Five Reasons Why Like-Gender Ministry is Critical to Discipling Girls
by Cindy Bultema
Needing an outfit for “Decade Day” at her middle school, my daughter Manda and I headed to a local thrift store.
“Do you have any poodle skirts?” Manda asked a young male sales clerk.
“Poodle skirts?” he snarked. “Like skirts for dogs?”
His words revealed a disconnect from the era of 50’s skirts, bobby socks, and saddle shoes; his attitude and body language communicated an even bigger disconnect from his understanding of girls. Which doesn’t make him unique; it makes him real.
Though disconnect is bound to happen in our culture, it shouldn’t happen in our children’s ministry—especially during the most transformative years of a girl’s life.
It’s not easy being a girl today. We can list the pressures and stressors our girls face from A to Z. A—Anxiety, B—Bullying, C—Cutting, D—Depression, E—Eating Disorders, all the way to Z—Zits.
With the unprecedented pressures, girls are facing today from within and without, they have never needed mentors more. But they don’t need just any mentor, they need women mentors. Women who may not understand all the ins and outs of TikTok and other trends, but they uniquely understand what it is to be a girl.
Like-gender ministry is critical to their discipleship. Using the acrostic GIRLS, here are the top five reasons we believe like-gender ministry is crucial during the most transformative years of a girl’s life.
G—God’s Idea. Like-gender ministry isn’t the latest ministry innovation or a new program model. It’s God’s idea and design for discipleship. Older women are to teach the younger women how to grow in Christ, being good, pure, and kind (Titus 2:3-5). Through these like-gender relationships, God’s love transforms girls. It changes them, and it changes their world.
I—Influence. Nearly 75% of Gen Z in the U.S. follow and trust social media influencers. Stop and think about the influencers in today’s culture and the messages they are sending. Clearly the influence of godly women mentors has never mattered more. Because girls’ faith is more often “caught” than “taught” when they watch their mentors, they discover what it looks like to love God and one another and how to stand strong, secure, and confident in their Truth-filled identity.
R—Relate. When a girl says, “You don’t understand,” she’s right! No one will fully understand what it’s like to be in her sneakers. But it’s a woman mentor who will most be able to relate, sympathize, and empathize. While styles, fads, music, and hair may change over the years, there are some stressors and pressures unique to girls and women that do not. Women mentors will best be able to listen, guide, and counsel when girls struggle with comparisons and cramps, high expectations and hormones, periods, peer pressure, and not having a seat at the popular table.
L—Learn. As Leonard Sax, MD, Ph.D., author of Why Gender Matters and Girls on the Edge, has said, “There are no differences in what girls and boys can learn. But there are big differences in the way we teach them.” Girls mature more quickly, can listen and sit still longer, and learn best in small groups where they can verbally process all they are absorbing. Not only do girls have different learning styles, but they also have different topics that matter most to them. It’s why the “S” in GIRLS may be the most important.
S—Space to share. Give girls a boy-free zone, and you may see them take a deep breath and relax. Distractions are eliminated, and the pressure is off to impress, pretend, or perform. Within like-gender ministry, girls have a safe space to be themselves, talk about the things that matter most to them, and know that as they share, they have women mentors who are leaning in to really listen. As Brad Griffin, senior director of content for the Fuller Youth Institute, shared, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for most people, they’re almost the same thing.”
There is a place for young men and women to dig into God’s Word and have fun together. We’re not suggesting they stay separated forever, even as we urge pastors and leaders to consider the benefits of like-gender ministry.
Are you ready to implement like-gender children’s ministry in your church? Start with A, B, C.
A: Always start with prayer. There’s no better place to begin and end all things, including this critical ministry model for discipling girls.
B: Build a team. Share what you know about the benefits of like-gender ministry with other like-minded leaders and work together to implement this model into your children’s ministry.
C: Choose or change. Choose a boys and girls program to mentor your kids, or make shifts in your current ministry for mentors to only be assigned to like-gendered small groups.
Within my church, we have separate clubs for girls and boys from 2nd through 8th grade. During my final small group time with our graduated 8th-grade girls, we gathered at their favorite coffee shop to connect, encourage, and pray. As the girls talked about their summer and what they were most anticipating and dreading about high school, Carrie blurted, “I’m going to miss this! We’re going to lose our safe place to talk.” Though this is an opinionated group, every girl wholeheartedly agreed.
They’ve probably never included “like-gender ministry” as part of their vocabulary, but they instinctively knew they had experienced something special together. They saw the girl fun, I saw the Kingdom fruit of young girls becoming strong women of faith.
Cindy Bultema is the Executive Director of GEMS Girls’ Clubs and has served in ministry for over 20 years. She is passionate about reaching girls and women with the life-changing message of Jesus. Cindy lives in West Michigan with her husband and their four children. When she’s not running her full household, you can find Cindy walking her two dogs, meeting a friend for coffee, attending her son’s hockey games, or trying to figure out what’s for dinner. Connect with Cindy at www.gemsgc.org.