Women by the thousands are flocking to conferences, seeking a fresh touch from God and answers to practical questions affecting their lives and ministries. Are they finding what they need?
My footsteps resounded as I walked down the long, concrete corridor toward the office of the founder and president of Crossroads Christian Communications. With each step came a reason to turn from my mission, but my heart would not allow my feet to stop. This meeting could not be delayed or omitted because of any personal anxiety, for it was fueled with a passion that came from the depth of my spirit.
My passion was to reach women with the good news of the gospel, unite them in their faith, motivate them to rise above an enemy called "average," and spiritually fuel them to return to their daily lives with new vigor and excitement.
This meeting was prompted by the memory of thousands of women to whom I have ministered in retreats and workshops. I remembered women who would wait in the wings to ask me to pray for their situation: a broken relationship, a rebellious child, a growing fear or secret sin that couldn't be shared, even with their friends, church or family. These were faces whose countenance I watched change from hopeless to hopeful, confused to challenged and desperate to determined--who helped me understand that ministry to women through seminars, retreats and conferences was not only a good idea, but a crucial tool in the building and undergirding of this foundational group of people.
As I sat before the Rev. David Mainse, I stated emphatically all my reasons why Crossroads Christian Communications should add a women's conference to their already extensive outreach throughout Canada and the United States. Mainse listened politely then kindly interrupted my planned pleading with these questions: (1) Is it a necessary ministry? (2) Will this conference help to meet the practical, spiritual and emotional needs of women today? and (3) Will this conference give women the tools they need to go back to their lives strengthened, encouraged and stronger in their faith?
"Joyce," he said, "If you answer yes to all of these questions, let's encourage women to get involved." That morning the Women Who Win conferences were created, and for the last 11 years they have continued to reach into the hearts and homes of many thousands of women.
Women need spiritual support. There is little question we need to reach and teach women today. Women have come to the forefront as leaders in the workplace and community. They are making more major decisions, starting more businesses, signing more home mortgages and loan contracts than ever before. They are financially supporting ministries and churches by writing out personal checks to their decided outreach. Either by necessity or desire, women are taking on a role that thrusts them into a position that assumes a delicate balance of spiritual, emotional and physical energy.
In our Christian circles women make 72 percent of all decisions concerning religious organizations. According to a study by the Barna Research Group (BRG), women have become the backbone of the church. This study revealed: "There are up to 13 million more Christian women than men in the United States, and their participation rated markedly higher than that of men in 12 out of 13 religious activities assessed, including church attendance, leadership, giving and evangelism."
The BRG study also revealed that this commitment has come with a price: "Women's church attendance has dropped 22 percent since 1991, and there has been a 21 percent fall in women volunteering to help at church over the same period. 'Many women appear to be burning out from their intense levels of involvement,' commented BRG president George Barna. 'Women's monumental effort to support the work of the Christian church may be running on fumes.'"
Perhaps the heavy load women have taken on is taking its toll. It seems that the world's view that women can have it all is beginning to ring hollow as women succumb to the mounting pressures of work, family, church and the countless other tentacles that are squeezing life from them. Perhaps women have never been so open to the true message of Jesus Christ--the message of balance and wholeness, of salvation and forgiveness, and of hope and deliverance.
We now have the opportunity to provide ministry to women that will attract and reach not only the church crowd, but also their unsaved families, friends and co-workers. A women's conference can reach women who might never attend church but have driving needs that make them take a second look at a particular event that can help them tackle their problems constructively. Now as a body of believers, this may be our finest hour to truly share the gospel message.
We must address real needs. Women's ministry, whether at a local church level or through district or national conferences, must seek a way to address the real needs of women without casting judgment or condemnation for mistakes made or failures that might have been experienced.
Leaders must be the first to "write in the sand" to exemplify that no one is without sin and that ministry oases are places to experience new beginnings and opportunities and to learn to create within us the scriptural blueprint that brings the abundant life. It is with this foundation that a conference can be a worthwhile endeavor, making it plausible for women to take the time and energy necessary to set aside the cost of attending.
