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44 Ways to Revitalize the Women's Organization [Secure eReader]
eBook by Lyle E. Schaller

eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: In 44 Ways to Revitalize the Women's Organization, Schaller offers hundreds of practical insights and fresh ideas to promote growth and vitality in women's fellowhips of all kinds and sizes.

He provides thought-provoking questions to ponder and examines many crucial elements of women's fellowhips -- such as organizational policies, group size and program mix.

Schaller affirms the exceptional value of women's fellowhips and the vital contribution they can make to the church, to the community, and to the support and sustenance of the members themselves.

eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2002


The reader of any book has a right to ask why it was written and to inquire about the assumptions and biases of the author.

The first of the ten basic assumptions on which this book rests is that in several denominations, and in thousands of congregations, the women's fellowships have been an exceptionally valuable component of the organizational life. In many churches they have offered the most effective educational ministry provided by that congregation. Until recently the women's organizations and the Sunday schools led all of American Protestantism in encouraging adults to engage themselves in serious study of the Holy Scripture. The women's organizations also have been the number-one advocate for missions. Their leaders have mastered a remarkably high level of competence in organizational skills. The women's organizations have been the most sensitive of all religious groups on social action concerns and on issue-centered ministries. The thousands of local fellowships have provided attractive entry points for impressive numbers of newcomers to that congregation. They have been an effective channel for assimilating newcomers into the life and ministry of that congregation. Frequently, they have provided the best system for identifying, enlisting, training, and placing a new generation of leaders of any organization in American Protestantism. For several decades in at least a dozen denominational families the women's organization has been the financial backbone of that denomination's missionary program. Women's organizations have an enviable record in challenging and enlisting young people for full-time Christian service in the mission field. If God published a record of prayers directed to Him, the record undoubtedly would reveal that a disproportionately large number have been offered by women gathered in missionary groups. If, as many believe, the world missionary effort of American Protestantism has been sustained by prayers for the past eighteen decades, a disproportionately large segment of those prayers have been inspired by the women's organizations.

The various women's organizations in several denominations have displayed a unique sensitivity to the changes brought by the passage of time and have compiled an outstanding record of creativity in identifying and witnessing to new needs. The circles and groups in local fellowships have provided redemptive mutual support groups for tens of thousands of women who find themselves living alone in their golden years. Finally, the women's organizations, both nationally and congregationally, have challenged the men to be more faithful in their witness, to be more obedient to the call of the Lord, and to be more sensitive to the needs of others.

That is the number-one assumption on which this book rests. The second assumption is it would be a shame to write off that resource on the basis that a more egalitarian society has made the women's organization an anachronism.

The third assumption is that the missionary movement is still alive and well and that can be a powerful central organizing principle for building a women's organization. A big policy question, which is discussed in the first chapter and repeatedly in subsequent chapters, is whether or not missions should be the only focal point of a women's fellowship.

A fourth assumption is that the vast majority of Protestant congregations on the North American continent do not offer a comprehensive program that can meet all the religious needs of all the people. (That is the greatest understatement of reality in this book!) Thus for readers who want to broaden the umbrella that describes the purpose of the women's organization, a huge range of possibilities exist. One means of revitalizing the women's organization could be to expand that statement of purpose, redefine the role, and enlarge the program to respond to the religious needs of people that are not being met by the rest of the ministries of that congregation. The other half of that argument is if those needs have been identified, if no other organization or group in that congregation is willing to respond, perhaps the women's fellowship should take the initiative in filling that vacuum.

A fifth assumption is that a large number of women still believe in the need for an all-female organization in the local church. Many of them share the conviction that this glorious record has not been made obsolete by the changing times. Many of these women agree the old ways no longer are working and are open to new approaches to ministry through the women's organization. They are convinced new initiatives are needed to reach a new generation of women. They share the conviction of the authors that God still has a place in His plan for the women's organization and that the call to be faithful and obedient is stronger than the call to do yesterday over again. These women understand why some men are more comfortable in an all-male group and often avoid gatherings that include women. Likewise some women find it easier to enter the life and ministry of a congregation through an all-female organization.

They also understand that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the influx of women into the paid labor force has not destroyed the place for a women's fellowship. It is true that the proportion of women working at a full-time job on a year-around basis rose from 40.1 percent in 1966 to 49.5 percent in 1986, but it also is true the number of women in the thirty-five-to-sixty-nine age bracket who are not employed outside the home was slightly less than 20 million in 1988, the same number as in 1950 and 1970. (Earl F. Melior and William Parks II, "A Year's Work: labor force activity from a different perspective," Monthly Labor Review, September 1988, pp. 13-18.) The number of women aged forty-five and over who are not in the labor force rose from 18.4 million in 1960 to 27.3 million in 1988. More significant is the research that reveals no difference in church attendance patterns between women employed fulltime and those who are not in the paid labor force or those working part-time.

These women who affirm the value of an all-female organization also recognize and are aware that the three big "winners" in determining how women spend their discretionary time are (1) highly structured women's Bible study groups with trained leadership that meet during the week, (2) personal health, including jogging, swimming, and aerobic dance classes, and (3) marital concerns, including the growing number of Mother's Clubs, marriage enrichment and marriage encounter retreats, mutual support groups for the recently divorced and single parent fellowships. This is the audience to which this book is directed.

