Originally published Wednesday, 06 January 2021.
19 Mistakes You May Be Making in Single Moms Ministry at Your Church and How to Fix Them
Thank you. Thank you to the brave leaders who have answered the call to serve single moms all over the country. There is an army of you out there! Thank you to each of you who have begun the sometimes arduous task of meeting with your pastoral team, gaining approval to launch the ministry, planning, preparing, and praying. Thank you for the sacrifices of time away from your family. We applaud your efforts.
With all the commitment and sacrifice that each of you pour into your single moms’ groups, there is no doubt that it can be frustrating when things don’t seem to be going well. When you have planned and no one shows up for the meetings, it is hard not to take it personally. When you have prepared meals for many and only a few attend, it can really hurt. When you have poured into the lives of moms for weeks, months, and years, and there seems to be no fruit, it can be frustrating. Single moms’ ministry can be tricky business, no doubt. Until recently, there was very little on the market in terms of supporting single mom ministry leaders. Most of us have been on an island attempting to do the best we can.
That is why The Life of a Single Mom has devised a list of the most frequent challenges we see in single moms’ ministries and ways to avoid those pitfalls. After more than a decade of front-line single mom ministry experience and having worked with hundreds of churches across 19 countries, we believe the following list can help you get your ministry off to the right start (or improve an existing ministry).
Failing to be open to change. What worked four years ago, may not be working now. Maybe you just launched your ministry and no one is attending. Be open to changing what you are doing. In fact, early on, it may be necessary to change paths a number of times, until you find the rhythm that works for your ladies. Be okay with change. If you have been working in single moms’ ministry for some time, it may be time for a facelift. Something new gets people excited.
Meeting too frequently or infrequently. We recommend meeting in a single moms’ gathering twice per month. Meeting once per month is too infrequent. It simply does not allow the women to forge strong relationships. If they happened to miss one meeting, they could be going as much as 60 days without seeing one another. However, meeting too frequently, such as once per week, can often lead to burnout of yourself and the volunteers. We found that the sweet spot is usually twice per month. (Alternate ideas are short-term weekly meetings over a 6-week or 8-week span, or meeting monthly with a more casual get-together at the two-week mark).
Talking too much. Now this is a hard one for many of us. We are often take-charge; Type A personalities, who have leadership roles in our churches, communities, and jobs. We also tend get uncomfortable with silence. However, it is crucially important that we do not monopolize all the time in our single moms’ Bible studies. This is a time of fellowship. It is not weekend service. It is a time for the ladies to get to know one another, discuss the topic for the day, release burdens they may be caring, share, and grow.
Lacking food and childcare. We often say having single moms’ group without childcare and food is like having a potluck with no food. They simply do not work. Now, we know there can be several factors that come into play. Maybe you don’t have a budget for food and childcare. No worries. For the first five years we conducted our single moms’ groups, our local church did not offer a budget either. We simply utilized volunteers who were willing to cook and/or babysit and put them on a rotating list. The important thing is to remove as many obstacles as possible to assist single mothers in attending the meetings.
Attempting to do it all on your own. It is critical that you do not attempt to carry the ministry on your own. You need volunteers, even if you only have two women attending regularly. How can you grow if the infrastructure is not there for growth? It is important to solicit volunteers to help you. Volunteers can be utilized for many tasks including prayer, social media management, event planning, clean-up, set-up, greeters, food prep distribution, babysitting, registration, and so much more. Do not get stuck in the habit of doing it all on your own. Often we find ourselves doing this, because volunteers can sometimes be inconsistent, use them anyway. Many have a heart to help and one thing removed from your plate assists you in keeping a healthy balance, which leads us to the next point.