In the last several years many national women's conferences have birthed new opportunities for women to attend. As any good fisher knows, different bait is necessary to attract different fish. If our common goal is to gather a huge catch for the kingdom of God, we should then applaud and support the many different conferences and outreaches that push off from the shore to fish, praying that those among the catch will be hooked on the lifeline that draws them back to the local church to continue their spiritual growth.
Evangelists and teachers such as Joyce Meyer, Marilyn Hickey and Gloria Copeland are including women's conferences in their lineup of activity. As strong teachers in the Word, these women emphasize practical teaching and the application for everyday living.
Speaking to overflow crowds, Joyce Meyer speaks life and hope back into the wounded. Martha Garrison, just returning from a three-day event in Seattle, told Ministries Today: "I have so much more confidence and knowledge of who I am in God. This event has strengthened my faith and made me so determined to share God's truth." Another attendee said: "I have never heard such practical, down-to-earth teaching. I feel like a new woman!"
Marilyn Hickey continues to teach of our authority in Christ and how to apply that in our daily living. She offers daily encouragement in a study Bible for women called Women of Destiny.
Gloria Copeland displays a never wavering, strong approach to our becoming women of faith, speaking the life of God into every instance of our lives.
Meyer, Hickey and Copeland all offer a colorful array of inspirational products for women to take home and incorporate into their daily reading and devotional time. Although these women share daily through their TV outreaches, they plan, pray and proceed to be a part of the conference approach. They have recognized that where two or more are gathered together, there is power and hope; and as Webster's dictionary says, to conference is to "come together to pursue a common goal."
Choosing the right women's conference for your congregation. Last year, I was again invited to the 11th Annual Women Who Win conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I sat on the platform scanning the faces of the women. Their faces read like the covers of library books sitting in neat rows.
The women who came to just have a great time--to laugh, shop, eat and generally get away from the norm--were most obvious in their outward demeanor. But sprinkled throughout the audience were women whose expressions revealed the need to come and seek God for a particular and pressing personal need. Some probably had no idea why they came except for the emptiness they had recently felt and a desire to fill that void within.
This women's conference was an arena in which the real needs of women were addressed. In a women's conference, women can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing their situations are shared by hundreds of others and that there are solutions and hope--God truly does have a plan and a purpose for their lives.
For those who came to seek an encounter with the living God, He would not disappoint them. For those who were seeking forgiveness and a new start, prayer partners were accessible and ready to share. For those who needed to laugh, stay up till the wee hours playing practical jokes, shop for treasures and eat brownies, this was their time to feel free and rejuvenated. But one thing was abundantly clear: The results of this conference and others like it would have eternal results.
My ministry background includes having spent two years as an associate pastor at a church in which women's ministry was alive and active. Women were growing, becoming involved in ministry, being effective in their homes and becoming leaders in their own right.
As a speaker I was convinced of the crucial benefit of attending a women's conference, but as an associate pastor, would I encourage our women to go beyond our own walls and programs and to spend the money and time away from our own outreach? I knew the time and financial constraints many women were dealing with, and most of them were just plain worn down.
If you're facing the same concerns, then ask yourself the questions David Mainse asked me: Is this ministry necessary? Will this conference meet the practical, spiritual and emotional needs of women today? Will it give women the tools they need to go back to their routines strengthened, encouraged and stronger in their faith?
Answering those questions, it was easy for me to see that particular conference opportunities were exactly what the women in my church needed.
If you, as a pastor, are considering the validity of the women in your congregation attending a women's conference, ask yourself these same three questions. In the growing awareness of women's crucial roles in the home, the workplace and the church community, if you can answer yes to these questions, then it would be of great benefit to encourage your women to get involved. *
Joyce Simmons is founder of Dynamic Family Ministries as well as a conference speaker and author.
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