What about Working Moms?

September 14th, 2011
The author, with her daughter, Kate.

While visiting my parents this past weekend, I had the opportunity to worship at my home church (which I've gushed about before) and something in the bulletin caught my eye:

Mothers in Faith, a Kingdom Group for moms of young children, meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 pm.

My heart lept for joy, despite the fact that I live 150 miles away and couldn't actually be part of this group myself.

Why was I so happy?

Because this was the first small group, Bible study, play group, or fellowship gathering for moms that I'd seen that did not meet at 10 am on a Wednesday, or some other time that—intentionally or not—sent the message that working moms need not apply. As a working mom who craves both Christian fellowship and connection with others in my life stage, this is a discouraging trend I've noticed.

Sixty-six percent—two thirds—of moms with kids under 17 work outside of the home (full time or part time) and yet churches seem to plan with only the one-third in mind when they schedule women's gatherings (be they a young mom's group or a women's group in general) for weekday mornings. (Source: Pew Social Trends, 2009) You can tell a lot about a church's demographics by whether they offer VBS in the daytime or evening. Daytime = a majority of stay-at-home moms or teachers who have the summer off.

I'm not assuming an intentional bias on the part of churches (unless the church vocally states that women should not work outside the home), but some latent assumptions may be coming into play:

1. That SAHMs need community more than WOHMs.

(That's stay-at-home moms and work-outside-the home moms.) I certainly understand the isolation stay-at-home moms can feel, not having a lot of adult interaction many days, and for those moms, morning or early afternoon is probably a better time to gather than evenings (assuming that the gathering includes kids or the church provides child care). So I'm certainly not saying churches should move all women's activities to evenings or weekends, but working moms need Christian fellowship too. Workplaces may provide adult interaction, but not necessarily the faith-enriching kind, and most likely not opportunities for soul-baring and deep personal connection.

2. That most women don't work.

If a church has maintained the same schedule for many years, the women who started a certain group in the 1950s or '60s may have aged together and may not even question why younger women in the church haven't joined their group. (This may be especially true in smaller, older congregations where there is likely to be one flagship women's group.) In more affluent communities as well, it is more likely that many of the active women in the church do not work outside the home, and they may take for granted that others have a similar lifestyle. (Check out this fascinating infographic from Circle of Moms contrasting the race, politics, marital status, and more of SAHMs and WOHMs.) As stated above, 66 percent of mothers with kids at home work, and 59 percent of women in general work, so while your community may differ (and that should indeed affect your planning, if your assumptions are confirmed) keep in mind the nationwide reality when evaluating options.

How Can We Do Better?

As I said, I'm not advocating we do away with daytime gatherings for women. For some women and for many older folks, daytime is a much better option. Offering both a daytime and an evening moms group would be ideal. But here are a few other ideas that could make it easier for the 66 percent to be more involved in your church:

  1. Wednesday evenings and Sunday morning gatherings. This one is kind of obvious, but since midweek and Sunday church activities are so standard, we may forget the value of niche group offerings, by which I mean classes and groups tailored to young parents or just women, rather than everyone of a certain (wide) age range being in one class together.
  2. Saturday morning play group. Too long the exclusive domain of SAHMs, play groups have benefits for both parents and kids, and working moms may really enjoy the opportunity to fellowship with other moms and help their children cultivate friendships with other kids from church.
  3. Lunchtime. We've all got to eat, right? This time slot has potential for a variety of gatherings. A brown-bag lunch at the church (with child care) can bring both SAHMs and WOHMs together for Bible study. Working moms could meet at a restaurant for fellowship. And if your church is located in a downtown area or near a lot of businesses, offer and advertise a cheap lunch as an outreach to area working women.
  4. Day care outreach. Speaking of outreach, if you are specifically interested in attracting younger families to your church, find a way to partner with a nearby day care to show care and support to busy parents (who most likely both work, if the kids are in day care). Handing out free coffee in the parking lot at drop-off time would go a long way to endear yourself to the dual-career families in your area and possibly compel them to visit your church on Sunday.
  5. Evening VBS. This is one area in which I actually am advocating one time over the other. By holding VBS in the evenings, you not only make it possible for working moms to volunteer and bring their kids, but for more men to be involved and for whole families to participate together.

How is your church reaching out to working women?

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