Below you’ll find the transcript for episode 39, Dividing Women into Groups, from the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast.
EP: 39 Dividing Women into Groups
Please note: This post contains affiliate links.
Intro: Welcome to the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast. I’m Cyndee Ownbey, your host and women’s ministry mentor. I’m the founder of Women’s Ministry Toolbox and the author of Rethinking Women’s Ministry. The Women’s Ministry Toolbox Podcast is a podcast for women’s ministry leaders and team members of all stages (from new to seasoned) serving in their local church community. If you’re looking for hope and inspiration, you’ve come to the right place! In addition to discussing the nuts and bolts of women’s ministry, I’ll be asking seasoned women’s ministry leaders to share their best tips and the lessons they’ve learned. Together we’ll learn to build a flourishing, Christ-focused women’s ministry.
Today we’re tackling a hot-button topic – dividing women into groups for Bible study, retreats, and women’s ministry events.
I’ll take you step-by-step through the process I’ve used as well as share some ideas for working through any resistance.
If your team is strongly against dividing women into groups, I want to ask you to please read the entire post, you may discover another perspective worth considering.
As a women’s ministry leader, you’ll have many opportunities to divide your women into groups.
Whether it’s for Bible study or a women’s ministry event, relationships blossom when women are seated in circles and not rows.
If left to select their own seats, women are most likely to sit with people they already know. Their table may be filled with other women in the same season of life, around the same age, or even from the same small group. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to sit with people we don’t know well or don’t know at all. But what if we’re missing out by always sitting with the same people?
I get it. I really do. Dividing women into groups can be difficult. Some women don’t like being told which group to go into. Others get upset when their best friend isn’t in the same group.
If you know you’re going to meet resistance, enlist some prayer coverage and proceed with confidence. If you apologize or waffle, this is not going to go well.
Here’s how we made the change from letting women choose their own groups to dividing women into groups.
During our very first day of Bible study, we explained to our women how the groups were going to be formed.
We emphasized these three things:
1. That God is sovereign and that He is a God of detail. There are examples through the Bible where God divided people into groups (including God’s placement in the Promised Land of the tribes of Israel and dividing up the duties of the Levite priests).
2. That this was a prayerful process. Our leaders would pray and then ask God to place each woman in the group He had planned.
3. That often God places us in a group so that we can love on and encourage other group members; it’s not always about us.
Here are the steps we took to divide our women into groups:
1. We had every woman complete and return a Bible Study information card on the first day. On that card, women recorded their name, contact information, decade (instead of age), and they also had the opportunity to volunteer to help with Bible study tasks such as coffee set up.
2. Our Bible Study Coordinator and our Discussion Group Facilitators stayed for about 20 extra minutes to form the groups.
3. We prayed over the cards.
4. We stacked the cards by decade—20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and so on. We hoped to have at least one woman from each age group in each discussion group. (You want your groups to include a variety of generations.)
5. We clipped together the cards of guests (from outside the church) with the woman who invited them. It’s hard enough to attend Bible study with a new group of people in an unfamiliar building, much less to be separated from the one person you know.
How do you know if they are coming with a friend? On your Bible study registration form have a spot where you ask where they attend church and how did you find out about the Bible study.
5. We flipped the cards over, so the names were facing the bottom, and the Discussion Group Facilitators took turns pulling from each stack. We distributed the cards from each age group before moving on to the next.
6. After all of the cards were distributed, we flipped the cards right-side-up and examined our groups for any MAJOR known conflicts. We tried very hard not to disturb the groups God had created but heeded the Holy Spirit. We would not have left an ex-wife with a current wife in the same group. We did NOT move friends around. Resist the urge to assume who will and won’t attend regularly. They just might surprise you!
7. Discussion Group Facilitators contacted their group members within a couple of days to let them know which group they were in and where they would meet the next week.
8. A master list was created by our Bible Study Coordinator with every group’s info.
9. Any new women that joined at a later time were randomly and equally divided into the groups. We tried to keep our group numbers even.
If your women are generally resistant to assigned groups, please take the time to walk them through your process. Explain the benefits and share your personal experiences of how God placed you in the perfect group during a specific season.
I never cease to be amazed at how God puts us in just the right group at just the right time!
After our move to Bowling Green, Kentucky, I joined Bible Study Fellowship in hopes of making some new friends as we studied God’s Word together. Bible Study Fellowship prayerfully assigns women to small groups for discussion. My group that year had two other dear women in it that were also new to the area. The three of us became the best of friends and had a grand time exploring. To this day I thank God for blessing me with those friendships
A few years after my dad’s death from a brain tumor, I was put in a Bible study group with two women whose lives had been impacted by brain tumors. I was able to pray more specifically for their situations and ask appropriate questions. Only God could have arranged that.