Leading from an empty cup. Never attempt to pour out what you do not have. Set boundaries in your ministry, including limited time to return phone calls, establishing days when you will not work on ministry at all, etc. Commit to the things that pour into you, regular church attendance, accountability, healthy friendships, days of rest, and prayer. It is so important to avoid burn-out by establishing sabbaticals. For many, this means that your group will not meet year-round. Maybe you meet six weeks at a time. Maybe you meet during the school year with breaks during the summer. Maybe you take holiday breaks. There are many ways to take a sabbatical, they are important. Rest allows you to stay in this for the long term.
Focusing only on current attendees versus future attendees. This pitfall is one we see often. When a leader has been compelled to change a portion of the Bible study, such as meeting date, time, structure, volunteer solicitation, or otherwise, they poll the three ladies attending the group, and….they shoot the idea down. Alas, the leader is stuck leading the same way she always has, and the group never grows. Now, don’t misunderstand. It’s important to know how your group feels about certain changes. However, they cannot be the only gauge that determines whether or not you implement change. We must always be thinking about those single moms “who are not yet here.” How do we grow? How do we reach out? How do we continue to think about the ones who just do not feel comfortable in our groups yet? Focusing on fresh ideas for those who are not yet in attendance is critical for future growth.
Curriculum choice. Now, this is a biggie. We love many of the great Christian authors that are on the market today and we love how God is pouring into them to pour out on His people. However, it is important to be mindful that the latest Christian women’s bible study may not always be ideal for your group. Consider selecting materials that are tailored for single moms and single parenting. Of course, you can integrate in some great women’s studies, the truth is, and it is likely other women’s groups in your church are already utilizing them. Consider focusing your group on single mom-centric topics with single mom-centric curriculum. (Consider the above point, thinking of the ones who do not attend yet. Maybe a study on the Proverbs 31 woman is difficult to digest for the hurting, un-churched, single mom.)
Lacking evangelism or discipleship. We believe the best approach to single moms’ ministry is a two-fold approach – evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism is the outreach component of what you do – events for those who have not attended yet or one-time events to create excitement – to share the Gospel. Discipleship is the in-reach component of what you do – regular Bible studies to create fellowship and minister to the single moms who are currently attending. Effective, long-term ministry requires both. We must look at the single moms who are not yet attending and create environments for them to consider attending (events), then; we must look at how to minister to them once they get there, through a regular meeting. We have found that many churches lack in one or the other.
No fun. Yes, sometimes your meetings will be heavy. There will be topics that require serious thought and discussion. However, it cannot be all work and no play. It’s okay to laugh in church. It’s okay to play board games and have a scavenger hunt and just simply let your hair down. God created us and he knows we like to have fun. Don’t get so stuck in routine and the 18 points of your Bible study that you forget to just enjoy your time together. Integrate icebreaker games into your group. Think through creative ways to have fun. Ask the Lord for creativity.
Forging strong relationships. Your group grows, when people know you care and you have taken the time to truly see and hear them. Get to know what matters to your ladies. Get to know their hopes, dreams, children and job aspirations. Forge the relationships that are meaningful and lasting. Your attendees cannot simply be another number used to grow your ministry. They are people with hurts, needs and feelings. Take the time to get to know them. Check out THIS ARTICLE by our friend, Joy Anisa for more information on how to forge those relationships.
Failing to pass the baton. It is important to continue to seek out leaders that you can invest in within your ministry. (And yes, that can absolutely be single mom attendees!). One of the biggest challenges we see within single moms’ groups at churches is there is no exit strategy. Consequently, when a leader remarries or simply wants to move on, there is no one to carry the baton. Always be looking for your replacement, even if it is years from now! For more on passing the baton, visit HERE.
Making it all about you. This ministry is not your ministry. Avoid ever using the term “my” single moms’ group. This is God’s ministry. You are here to answer the call of God on your life by doing what He has asked you to do. Nothing more. Nothing less. This avoidance of making it “your ministry” will also prevent hurt feelings, when someone criticizes or falls away from the ministry for various reasons. Now, don’t get us wrong. Do it well. Do it with excellence. Take ownership and responsibility for it. But ultimately, surrender it to God. The personal attacks will become far less personal when you realize it is already all about God.
