In most churches, the women’s ministry runs circles around the men. They have gatherings and prayer circles and Bible studies that allow women to consume a lot of information. Great information, in fact, and these are all meaningful ways for women to grow their faith. But most of the churches we talk to have a sense that many women are looking for something deeper. They want spaces where they can ask hard questions, vulnerably discuss the issues they’re facing, and build authentic relationships where they feel safe.
Before we jump into how mentoring can help, let’s discuss why mentoring is important for a vibrant and growing women’s ministry.
Here’s what we know. Women’s ministries often follow a seasonal routine. It starts with a fall kickoff event and then a six-to-eight-week topical Bible study that leads into the holiday season. When spring arrives, a women’s retreat is followed by another six-to-eight-week topical Bible study, and then we’re back into fall again. There’s usually a committee spearheading everything. Outsiders are always welcome, but unless they are regular attendees, you may or may not see them at the next gathering. There’s always fellowship, food, and a speaker or program. Some churches have extra options for specific groups, like moms or single women.
None of what we’re saying is criticism, all these environments are great, and this system works for most women. But we are suggesting there is room for more. There are women ready to go deeper in their faith in ways the typical Bible study or even a weekly small group isn’t equipped to provide. These women are eager to create intentional community and be held accountable for influencing others.
Small group mentoring is the best way to create these environments and enhance your existing women’s ministry. Why? Because that was Jesus’ model for discipleship. Scripture gives us a good picture of how Jesus mentored His disciples…
- Jesus was on purpose – He came “that they might have life and have it to the full.” This is an invitation to be others-focused and make disciples. When an older, wiser Jesus-follower mentors younger women, she embodies the Christian life and makes it observable and accessible to her mentees. She shows them what it looks like to be an on-purpose, all-in, passionate follower of Jesus.
- Jesus handpicked a few – We know Jesus had far more than twelve followers, but He picked a few to be his inner circle. We know He prayed intensely about His choices. Our event mentality is all about bigger numbers. But Jesus started small. He poured into the twelve, and they multiplied. And multiplied. Tim Elmore said, “More time with fewer people equals greater kingdom impact.” Focusing on a few feels exclusive, but when we’re equipping them to pour into others, the scope quickly expands to include many more women.
- They walked through life together – Yes, Jesus taught his followers, but much of the wisdom He shared was “along the way,” from real-time situations and people. Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus took a coin and taught a valuable life lesson. He taught acceptance by accepting people, and He showed them how to pray through prayer. A group must do life together for real bonding to happen. It can’t be a canned curriculum. It must be real-time, authentic, flexible, and relevant to what’s happening in their lives. That’s what happens when a mentor opens up her life, shares her experience, and listens to what’s happening in the lives of the younger women around her table.
- Jesus explained and lived Scripture – Again, it was “along the way.” But Jesus knew the Law. He brought it alive and made it relevant through His words and deeds. His guys watched Him live it out through all kinds of circumstances. In a mentoring group, women study key Scripture verses together, apply them to their lives, and talk about them regularly.
- Jesus prayed and taught them to pray – Jesus prayed with his mentees, prayed for them, taught them a model prayer, and then gave them a glimpse of His intimate relationship with the Father by going off to pray alone. Women who are in community with each other know how to pray for each other…and they will.
- A high level of commitment was required – Jesus’ disciples made huge time commitments to the work. They left their businesses and families to follow Jesus. And there’s no evidence of them not showing up. Today, we don’t often ask people to make big commitments, but when women commit to grow and journey together for a year under the guidance of a mentor, they emerge understanding how important Jesus is to them and what it looks like to follow Him.
- It was a community – The disciples traveled, ate, slept, worshiped…pretty much did everything together. Jesus was there as their leader, but they spent time together, worked together, and challenged each other. They knew everything about each other. Women need each other. Mentoring groups create a safe space where women can share their deepest parts and discuss life’s biggest questions. In doing so, they begin building authentic community with each other. And then, they start replicating that community with other women in other environments. Experiencing authentic community is one of the secrets to how mentoring can enhance your existing women’s ministry and influence the hearts of the women at your church by creating the deep connections they are looking for.
