this issue? Don’t see online studies as a detriment, but a supplement. View them as a way to expand your reach instead of limit it. Engage with others who are taking online Bible studies and post discussions in a closed social media group. Use Instagram stories to connect with women in your church in addition to other social media platforms. Personally, take an online study to prepare for a future study you are considering offering in a live setting. Share podcasts with your team as an alternative way to develop leaders. Consider taking an online seminary class to be a better Bible teacher. Use video conferencing as an alternative to some of your face-to-face meetings. Digital resources can be your friend—not your enemy.
4. Addictions and boredom. Unfortunately, I see a trend of various kinds of addictions—whether it is substance abuse, sexual addictions, or even gaming. Some of these addictions stem from boredom, while some are rooted in easy access. Alcohol is more accessible and accepted. Marijuana use is legal in many states. Opioid addictions have lowered the average life span.
And it’s not just drugs and alcohol. It’s an abuse of media. A few years ago I was surprised at the number of college women who confessed they were spending way too much time watching Netflix. They realized they were more content to sit in isolation and binge watch the latest comedy series (or an old one) than socialize with others. We discussed how it was affecting their grades, as well as their ability to interact with others. If you haven’t seen this, ask them. You might be surprised to find the answer. And while the numbers aren’t as high for gaming addictions in women, the number of men who spend more time on the latest game than in conversation with their wives affects marriages.
As a ministry leader, how do you address addictions and boredom? Again, start with educating yourself and developing a network of resources. Develop mentoring opportunities with younger women that provide accountability and biblical community. Share life with others, and don’t be afraid to intervene when you see dangerous behavior. Encourage older men to develop small groups with younger men and offer opportunities to build healthy marriages.
5. The continuing conversation on racial reconciliation and inclusion. More and more ministry leaders are realizing they need to be more intentional about bringing diversity to the platform. It’s not uncommon for me to have comments about our trainers not reflecting diversity in ethnicity, geography, and age. It’s been a process of awareness and intentionality that is slowly changing.
How do we address this issue? I think there is an important word we must learn—welcome. We must welcome others who aren’t like us and don’t look like us—whatever that means for you. We must learn to first sit around the table and listen to one another and develop friendships and extend hospitality. This is a positive trend that can improve as we are willing to learn from each other.
6. Back to the Bible and journaling. I often hear women say they want more Bible studies that focus on teaching women to study the Bible on their own. This is a great pursuit and one I’m happy to endorse. But women must know how to study the Bible. Don’t just expect women to know how to read and go deep on their own. We must help women understand the differences in Bible translations, how to read Scripture in context, and how the Bible is one big story focused on the gospel. The result of not knowing how to study is misinterpretation and using Scripture out of context. If you’re a ministry leader and you want to focus on getting women in the Word without a published study, begin by teaching women how to study the Bible.
Along with “Bible only” studies, I’m seeing an increase in the spiritual discipline of journaling. This isn’t new, but I’ve seen a renewed interest among younger women. I’ve seen many new beautiful journals that encourage women to record God’s activity in their lives. I started journaling when I was in college, and while I’m not as faithful to do it daily at this point in my life, there is still great value in writing down the ways God is working and conforming me to His image. Maybe this could be a New Year’s resolution you can incorporate in 2019.
7. Less frequency in church attendance and time commitment. Time and time again, I hear ministry leaders complain that frequency of attendance is an issue, and people are choosing other things as a priority. For many women’s leaders, I hear that children’s activities and sports often come before personal spiritual development. Lack of commitment and attendance can often be disruptive to building community or consistency. I believe some of this can be attributed to 24-hour access to online content. Families feel compelled and obligated to other commitments knowing they can listen to their church’s service in the car or online. The danger is the line between worshiping God or making idols and gods of others. I think it might be why the first commandment was, “Do not have other gods besides me.”
As a ministry leader, encourage attendance and consistency, but let it begin with you. If you’re leading a Bible study, are you consistent? Are you checking on those who miss? Are you personally inviting others to attend your activities? Are you prepared when they come? If you want women to come, make it worth their time. Women will come when there is value.
8. Issues on sexuality. Gone are the days of “black and white” answers when ministering to women in the area of sexuality. While the Bible may be black and white on these issues, today’s culture is not—even in the church. It’s not uncommon for couples to live together prior to marriage. Parents are struggling with children who have chosen homosexuality as a lifestyle while others are navigating the waters of gender confusion and gender identity. Issues of masturbation and pornography are often conversations Christians avoid—especially in the context of women’s ministry. Instead, what if we approached the issue as Dr. Juli Slattery does in her book, Rethinking Sexuality, and be equipped to understand how every sexual question is ultimately a spiritual one? What if we viewed sexuality not as a problem to solve but as a territory to reclaim? What if we saw how sexuality is rooted in the broader context of God’s heart for us? As a leader, how are you equipping women to minister to one another and to provide biblical answers to their questions? How are you providing a place where they can share their personal struggles or the struggles of their family members?
9. Women will find a place to serve—whether the church gives them a voice or not. I’ve often met women who were passionate about serving their communities, but they didn’t get support from ministry leaders. I’m not against staying aligned with a ministry value or mission, but if women aren’t given a place to serve, they will find it without you. I believe this is why women have developed non-profit organizations to help foster families, developed ministries for the homeless, and have raised support for anti-trafficking efforts.
If you’re a ministry leader, encourage women to pursue their calling to serve others and support them in their efforts. Come alongside them and give them opportunities to include others from your church or sphere of influence. I often find that missional opportunities are everywhere. Join women in their calling and give them an extended voice through your leadership.
10. Understanding Generation Z. It’s not uncommon to include something about connecting the generations when looking at trends. Yet while we have focused on Millennials for several years, our attention is now turning toward Generation Z—those born in the mid-1990s through mid-2000s. The oldest are now graduating from college, so they are beginning to enter your women’s ministry. Even so, they are considered the least religious generation, making them the most post-Christian of any generation. One study I recently saw said that Christianity is most affected, with the least retention rate of this generation as compared to Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.2 The rate of atheism has doubled among this generation.3 Some believe recent reports of sexual abuse among clergy members have impacted these factors. The phrase “you do you” is shaping the way they view religion, with young adults picking and choosing what theology feels good to them.
This generation has never known life without the Internet in their pockets. They multi-task and go from one social media platform to another in seconds. They have access to global engagement with the click of a button. Their attention spans are short—some say eight seconds. So, how can ministry leaders connect with Generation Z?
First, invite them to the table. Ask them questions. Ask them to help you engage with others and work with student leaders to learn what is working for them. Develop a girl’s ministry in your local church and include the leader on your team. Help mothers as they parent this generation and provide resources for girls to study the Bible. Develop opportunities for them to learn from different generations.
Do these trends seem overwhelming or intimidating? If so, ask the Lord to guide your steps in the year ahead and seek wisdom through His Word. Our team at LifeWay is committed to helping you navigate these trends, so consider attending one of our You Lead events where we’re offering some of these topics during breakout sessions. I’d love to meet you in 2019 and hear about the trends you are seeing.
Kelly King is the Women’s Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources and oversees the YOU Lead events. Join her this year and get to know her heart for ministry leaders. Follow her on Twitter @kellydking.