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What Healthy Churches are Doing to Support Female Leaders During the Pandemic

Today’s post is written by Kadi Cole. Kadi is a top voice leading the church to better develop and support female leaders. She’s also the bestselling author of Developing Female Leaders and is the founder and CEO of Kadi Cole and Company

By Kadi Cole

I have been so impressed with how pastors and churches are embracing tough conversations about female leaders and how we can do a better job, regardless of our theology, to maximize their gifts for the Kingdom.

But during the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when it would be easy to make this a back-burner issue, I am proud to share there is a growing collection of strong and healthy churches using this opportunity to move their leadership culture forward for women.

Here’s what they are doing:

1. Tangibly Rewarding Female Essential Workers

Up until now, women have made up less than 15% of leadership roles in the average church. The disruption of the pandemic, however, and the focus on “essential workers” has created a shift. Early research is showing that women tend to make up the majority of our essential workforce, and we are seeing this in the church as well.

I work with several large, conservative multi-site churches that normally employ over a dozen campus pastors and worship leaders to create engaging weekend experiences at their individual campuses, but now they’ve had to turn their efforts to a single, online weekend service.

Guess who’s leading the charge?

The Communications and Programming Arts Directors who often are women.

And these churches have stepped up to acknowledge it by offering significant raises, title promotions to fit these new levels of responsibilities, increased budgets and resources, and inviting these female leaders into higher-level meetings so they can be a part of strategic discussions and implement their vision more seamlessly.

In addition, when re-assigning pastors from the campuses to these women’s teams, they’ve been clear in the new roles of authority and responsibility (nothing is more de-motivating to a female leader than to have a male pastor assigned to “help” her department only to watch him take it over and create all sorts of havoc in an area in which he has less experience).

Churches like this are not only doing the right thing by acknowledging and rewarding their essential female leaders, but they are also watching female leaders grow in confidence and passion for ministry (and their church), and that’s a win for everyone!

Ask yourself:

Do we have any female leaders that are “essential” to our mission whom we haven’t properly acknowledged through promotion, raises/bonuses, resources, or extra vacation time?

2. Embracing Flexible Work Schedules as the New Normal

The pandemic shifted us quickly into remote work, but most experts agree these changes will last long after shelter-in-place orders have ended. This is good news for churches for several reasons.

Flexible work schedules create higher productivity, lower costs, improve retention, and increase morale (what leader doesn’t want these?) But they also nurture leadership cultures that are more independent, flexible, and results-oriented – and female leaders tend to thrive in these types of cultures, especially as they add responsibilities to their plate such as children, aging parents, or pursuing advanced degrees to further their career.

In addition, healthy churches are finding that flexible work schedules open up leadership pipelines to include many more volunteer leaders.

As churches grow it’s easy to fall into a staff-centric mentality where all leadership meetings and decisions are made between 9a-5p by the “professionals” on staff and in the office.

By embracing a more flexible work mindset, your team can begin accessing leaders at all levels of your pipeline, including volunteers.

This is a great opportunity to begin inviting leaders from your congregation – both female and other minorities – to begin leading in your church, rather than simply attending or serving. And we all win when every leader in our church begins investing their gifts toward our Kingdom mission.

Ask yourself:

What fruit are we seeing from our teams working from home that we want to keep? How can we embrace flexible work schedules in order to include more of our church’s leaders moving forward?

3. Acknowledging and Practically Helping Moms

Not every female leader is a mom, but those who are, are feeling the weight of the pandemic more than most – especially the moms on your staff and those in your congregation who have kids under the age of twelve.

Although we clearly see men stepping up to help with children and housework more than ever, women are still carrying the majority of the responsibilities, with an average investment of 71 hours per week (keep in mind, that’s 71 hours in addition to her actual professional work).

Early research is showing the pandemic is hitting the average woman harder than the average man with 31% of women reporting they have “more to do than they can possibly handle”, while only 13% men feel the same. And, although half of men believe they do most of the homeschooling, only 3% of women agree.

Healthy churches are talking about this reality – in their staff meetings and in their weekend sermons.

A few years ago, Barna reported that nearly half of women (43%) said they do not feel any emotional support at all from church.

This is a serious problem and, I believe, one of the reasons we are seeing such a decline in church engagement overall. (How many families go to church if the mom doesn’t find it valuable?)

If women are being pulled in more directions and under more stress than ever, shouldn’t her church be the first place to acknowledge and bring comfort and encouragement? Keep in mind, women are also 30% more likely to volunteer.

So we are not only talking about your female staff leaders, but likely the majority of your volunteer base (by the way, these same women are likely the ones deciding where to send their family’s tithes and offerings, so this has huge financial implications as well!)

Meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of moms right now is not only good ministry to women and the “next generation”, it’s also a critical strategy to keeping your church leadership base strong, engaged, and wanting to come back when you re-open.

