What Christian Women Think

The issue of women’s experiences of churches matters to me, and I would urge folks to consider reading Sara Barton’s fine memoir, A Woman Called: Piecing Together the Ministry Puzzle.

From Barna, part two:

If spirituality were Olympic gymnastics, most Christian women would give their personal faith top scores. Three quarters of Christian women say they are mature in their faith (73%). The good feelings continue when it comes to ongoing spiritual growth, as more than one third (36%) of churchgoing women say they are “completely” satisfied with their personal spiritual development, and an additional 42% say they are “mostly” satisfied. Only one quarter (23%) of these women admit they are less than fully satisfied with their spiritual growth.

When it comes to their personal relationship with God, only 1% confess they are “usually not too close” or feel “extremely distant from God.” The vast majority of women claim to have an “extremely close” (38%) or a “pretty close” (43%) relationship with God. An additional 17% feel more ambivalent, saying they are “sometimes close and other times not close.” Perhaps this perception of intimacy with God is driven by the fact that slightly more than half (52%) of the women surveyed say they take time every day to intentionally evaluate the quality of their relationship with God.

If spirituality were Olympic gymnastics, most Christian women would give their personal faith top scores. Three quarters of Christian women say they are mature in their faith (73%). The good feelings continue when it comes to ongoing spiritual growth, as more than one third (36%) of churchgoing women say they are “completely” satisfied with their personal spiritual development, and an additional 42% say they are “mostly” satisfied. Only one quarter (23%) of these women admit they are less than fully satisfied with their spiritual growth.

When it comes to their personal relationship with God, only 1% confess they are “usually not too close” or feel “extremely distant from God.” The vast majority of women claim to have an “extremely close” (38%) or a “pretty close” (43%) relationship with God. An additional 17% feel more ambivalent, saying they are “sometimes close and other times not close.” Perhaps this perception of intimacy with God is driven by the fact that slightly more than half (52%) of the women surveyed say they take time every day to intentionally evaluate the quality of their relationship with God.

What it Means
The president of Barna Group, David Kinnaman, offers this commentary on the research. “Some may interpret this research as a false choice: can women be asked to choose between their role as a parent and that of their faith? They see motherhood as core to what it means to disciple and be discipled. Others may conclude that this study shows that too many women have created an ‘idol’ of their family, perhaps at the expense of their devotion to Christ.

“Between these extremes, perhaps these stats should help both moms and dads to consider the favorable–and potentially unfavorable–ways that parenting has affected their faith journey. And church leaders, too, must wrestle with key questions: Has raising children and doing it well become central to the definition of being a good Christian? What happens to a mom who struggles in her role as a parent or to a woman who wants to but cannot become (or never becomes) a parent? Are these women somehow perceived as less Christian by fellow believers? Could a grace-based theology of faith in Christ be undermined if many Christians embrace a parallel works-based theology when it comes to their parenting? For church leaders and influencers the research underscores the complexity and importance of the God-given role of motherhood for millions of women.”

When asked to explain why so few women say they are influenced by media, Kinnaman adds: “In many ways, women’s self-perception revealed in this study seems to be aspirational. Women want to be influenced by the Bible, but they reject the idea of being heavily affected by the media. So these aspirations may be reflected in the numbers. Still, the way women describe themselves reveals something: they seem to know how they want to be perceived by others. Other findings in the survey reflect this pattern: women seem to be laying claim to a life they want, even if it’s not always current reality.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Warren Smith

    This survey seems thoroughly bogus to me, or if it is true, it is true only by wildest coincidence. Press release said: “The study on which this report is based included telephone surveys with 603 women who are ages 18 or older who describe themselves as Christians and have attended a Christian church service within the past six months (excluding holiday services or special events).” This sample could include a feminist Episcopal priest, the wife of a PCA elder, a PCUSA elder, a college student who reads Scot McKnight…the list goes on. Seems to me that any conclusions based on this sample set must necessarily reflect the values of the surveyor much more than the values of the surveyed.

  • Anna

    Hmmmmm. Why would a sample including feminist Episcopal priests, the wives of PCA elders, PCUSA elders, and college students who read Scot McKnight, all of whom also describe themselves as Christian, AND all of whom also say they have attended a Christian church service within the past six months (excluding holidays/special events) not be a legitimate sample of Christian women?

  • cathy

    Anna, because it misses the masses of women who are being told that they cannot possible have a call of God on their lives for the simple reason that they are women; those who are gifted and willing and ready to serve, but are restricted because of gender. The ones specifically mentioned: wives of PCA elders, PCUSA elders, have no restrictions due to the fact that those churches don’t view gender as the basis for gifting, and college students who read Scott McKnight most likely are part of churches with that same policy. Those who have attended a church service in the past six months are probably not aware of these restrictions.

  • bsr

    The PCA does view gender as a basis for gifting and calling. Woman can not serve as elders—teaching or ruling, and can not be deacons either.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    My wife would fall into the close relationship group but that is easy for her. She also knows that her car, her horse, her computer and her cigarette lighter love her. ;) I only slightly jest.

  • Deane

    When I see “mother” in the answers, I certainly don’t conclude that women are asked to choose between their role as a parent and that of their faith. No, as Paul teaches us in the first epistle to Timothy, women “shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” The ability of a woman to be saved from the curse of Eve is provided by motherhood itself! And so women have this additional advantage over men, a fact which surely disproves the oft-heard critical allegation that Paul is anti-woman. The roles of motherhood and Lady Christian are not only consistent: in Paul’s mind motherhood is part and parcel of the divine grace of salvation!

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Deana, I have now come to believe that the saving via child is akin to how everyone in a household may be saved by the man converting. It is assumed that the loyal household would follow the example of the man and child bearing surely makes a woman dependent.

  • Anna

    Cathy, all the post said about the survey was that the sample was of Christian women, defined as describing themselves as “Christian,” and self-reporting that they have attended a non-holiday church service within the past 6 months. The survey may very well have included women from traditions which exclude women from ordained ministry (i.e. Orthodox, Roman Catholic and the many evangelical churches that exclude women).

    However I don’t think the range is a problem if you are surveying women who describe themselves as Christian. Women who describe themselves as Christian and who have attended a church service in the past six months are probably from traditions that are all over the lot on this one.

    And in the post, at any rate, the survey seems to be about women’s sense of closeness to God and what roles they see as important to their sense of discipleship, rather than about the question of women’s ordination.

    If you exclude from the sample women from certain Christian denominations/traditions, then you’re not sampling Christian women, you’re sampling a subset of Christian women and that should be reported. But it seems Barna kept the definition of who counts as a Christian woman, for the purposes of their survey, intentionally very open and general.

    On a personal note, fwiw, I left a tradition that doesn’t ordain women in favor of one that does. And as a mother who is also in seminary, I sure don’t see a conflict between faith and motherhood. But — Barna didn’t ask me. :-)

  • Anna

    Deana, I thought women were saved by the grace of God through Christ Jesus whether or not they are mothers.


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