Your women will soon have stories like this to share too – highlighting them can help them see how God is using groups for good.
Ad: I’ll never forget the Bible study session that left me feeling like we’d spent more time in our Bible study book than in God’s Word. I knew there had to be a better way to do Bible study. Many months of research and study led me to create the READ Bible study method. As you and your women learn how to read, record, explore, apply, and do, your confidence to study God’s Word with the Holy Spirit as your guide will grow. You’ll discover how scripture supports scripture by examining similar and connecting Bible passages. You’ll learn how to dig deep to uncover historical and cultural context that will shed new light and understanding on the verses you’ve read. More than just a worksheet, READ will lead you step-by-step through your study of any book of the Bible in less than 20 minutes a day. The READ Bible study method is available in three formats, a kit for groups, a printable workbook, and a paperback book. Join with the thousands of others who’ve transformed their quiet time by learning how to READ – record, explore, apply, and do. You’ll find more information at www.readbiblestudy.com.
Let’s talk about dividing women into groups at retreats and conferences.
I’m partial to set groups because they allow women to go deeper with one another and build deeper relationships.
I attended a retreat where we were encouraged to sit with new different people at each session. While it was great to get to know some new faces, we were barely getting to know one another before having to switch. Women in your group who have powerful stories will often dominate each group as they tell their story to a new audience.
I know many women view women’s ministry retreats as their weekend away with girlfriends and want to sit with their friends during every session. We may need to remind our women that they will have plenty of girlfriend time between the car ride to and from the retreat center, eating meals together, rooming together, afternoon free time, and late-night activities.
How to Divide Women at Events
While you can use the same process to seat women at tables for events, there are some other creative ways we can break up those infamous cliques.
- Some teams find it easier to allow women time to sit with their friends during the first half of the event and then mix up women for the discussion portion of the event. You could ask the 3 people facing the stage at each table to move to the table to their right.
- You can randomly place numbers, colors, or stickers on name tags and send women off to find the table that matches that number, color, or sticker.
In one church we attended, sitting with new people at events was expected. It was talked about from the pulpit and used across the ministries within the church. While not every event or activity had assigned tables, many did. Sometimes the team would seat women by area of town or season of life. They never told us how they divided us, but we’d often quickly figure out what we all had in common.
To ease your women into sitting in groups, let them select from 2-3 assigned tables. At one fall event, the team placed fall-themed graphics on our name tags – leaves, squirrels, acorns, etc. When we entered the fellowship hall we could easily see that there were 3 tables with an acorn graphic in the table number holder. That allowed us to have some choice in where and who we were sitting with for the evening.
What do you do with women who push back?
First, try to identify what the issue is and address it.
Do they want to visit with their friends? If it’s a Bible study group situation, remind women of all the time they have to visit with their friends during Bible study. Can they arrive early? Can they sit together during the opening or teaching time? Encourage them to schedule breakfast before, or lunch or coffee afterward.
Do not let one or two women change your plans. Once they see you aren’t willing to give in, they may quietly go along with the plan.
If there are tears or refusal to attend, there’s a bigger issue. Try to meet with them one-on-one to get to the root of the problem. Is it an issue of immaturity or selfishness? Are they hiding a sin they fear will be discovered? Do they struggle with anxiety in new situations? You may need to seek input from a pastor or counselor to navigate that situation.
If you’re on one of the many women’s ministry teams that’s been praying for a ministry that is truly multi-generational assigning women to groups will help your women experience the blessings of sitting at a table with older and younger women.
If you’re battling cliques and gossip, shake things up by prayerfully assigning women to groups.
Who knows what new friendships or mentoring relationships may come from getting to know other women.
We can expect God to orchestrate new connections.
Today’s Toolbox Tasks:
- Discuss the pros and cons with your team of dividing women into groups.
- If you don’t currently divide women into groups, try it out!
I’m praying God will orchestrate new connections between your women that extend far beyond any one event.
Outro: Thank you for listening to this episode of the Women’s Ministry Toolbox podcast. Leading in women’s ministry can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be! You’ll find support and ideas you can use in the Women’s Ministry Toolbox Community Facebook Group. We’d love for you to join us! Search for us on Facebook or visit womensministrytoolbox.com/groups to access the link. May the grace of God carry you through difficult ministry seasons, may He direct your steps as you seek to make Him known, and may your love for the LORD be apparent to every woman you serve.