This is an On the Road blog. Occasionally I will use this space to highlight a helpful idea or observation from events where I have spoken, or share research conducted on the road. If you know of someone who might benefit, forward this along!
A few weeks ago, speaking at a series of women’s events, I was reminded of something I have seen time and again – but something that we in the church can easily miss: Women who work full-time and/or demanding jobs are starved for fellowship with other Christian women. Especially for fellowship with those who “get” their lives.
Friends, this is not a small group of people. Somewhere between 40-50% of women today work full-time, year-round jobs.* And most do so out of economic necessity. We in the church – we who are friends or church leaders of women in this category – should take a moment and think about the need. And what we can do to meet it. In addition, those of us who are in this category ourselves must be willing to seek out support.
The first time I really grasped how important this was, I was speaking for a very large church that had decided to put on their first event for women in the workplace. They set up a night of teaching, fun, and fellowship – but they also set up something else. Each woman who registered was asked just a few questions about themselves and their work life. For example, were they an employee or a business owner? An executive or an entry level professional? Were they at a large corporation or a small nonprofit?
The event organizers used that information to do something unique: they set up round tables (instead of the usual rows of seating) and assigned women to a table of those in similar situations. The eager entry level professionals were at these two tables, the entrepreneurs were at those three tables over there, and so on.
Each of us who were speaking shared a short(ish) talk and each time the tables were given 10-12 minutes to discuss it, before turning back to the next speaker, and, eventually, a Q&A with a panel of the three speakers. It was a fun and hopefully helpful process.
And then the amazing thing happened.
Women Craving Community
The organizers said, “OK! You’re dismissed. The speakers have book tables set up in the lobby, and we have coffee and desserts. See you out there.” The organizers and the three speakers headed out to the lobby, and we waited for the women to arrive.
And waited. And waited.
Eventually, confused, we poked our heads back into the main room. Hundreds of women still sat at the round tables, talking animatedly, sharing life, trading contact information and war stories. Ten minutes later, not one woman had gotten up. They eventually started trickling out, but most stayed right where they were. It wasn’t until half an hour after the event, when the crew that had to convert the room got antsy, that we reluctantly flashed the lights and told everyone that the church needed the room back.
Working Women’s Long List of Priorities
Can you see why I say that these women are starved for fellowship? Everyone lives busy lives these days, but a woman who is juggling both her personal life and a full-time or demanding job, has a unique sort of busyness. When she is home, especially if she has a husband and/or children, she wants to be home with them. She has spent enough time away from them already. So when the church has the annual women’s conference, she takes little Josie to the T-ball game instead. When other women are in the fall Bible Study, she is in back-to-back work meetings. And when her friends are in their Thursday night church small groups, she is at home with her husband or out with her boyfriend, trying to catch up after her four-day business trip. She would like to be at the women’s conference or the Bible Study or the small group – in fact, she’s longing for that sort of thing – but these are the choices she has to make in order to prioritize what matters most.
The problem is, she is rarely going to prioritize herself.
A Unique Opportunity for the Church
Friends, I would argue that we in the church need to get purposeful about supporting these women, in much the same way we are purposeful about making sure we have a fall women’s Bible Study. It will look different than the usual women’s ministry initiatives – for example, if doing an event, a Sunday evening is usually better than Saturday morning, and multiple churches may need to partner together for scale. But the impact is priceless. In large part because any water is life-giving to a thirsty soul.
I’ve spoken at multiple such events, and each time I heard the exact same thing I did from the women’s ministry team who put on the event a few weeks ago: “This is a whole different group of women than I’ve seen before, at any other event!”
Yes, exactly. This is slightly in jest, but it is almost an unreached people group!
Working Women Can Be a Light in the Workplace
And this is not in jest: women in the workplace who do know Jesus can be a great source of support to those who may not. These initiatives, in truth, provide opportunities to reach others who feel a deep need for friendship but who may not be regular churchgoers.
All this is not to say that a church shouldn’t also have a broader ministry to everyone in the workplace, not just women. That’s valuable, too. But in practice, those “marketplace ministries” often become a sort of men’s ministry. And don’t get me wrong: we need men’s ministries! (It will have to be a whole other blog, but there is an epidemic of men who also are starved for friendship, and who have few close friends other than their wife.) But working women rarely get the unique personal support they are longing for in a co-ed “marketplace ministry” environment.
So what do we do with this? Well, if you are a friend of a woman in a demanding job, invite her and her family over for dinner and ensure that there’s someone who can help play with the kids while you’re lingering over coffee. If you are a church, consider something that would equip and encourage this group. And if you are the woman in the demanding job, seek out some of the great online resources and in-person communities out there (a few ideas below), soyou can be refreshed and renewed to head back out on that business trip next week, knowing that you have the fellowship and support you need at home.*
A few key resources: 4Word (a large ministry providing community and content for Christian women in the workplace, including online and via local chapters around the U.S., mentoring, podcasts, and more), Thrive Today (resources to empower Christian women in the workplace to grow in faith and influence, including Thrive Today Magazine), and Christian Working Women (online encouragement, equipping and empowering for Christian women in the workplace, including online Bible studies).
*We don’t know exactly what percent of working-age women work full time, as it depends on how “working-age” and “full-time” is defined, and no one data set includes all necessary data from the same year. These back-of-the-envelope ratios are calculated from various 2016–2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics data sets for women age 20-69.
And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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