By Susan Lawrence
Singles. Widows. Young Moms. Empty-Nesters. College Students.
It can be overwhelming to specialize and reach the wide variety of groups possible. Yet isn’t it important to help women connect with each other as they share life stages? Women dealing with sleep deprivation because of newborns can sympathize with another, as can women coping with fertility issues and women adjusting to new life routines after the death of a spouse. Ministering through pain and triumphs because of shared experiences can be powerful and effective, yet there’s another result of niches in ministry: Every time women are brought together to connect shared experiences or life stages, other women are excluded because their experiences and life stages don’t match the requirements.
- Moms’ groups leave out women of the same age group who desperately want to be moms anf already feel isolated.
- Accommodating moms who work outside the home versus inside the home can create scheduling issues as well as parenting practice debates.
- Widows can range from young, suddenly-single moms who must balance working and parenting to provide for their families to retired women who find themselves adjusting to a lack of things to do and companionship to do it.
- Single women represent a wide variety of ages and can quickly clash when coming together because of marital status yet all have different reasons for and satisfaction in that status.
- Groups of married women can find themselves in quandaries about what to do when women involved go through a divorce or a spouse’s death.
And the list goes on. Even when our intent is to unite people because of similarities, the subtleties of differences among women can create division, which results in disinterest, discontentedness, and disengagement.
Of course, niche groups aren’t all bad. When they foster healthy relationships and are balanced throughout the ministries of the church and community, they can meet needs for support and accountability. When planning niche groups, consider the following:
- Who are we including?
- Who are we excluding?
- Does this niche group overlap with other groups available, or does it reach an unmet need?
- What are our goals for this niche group?
- What warning signs do we need to watch out for as this group grows?
If you authentically answer these questions and still sense the nudge to continue or start a niche group, you can proceed with eyes wide open and a willingness to pay attention to the dynamics both within and outside the group.
Niche groups aren’t the only way to connect women. When women connect across instead of within life stages, they find similarities among their differences. They initially wonder what they could possibly have in common with each other, but they’re often startled to find how much their lives overlap. Instead of starting with the similarities and being disappointed with the differences, they start despite differences and are surprised by similarities.
Girls in Groups
As you think about how you can reach all women, consider connecting your women through Girls in Groups, or GiGs. It’s rather fun to say, “I have a GiG tonight!”
Girls in Groups invites women of all ages to get involved in a group for the school year. Women sign up, providing basic contact information as well as their “decade” of life, and availability preference (daytime, evening, weekends, or anytime). Women are placed in groups of four, representing several decades of life (e.g. twenty-something, thirty-something, fifty-something, and seventy-something) who share availability preference. Night owls aren’t connected with early risers, and women who prefer to be busy during the day aren’t connected with women who work day shifts.
Host a kick-off event, where women get to know each other. Save the big reveal of who is grouped together until the second half of the event. That way, women get to meet women outside of their groups first. They meet a variety of women and build confidence in exploring connections with others.
At the end of the year, host a celebration event, when you savor the memories and the relationships throughout the year. In between the kick-off and celebration, encourage women to get together with their GiG on a monthly basis. They can decide what they want to do. Perhaps they’ll try new adventures together (horseback riding, go-carting, or extreme couponing) or learn a new skill (online scrapbooking, bread-baking, or composting). They might serve together, read a book together, or have a slumber party. They might take turns determining the agenda or set the requirement that everyone must agree. It’s up to the personality of the group. Encourage GiGs to keep the costs low in order to insure everyone can be involved.
You can give monthly ideas through an electronic newsletter, which can also include photos from groups, creative discussion starters for groups who struggle with communicating, and helpful articles to address some of the issues many groups have, such as “Taking Time for Friendships,” “Sacrificial Service,” “Balancing Everyday Demands,” “Dealing with Conflict,” “Helping Friends without Hurting Yourself.” (For more specific ideas of what to include in your kick-off event, sample newsletter, and more, visit PurePurpose.org to receive a free idea kit.)
Seldom will these groups be problem-free; in fact, none of them will be. Groups have issues, because people have issues. As we meet together, our messy lives rub against each other. That’s going to happen no matter what the basis of the group is, whether it’s a niche group, a GiG, or any other group. Groups take effort and attention to grow. Left unattended, groups will atrophy. Individuals atrophy as groups atrophy. But as groups grow, individuals grow, too. Focus on intentional, healthy spiritual growth no matter what your approach to individuals and groups.
If you prefer not to start something like Girls in Groups, consider a specific event that isn’t determined by life stage. Brainstorm a general need or interest, and create a way and place for women to connect based on that need or interest. Host a Face-to-Facebook event, where women can come and connect through Facebook. Some women will have questions about getting started, privacy settings, posting and tagging photos, starting a group, scheduling an event, and more, while others will share the answers. Along the way, women will not only help each other but will share each other’s lives as they see photos, learn interests, and much more. Or host a Pinterest Party, where women can choose to complete a project found on the site but can also learn about Pinterest and get support as they learn more about using the site.
When we trust God to foster the process of who needs to connect when, where, and about what, we acknowledge that He knows the details of each woman’s lives. We can make assumptions based on life stages and experiences, but He knows the specifics of every experience, struggle, doubt, need, and more. He knows who to connect with whom to share experiences, invest in each other’s lives, meet needs, and grow through challenges. He connects people we’d never consider connecting. He uses obstacles for growth when we see them as barricades. He uses personality conflicts for refining when we see them only as trouble. God steps straight into what we might otherwise avoid and avoids what we might see as attractive.
When we trust God to guide the decisions we make—as individuals as well as the groups in which we’re involved—we become less concerned with the need to find a niche and more concerned with a need to fully belong to God. If that means stepping outside our comfort zones, we’ll strap on our walking shoes and get started, because we’d rather be with whom He says than who we prefer any moment of any day. And how we follow God impacts how those who follow us follow Him.