Below Candace Lewis and Kim Griffith shares how more women are becoming involved in church multiplication today—and reaching people for Christ.
In 2009, the Rev. Rachel Gilmore was appointed to start a new church in Virginia Beach, Virginia—her first appointment out of seminary. The day before the Gathering Church launched, Gilmore learned she was pregnant with her second child. Thus, her first year leading the new church also included maternity leave.
During that year, the Gathering Church survived and even thrived due in large part to Gilmore’s care and concern for the people in her new city.
As a new mom, Gilmore soon recognized a major need in the military city. She repeatedly heard how young moms felt isolated at home all day, lacking any sense of community. So Gilmore began reaching out to stay-at-home moms through a Bible study, also visiting playgrounds and parks and scheduling play dates to connect with local moms. The women welcomed the opportunity to be a part of a new community. As they connected with Gilmore and her relational leadership style, they also connected with the new church, spurring steady growth throughout the Gathering’s first year.
During the next phase of the church’s development, Gilmore formed a group of moms from the Gathering to address the childcare needs of even more of the city’s moms. Within a year, the church opened a preschool, providing both Christian education and childcare to area families. Today, the church offers discounts and support to some 60 percent of the students who currently attend and continues to look for innovative ways to serve young families.
Gilmore sees church planting as an “incredible network of relationships with a focus on and purpose of helping people connect with God, one another, and the community they’re called to serve.” She is an exciting example of what God is doing through church planting.
Today, we celebrate the many ways an increasing number of women like Rachel are contributing to the church-planting movement. In 2016, women serve as lead planters, executive pastors, church or agency staff and church planter spouses.
But that hasn’t always been the case. Few of us would argue that the church has been slow to embrace women as church planters. Let’s face it. You’ll find only a few of them on the main stages of church planting conferences. In 2009, a Leadership Journal article, “The Final Church Barrier for Women: Church Planter,” questioned the limited number of women involved in church planting, concluding that the church and culture were not ready for female planters. However, writer Kevin Miller made an important observation:
“… For Christianity just to maintain the same percentage of the American population, we need to boost our current 4,000 church plants per year to 6,900. The massive increase needed is made more difficult when we automatically exclude as leaders 60 percent of today’s college graduates who are women.”
Yet as I said earlier, things are changing. Recently, the 2015 Women in Leadership Pew Research study reported that the pipeline for female leaders “seems to be widening.” Women made significant gains in educational attainment in recent decades, the report said, better positioning them not only for career success but also for leadership positions.
We’re also seeing opportunities for female planters widening.
In 2014 Path 1, the United Methodist Church’s church-planting division, hosted our first conference for women in church planting where we saw more than 100 women come together to network and be trained, and share stories, best practices and tears. Planters were equipped, empowered and reaffirmed our commitment to serving God in church planting. As we looked around the room we realized that since 2009, the number of women leaders in church planting had increased dramatically.
In their book, Becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church, Todd Wilson and Dave Ferguson challenge us with this question: “Is it possible we need courageous leaders willing to embrace revolutionary change and chart new pathways?”
The answer is an unequivocal “yes,” and both godly men and women are rising to that calling and charting new pathways as we discover and embrace new ways of doing and being the church. With a greater variety of leaders and church styles comes an increased opportunity for reaching individuals and families for the Kingdom. And isn’t that we’re all about?
Path 1 is committed to providing resources and support for women engaged in church planting.