SWBTS General 1

3 keys for discipling unchurched women

June 13th, 2017 / By: Melissa Deming / comments

3 keys for discipling unchurched women

For the past 15 years, God has planted our family in places with hard soil—places hostile to the gospel and rife with the weeds of biblical illiteracy. This type of soil has become increasingly common as secular philosophies encroached on the Bible belt and gave rise to a segment of the population that goes by many names: ‘unchurched,’ ‘de-churched’ or even ‘nones.’

Serving overseas and in a North American church plant, we were forced to operate outside the typical ministry toolshed to these populations. Sometimes we got it right, and sometimes we got it dreadfully wrong. But, over time, God gave me three very important lessons for rethinking discipleship among unchurched women.  

1. CONCENTRATE ON SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT

When unchurched women come to Christ, they start their Christian walk from scratch, lacking both a shared worldview and language of faith. 

When we lived overseas, our discipleship efforts began with the larger story of the Scriptures—creation, fall, redemption and restoration—which provided a framework for helping women understand their identity in Christ and role in his story. This approach was easily replicated and helped us sidestep the inadvertent transmission of our own American church sub-culture.

Similarly, while discipling unchurched women in the northern U.S., we discovered that healthy spiritual roots were best developed by teaching women what Christ had done in and for them rather than what they were supposed to do next. This approach grounded women in truth before moving them into fruit-bearing discipleship. It reduced the temptation for them to manufacture the fruit of obedience in their own strength without first understanding its purpose and power.

So, when an unchurched woman came to Christ, we focused on three areas of biblical instruction:

  • Who she is (her identity in Christ)
  • What she believes (how to study God’s Word)
  • What she does (kingdom living)

Whatever the cultural context, an unchurched woman must receive adequate spiritual nourishment to remain rooted in her faith when harsh conditions come her way. Intentional discipleship must ground women in the truth of salvation, teach them to feast on the Scriptures and help them discover their places in God’s story for the world. 

2. CULTIVATE LONG-TERM FRUIT

When I began piecing together a discipleship strategy for unchurched women, I canvassed the women in our church plant’s core group. I discovered most of them had never been formally discipled, and only a few said they felt competent to make disciples.

Too often, we assume discipleship is already happening or even that our people know how to disciple. Discipleship must not be delegated to Sunday school classes or life groups without giving leaders a clear picture of what discipleship is and how to make disciples. 

Many women show up on Sundays overcommitted and overstressed. Because of this, churches must grapple with fitting special events into their overall discipleship strategy.

A retreat or tea can serve a good purpose yet still not produce lasting spiritual fruit unless it equips attendees to live out the gospel in their own context. A weary soul uplifted at a retreat can succumb to the flesh when life gets hard again. The seeking woman who jumps from one feel-good Bible study to the next may stop attending church altogether when she hears something she doesn’t like from the pulpit. 

Biblical women’s ministries produce long-term fruit by equipping a woman to sow gospel seeds where she’s been planted. Few churches, however, have a formal discipleship strategy for women—complete with a model, goals, measurables and a clear path forward for new disciples and their disciplers.

Discipleship should include more than what we’re teaching women but also encompass how we’re teaching it and the order in which it’s being taught. 

Connecting women to the body of Christ means more than offering a mentoring program. Mentoring is not the same thing as replicating disciples. Clearer guidelines are needed to anchor women’s ministries to the greater mission of the church.

3. CONNECT TO THE BODY OF CHRIST 

Unchurched women often struggle to find their place in church. If they are single or divorced, traditional ministries to women often widen the gap. Women’s ministry leaders must work with pastoral staff to connect these women to the greater body of Christ. 

Connecting women to the life of the church, however, entails more than finding them a place to serve. Women must also understand their role in God’s mission and use their unique gifts in fulfilling the Great Commission. 

Connecting women to the body of Christ means more than offering a mentoring program. Mentoring is not the same thing as replicating disciples. Clearer guidelines are needed to anchor women’s ministries to the greater mission of the church. 

Women’s ministries need systems for helping unchurched women develop deep roots. This strategy must begin immediately after conversion, encompass one-on-one discipleship relationships, and include knowledge of their role in the church and redemptive history—to make more disciples.