- There was a defined period of time – Jesus chose these mentees and poured into them for no more than three and a half years. Then He graduated them…sending them out to do the work of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). We’ve found that nine to twelve months is about the right amount of time for a group to be intensely connected. After that, they’re ready to take their place to lead, love, serve, and give.
- It was about multiplication, not addition – Jesus told them upfront, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” From the beginning, His stated intention was to pass the baton. Women who experience Jesus through a mentoring group feel more equipped to lead and influence other women. Not all of them, not all at once, and not all in the same ways, but enough to deeply impact the women of your church and even your church as a whole.
Jesus’ mentoring model wasn’t about information transfer. It wasn’t about content; it was about practical application. Jesus modeled a small group process that led to total commitment on the mentees’ part; from that group, the church began.
Picture this…a few of the deeply committed women of your church, each sitting at their dining room table, pouring out their cups into the lives of six to eight younger women for nine months to a year. Helping them find and follow Jesus…making disciple-makers a few at a time.
Here’s the skinny on the system we’ve distilled from Jesus’ model. It’s adapted to 21st-century culture, using tools that didn’t exist 2,000 years ago.
- It begins with one leader. One spiritually, emotionally, and relationally mature woman. It can be a staff person or a lay leader, or it could be you. But it must be someone the women of your church look up to and respect. She must be an on-purpose girl who loves Jesus and takes seriously the God-centric life. She is signing up to spend three hours with a group of women in her home once a month. She must be willing to share her faith story…not just the Sunday school version, but “the good, the bad, and the ugly version.” Jesus must be real and alive in this woman.
- Once you’ve got her commitment, then it’s working together to create a list of younger women from your church who have the potential to do more…to be sold-out for Jesus and assume leadership roles later when they’re ready.
- They’re invited by you, on behalf of the church, to apply for the group. This is huge because it communicates the importance…the rarity of the opportunity. These women make a covenant commitment to attend every monthly session, to do the homework, and to pay it forward (i.e., multiply) when God calls them.
- The process involves picking topics that are important from a spiritual formation perspective but also relevant to these women in their real lives. Each month, the women take on a topic together, read a book, study one or two Scriptures, do a relational homework assignment, pray, and connect one-on-one with another group member.
- At the beginning of the year (following their mentor’s lead), each woman shares her full-on story with the group. And then, month-by-month, they learn about God (theology), who they are in Christ (identity), marriage, parenting, thought life….whatever topics you choose to take on, paying attention to the felt needs of the group God gives you.
- At the end of the season, there’s a Commencement Retreat where you send the women out to love and to lead. Some will move immediately into paying it forward by leading their own group. Some won’t be that quick. Some will use their gifting in other ways in the church. But all will grow through the process, including the mentor.
Do this a few times…through a few generations, and you’ll have a core group of women God will use not only to enhance your women’s ministry but to grow and deepen your church at large.
The beauty of this approach is its harmony with whatever you’re already doing. If you’re at a zero-starting point…i.e., you have nothing going on for women, this is a great way to start small and build a strong foundation. Even if the mentor is you and you can only find four women to invite, that’s enough to start. Watch God grow and energize four women, and you’ll likely see more coming behind them…and more behind them. If you already have a women’s ministry, this system offers a both/and option that can complement what you’re already doing, raising the bar for authenticity and transparency in all your environments and building leaders to take your women’s ministry to the next level.
If your women’s ministry is ready to take a next step, to go to the next level in commitment and community, this is a great way to breathe new life into the women at your church and enhance what you’re already doing to serve and equip them. The results might not show up immediately, but over time, no ministry can stand still when God grows courageous women intent on walking out His purpose for their life and His mission for His church.
Breathe New Life Into Your Discipleship
Small group mentoring can help you engage your people, build your core group of leaders, and transform your church. Our free resources equip you with all the tools you need to launch a sustainable mentoring program.