Ask yourself (and the working moms in your church):

Are we adequately acknowledging the increased stress for the women on our team and in our congregation? What can we do to practically relieve their burden?

4. Not Letting Female Leaders Quit Too Easily

In my book, Developing Female Leaders, I write about the “Sticky Floor” – those internal dialogues and limitations women place on themselves that keep them from flourishing in leadership opportunities. And let me tell you, nothing flares up the sticky floor like a crisis.

Scarcity thinking sets in, choices are limited to “either/or” options, and women easily double-down on what they know they can do well. Please don’t let her perspective on what she thinks is possible limit what actually is possible.

I’m not saying to dismiss a female leader’s decision if she wants to quit her job or take a demotion, but I do want to encourage you to have a direct, leadership conversation with her first.

Challenge her assumptions. Find out what the real issue is. Offer her resources. At the very least, see if she’ll take a leave of absence or go part-time instead of completely ending her role.

You could keep her title and pay her the same hourly rate, but allow her the flexibility to make her life work while still leading in ministry.

Most guys don’t quit when life gets bigger or they are offered a promotion, but women do it to themselves all the time. Help her see the possibilities you see.

You can also proactively help your female leaders stay in the game.

When Covid hit, most churches cut staff development money. I get it – it’s an easy “want” versus a “need.” And I agree.

However, I’ve had over twenty churches reach out to me in the last 3 months to either keep their female leaders engaged in development programs (which aren’t cheap!) or begin coaching to make sure their top performers stayed that way through the pandemic.

This not only was a shot in the arm to their female leaders who felt valued and supported, but we were able to solve some of her biggest challenges in real-time and move her and her ministry forward at a time when many are shrinking back.

Ask yourself:
Have I let any female leaders take themselves out of the game too easily? Is there any way I can invest in our female leaders to grow their leadership to meet the demands of the pandemic rather than shrink back?

The juggle is real

All of us are feeling the impact of the pandemic on our life and leadership – but for women, this season could make or break their leadership and impact in the Kingdom for decades to come.

As leaders, we have the opportunity to challenge and support women to not only rise to this challenge, but to fully fulfill all the callings God has placed on her life.

If you have a story or example of how your church is moving the ball forward for female leaders, please let me know at www.kadicole.com or @kadicole on social media.

Learn more about my book, Developing Female Leaders, including The Eight Best Practices you and your church can implement to better steward the leadership gifts of the women in your life and congregation, or download our free Theological Cheat Sheet to help you move this conversation forward with your team at www.kadicole.com.

So what do you need to change? 

Have you found any of these questions convicting?

Leave a comment below!

What Healthy Churches are Doing to Support Female Leaders During the Pandemic

5 Comments

  1. Desiree Green on September 13, 2020 at 10:34 am

    It’s interesting that we need to remind leaders that women bring the family to church and women often direct the tithes and offerings. I would assume we actually have intrinsic value to the church beyond these two facts as well. Just a guess.
    I see the men held to incredibly low standards at my church, while excellent women who are consistently unselfish, and in it to support the church and Pastor be treated like we are…yeah, it sucks. If I say anything people act like I have an agenda. Eye roll. I checked out. I lead worship in a super positive light with my love for Jesus’ Bride, but I feel like I will not be utilized in any other capacity regardless of how competent I am.

  2. Nancy Zuellig on September 7, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    Great topic, but the tone again feels to me like one of man “taking care of” women, instead of valuing their attributes and contributions. There are many women who have started and volunteered to lead ministries for years who haven’t received a dime for their efforts, nor are their efforts shown much appreciation. Too much is taken for granted. Most of these leaders, whether paid staff or volunteers, recognize it is a gift they give to God and will never complain, but the church needs to do more. Even letters of appreciation help. I am thinking of one amazing woman in our church who has organized a worship dance team of over 100 students, puts on a performance each year for the public that is Broadway quality; finds additional volunteers to help work the program and is not on staff. I think we can do more to recognize these women and this article just got me motivated to do more about it. So thanks!!

  3. Flo Taber-Brown on September 7, 2020 at 10:20 am

    In older congregations, they expect men to be in charge. Our congregation is in trouble and the Vestry leaders are both female. I am the Deacon who is working hard to help our church survive. I hear conversations frequently who say, “We need a leader, a man who can lead our church. ” They cannot imagine a female leading!

  4. Cyndy Warnier on September 7, 2020 at 9:13 am

    Great ccx article however little is said about wonen clergy😪

    • Amy Joy Ickes on September 9, 2020 at 12:40 pm

      Cindy, I hear you! Women in the clergy exist but you’d never know it from articles and conferences. If you need support, help, or just to vent, look me up. My entire coaching and consulting business is for women in ministry, especially pastors. I’d love to connect and pray specifically for you if you want. aymiejoi.org

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