Attempting to fix people. We were never designed to fix anyone. We will fail miserably, when we attempt to. The Holy Spirit’s job is to fix through prompting. Our job is to point people in the direction to the One who can fix them. Know the difference. There will be great freedom from unnecessary burdens, when you lovingly give people over to the Lord to fix.
Failing to accept criticism. This one can sometimes be exceptionally hard. Man, when you have poured your heart, soul, mind, strength, money, and time into a ministry and someone criticizes it, it’s like making fun of your baby! Moms, don’t like that! It is important to understand that the wounds others carry can sometimes make you an easy target of unfair and undue criticism, so, take it with a grain of salt. Understand that sometimes the focus of criticism is the deflection of responsibility from their own lives. That’s okay, because we were once there too! However, there is a time, when it’s important to listen to constructive criticism. Maybe your pastor has some feedback or a volunteer or attendee has noticed something that could make your ministry stronger. Pray and begin to ask God to show you where you can grow. For more on handling criticism, visit HERE.
Focusing on the numbers. Yes, we know there are millions of single moms out there and many in our communities. Yes, it is important to track successes and gauge our growth. However, it is not the most important thing, so don’t put too much weight on this area. God smiles just as big for your three single moms who have grown leaps and bounds in your ministry, as He does for the hundreds going to another ministry across town.
Early exits. If God has called you to it, He must release you from it. You cannot quit because it’s hard, or no one sees you, or giving you any credit or any support. You must be released by God to pass the baton onward. This is important. In a day and time, when instant gratification is promoted and culture lacks patience, it can be hard for us to stay the course, when we feel overwhelmed, unsupported, or unseen. Remember God sees, He rewards and is well-pleased. Be encouraged to stay the course.
Failing to submit. Submission is not a dirty word, contrary to what the world would have you believe. Submission is God’s design for our lives. We submit to Him, our leadership, and those He has put in place to shepherd us. Submit to the authority of your church. We have witnessed many times in single moms’ groups. The Leader goes rogue, as we like to say. They begin doing their own thing, without informing the church leaders. They feel unsupported, so they begin to make decisions without submitting them before the church. Ultimately, this is a huge mistake. Not only is it likely that the group will eventually be forced to close or dissipate, but they lose what support that was there. In other words, maybe you do feel unseen and lack the support you feel you need to make it successful, any support is better than no support. Use of the church building, the church’s name, the church’s volunteers, childcare workers, or any other component of the church (whether in part or whole) is a value to you. The longer you stay the course and honor them, the more God will honor your faithfulness. Also, as a word of caution, do not let bitterness take root. Have an open dialogue with your pastoral team. And…that leads directly into the next point.
Failing to address conflict. Do not simply ignore conflict. If there is conflict among two single mom attendees in your group, teach them to address it. If you are struggling with feeling unsupported, causing conflict between you and a church leader, ask for a meeting. If you know there is gossip spreading in your group or back-biting, bring it to the light. This is CRITICAL. Satan would love nothing more than to get a toe in the door – forget a foothold! Address it in love with hopes of reconciliation and a commitment to hearing from the Holy Spirit. For more on addressing conflict, visit HERE.
Jennifer Maggio is a national voice for single mothers and hurting women. Her personal story has been featured in hundreds of media venues including The New York Times, Daystar Television, The 700 Club, and many others. She is CEO/Founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a national nonprofit that works with churches to develop single mom’s programs and currently serves more than 1,500 churches.
The Life of a Single Mom has served 406,000 single mothers over the last decade and counting. Maggio is an author of several books, including The Church and the Single Mom. For more information, visit www.jennifermaggio.com.
Photo credit: © Aaron Burden/Unsplash
Jennifer Maggio is a mom to three, wife to Jeff, and founder of the national nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is author to four books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in America by Dr. John Maxwell in 2017 and 2015 and has appeared in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson, Joni and Friends, and many others.