A sixth assumption, which should not have to be stated, is that it is good for people to be part of a worshiping community. It is an essential part of Christian life to join with others in worshiping God, in praising Him, and in hearing His word proclaimed. For some women the most attractive entry point into God's church will be through the women's fellowship in the company of other women. This is especially true of that growing number of women who live alone and may be repelled by the image, "This is a family church." A circle in the women's fellowship can be an attractive entry point for these women.

Likewise it is assumed that evangelism cannot be delegated to the pastor or to one committee, but must be a part of every facet of the life and ministry of every Christian community. The women's fellowship is not an exception to that generalization. Therefore it is assumed throughout this book that a women's fellowship exists not only to serve the women of that congregation, but also to reach out beyond the membership to others.

An eighth assumption is it is not only legitimate, but it is also a central teaching of the faith that Christians be responsive to all the needs of all God's children. Thus it is appropriate for a women's fellowship to feed the hungry, to visit those in jail, to clothe the naked, and to comfort the lonely. These are opportunities to respond to the call to be a faithful servant as well as to the call to be a witness to Christ's redeeming love. Critics may ask what is the difference between a social welfare program offered by the church and that administered by a secular or government agency. The answer to that question always begins with the question of why that program has been initiated. For the Christian the documentation is in the two great commandments of Jesus.

A ninth and overlapping assumption is that by its very nature a women's fellowship should not allow itself to become a private club, but must include outreach to others as its central purpose. The debate can be over the form and extent of that outreach beyond the membership, but not over outreach as the central reason for being.

The Salvation Army has articulated that quality with the declaration that members are asked to extend a "hand to man" and to give their "heart to God."

Finally, and some readers may find this to be highly presumptuous, it is assumed here that it is acceptable for two aging males to collaborate on a book about the women's organization in the church. Part of the rationale is the collaboration is broader than it appears. Back in the mid and late 1980s we offered around the country a series of overnight workshops on the subject, "What's Ahead for the Women's Organization?" In all but one of these the applications were at least double the number we could accommodate. This suggested that despite the male leadership a need existed. The fact that scores of women came, often at considerable sacrifice in terms of costs and inconvenience, provided a powerful witness to the widespread concern about the future of the women's organization. Equally important, many of the women who came voiced crucial insights, raised important questions, offered brilliant suggestions, shared meaningful experiences, and suggested corrective changes. Many of those participants will recognize their distinctive contributions in the text.

In addition, during the past three decades the senior author has been involved in hundreds of parish consultations that included interviews with leaders and members from the women's fellowship of that church as well as with women who chose not to be a part of it and often were remarkably candid in explaining their reasons.

As a part of that effort to broaden the data base, a dozen different leaders from the national women's organization of various denominations also have been exceptionally generous, courteous, and helpful in responding to my inquiries by mail--and in several cases this involved extensive correspondence.

To all these committed women we owe a huge debt of gratitude for their comments, cooperation, corrections, courtesy, creativity, criticisms, ideas, insights, patience, questions, recommendations, reflections, stories, suggestions, and thoughtfulness.

Dozens of readers have urged that every book needs a road map at the beginning to help the traveler understand the context for this shared journey and to be able to anticipate what lies ahead in the next chapter.

The first chapter is addressed to the policy makers in congregations, regional judicatories, and the national boards and staff of the women's organization. This chapter identifies and discusses twenty basic policy questions including the tradeoffs that must be faced. These twenty policy questions provide a context for the discussion that follows and especially for the suggestions in chapter 5. What are the acceptable tradeoffs?

Some readers may want to skip that first chapter and begin with the two scenarios described in the second chapter. At least a few readers will find this to be familiar territory. The theme is to contrast unintentional counterproductive behavior with a more intentional effort to lead a women's organization into a new era.

Those who are anxious to review the forty-four ways promised in the title will have to wait for chapter 3 for the first of the forty-four. The closest to a guaranteed way to revitalize any long-established organization is new, dynamic, future-oriented, creative, and aggressive leadership. This third chapter is the story of that kind of leadership.

A big source of frustration for many leaders in the women's organization is what to do about those monthly general meetings. One response is to see them as the second best approach to revitalizing the women's fellowship. Suggestions on how that can be done constitute the fourth chapter under the leadership of the composite figure of Susan Brown.

A long fifth chapter suggests forty-two other approaches to revitalizing the women's organization. By this time the purists will note that the generic term "women" is used, except when the word "woman" is used as part of the proper name of a particular organization. This has not been done as part of an effort to lobby for the use of the plural rather than the singular, but simply for purposes of internal consistency. No offense is intended toward those who insist on using the singular.

Those who recall Paul Simon's clever song, "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," may ask why this book offers only forty-four. One answer is that we are not as creative as Mr. Simon. A second is that this book does include all forty-four ways. It does not stop after brief bits of advice to Jack, Stan, Roy, Gus, and Lee. A third response is that both Simon's song and this book only introduce an idea; neither suggests the number is a ceiling. In each the goal is to help one recognize that scores of alternatives are open.

So, create a women's chorale, Sal. Find some women interested in liturgical dance, Nance. Adopt a seminary library, Mary. Enlist folks to go on a trip, Kip. Open the door wider and invite a man, Jan. Organize a circle around learning a new skill, Jill. Challenge the women to a walkathon, Allison.

In other words, we hope you can revitalize the women's organization in your church and have fun doing so, Jo.

Copyright © 1990 by Abingdon Press

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