“I feel invisible.”
“I manage a multi–million dollar portfolio at work. When I offered to help with the finances at our church, the finance committee never responded.”
“I tried to sign up for a Bible study, but the only groups for women meet on weekday mornings. I wish I didn’t have to choose between supporting my family and connecting with other women at church.”
If you’ve ever thought or spoken aloud one of the sentiments above, you might be one of the thousands of working women leaving their churches because they feel their church “just doesn’t get me.” And, as women who work outside the home leave their churches, they’re taking their husbands, children, desire to serve, and even their pocketbooks with them.
Competing Priorities and the Camouflaged
In 2015, a Barna study found that 27 percent of professional women are leaving the church, and those women make up a significant portion of the 38 percent of adult Christian women who say they haven’t attended church in the past six months.
The unchurched gender gap is also shrinking: just over a decade ago, 40 percent of the unchurched in America were women; today, that number has grown to 46 percent.
But statistics only matter if we know the why behind them.
While just under half of women said attending church was very or somewhat important to them, many of these women just aren’t frequently making it to church. Competing priorities like family commitments, personal time, and work or career keep women from regularly attending church on Sundays.
We call these women “the camouflaged,” because they don’t stick out among other women at church. They are married, single, and divorced; mothers, grandmothers, and aunts; friends and mentors. But they are also CEOs, small business owners, nurses, accountants, writers, teachers, and lawyers. Between work and family, they are “on call” 24/7, 365 days a year, and Tuesday mid-morning Bible study just doesn’t fit their schedule.
Of course, every follower of Jesus is responsible for her own commitment to make fellowship and service a priority. Jesus calls each of us to pick up our own cross and follow him, making the necessary sacrifices in our busy lives to put him first. But is the church making this easier for some Christians more than others?
Bringing Working Women Back to Church
While not all churches are to blame for this exodus of working women from the pews, all churches should seriously consider how to better equip and engage working women to live out their God-given calling.
Here are a few ideas to help keep these women—and their families—in the pews:
1. Rethink what working women see and hear.
Pastors and teachers speaking on God’s calling or living out faith at work can think about the words they use and that they are inclusive of women. When one church decided to pilot a new business ministry as a part of their men’s ministry, it took a professional woman in the church to alert them to the need for business ministries for women, too. Imagine what message we’re sending to professional women when the business ministry is for men only!
Are there professional women at your church whose stories would encourage women trying to juggle the competing priorities of work and family? Consider letting them share their testimony to encourage and inspire working women. Celebrate the working women in your church and the sacrifices they make to serve your church.
2. Acknowledge their busy schedules.
Working women juggle school drop-offs, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, and shuffling kids to and from soccer and ballet, often on top of spending 40-plus hours at the office each week. Does your church’s women’s ministry strive to serve these women by providing Bible studies on evenings or weekend mornings? Be willing to adapt to meet the needs of working women in your church.
3. Allow them to use their gifts to serve others.
Working women bring a diverse set of gifts and talents to the church. A female CFO is a great resource to help balance the church’s finances, or a corporate lawyer can advise staff on legal paperwork. God has given both men and women unique gifts, “just as a body, though one, has many parts” (1 Cor. 12:12, NIV). Remember that,
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:6-7)
4. Help them find mentors.
A 2011 LinkedIn study revealed that for over half of professional women in the U.S. who have never had a mentor, the primary reason was because they “never encountered someone appropriate” and two-thirds of women who have never mentored another woman said it was because they had never been asked. The church is an ideal place to bridge this gap, matching women with mentors who can encourage them as they seek to live out their Christian calling in all spheres of life, including work.
It is possible to stem the tide of working women leaving the church. See that working woman, acknowledge her, and provide opportunities for her to connect, learn, and serve. With the church’s help, she can transform her family, her workplace, her church, and her community with the gospel.
Editor’s Note: Caitie Butler, the manager of 4word: Church Connect, contributed to this article. For more information, visit 4wordwomen.org.
Learn more about the biblical view of work that applies to all those made in the image of God—both men and women—in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.