Women Thinking about the Church

From Barna:

August 21, 2012 – On the whole, it would seem Christian women in the U.S. are doing just fine. When asked to evaluate their faith and the condition of their interior lives, most projected a confident, composed opinion of themselves. In this, the third of a four-part series, Barna Group explores the state of Christian women, including what they like about their lives and where they struggle.

A Fulfilled Faith
As noted in Part 2 of Barna’s State of Women series, women give their personal spirituality high marks. The vast majority say they are either extremely close (38%) or pretty close (43%) to God and say they evaluate their relationship with God on a daily basis (52%).

Such confidence continues when women were asked to describe the characteristics of their faith. Women, almost without exception, assign positive attributes to their spiritual life. Nearly three quarters (73%) of women say their faith is characterized by joy. The same can be said for spiritual freedom. Three out of four women say they experience a lot (72%) of spiritual freedom in their faith. The numbers dip slightly when it comes to feeling fulfillment in their faith—67% of women say they feel a lot of fulfillment in terms of their spiritual life.

When it comes to negative characteristics, Christian women are much less likely to admit to any of them. In fact, the numbers are almost exactly reversed as those for the positive attributes. Only 3% of women claim to feel “a lot” of fear, doubt or confusion in their faith. Only about one quarter of women claim to feel “some” of these negative emotions in connection with their faith.

A Different Kind of Sin
Churches have long taught the seven deadly sins or modern interpretations of them: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. For women, these traditional sins do not seem to be a problem; they claim instead much more “modern” struggles. In fact, when asked what they struggle with, women most often point to disorganization (50%) and inefficiency (42%).

As for the traditional sins, women are least likely to admit to lust (8%). And, against common stereotypes, women also say they rarely battle jealousy or envy—less than one in eight women (13%) admit to feeling envious often or sometimes. When it comes to other negative behaviors and attitudes, about one third (36%) admit to feeling anger, one quarter say they struggle with selfishness (25%), one in five say they are prone to excessive arguing (19%) and just over one-sixth (16%) say they can be arrogant.

Women’s Biggest Hurts
For most people, it is fairly easy to come up with the single biggest disappointment they have faced in life. And, at least when it comes to women, movies may have it right. Most Christian women point to relationships as being the cause of their most significant heartache.

The permanent loss of a relationship—the death of a loved one—was highest on women’s list of disappointments. Nearly one third (29%) say losing someone they loved was the hardest thing they have faced. For one in five women, their family or children have caused the most hurt in their life (20%). An additional one in 11 women (9%) point to a divorce or a bad marriage as the biggest disappointment in their life.

The numbers fall significantly after that. About one in twenty women say their major disappointments have come from health. Then came other relational, financial and moral disappointments. Career and faith came in last on the list, with only one in fifty women pointing to either as the cause of their biggest life disappointment.

[For David Kinnaman’s sketch of what all this means, go to the link above.]


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  • Dawn2392

    As a woman, with many female friends, I have a hard time believing that these women are answering these questions honestly. I feel like these responses reflect how women feel they should answer them. It actually reveals the struggle women feel to be exactly what the “Church” has typically told them they need to be. Sad, really, that women spend their whole lives trying to live up to expectations.

  • Jennifer

    This is why I would generally rather eat my own eyeballs than be boxed into the traditional stereotype of Christian women….their biggest struggle in their Christian life is being disorganized and inefficient. I wonder how they would deal with my struggles of sometimes being jealous, and bitchy, and mean? Maybe they’d just tell me to get more organized?

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I wonder if men gave similar responses, would we see that as honest reflections or the illusions we live under? How about only 25 percent of men struggle with selfishness? 20 percent to excessive arguing? And only 16 percent said they could or might be arrogant?

    If a large number of these women are married, it would be interesting to see what the men thought about their wives in these areas? And if the survey was done with men, I would like to see the wives answers as well!

  • Dawne Piotrowski

    “For women, these traditional sins [lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride] do not seem to be a problem; they claim instead much more “modern” struggles. In fact, when asked what they struggle with, women most often point to disorganization (50%) and inefficiency (42%).”

    Wow; just wow. This certainly does not represent me and most of the women I know. This makes me very sad but isn’t very surprising given the state of the American evangelical church today.

  • Vicki

    My initial response to this study is that women spoke more from an idealism than reality. Only 13% struggle with envy or jealousy? The biggest sin is disorganization? This study may be revealing something but not necessarily what the initial statistics reveal.

  • PastorM

    I wonder who these “Christian women” are? Does the survey represent a broad spectrum (Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Independent, Mainline, etc.), or just a slice of the church in America, and, if so, which slice? The survey report does not really make this clear.

  • Val

    Disorganization is a sin? What kind of disorganization: housekeeping disorganization, work/life balance disorganization, or not organizing finances for the future (financial planning disorganization)- the last two may be sins, I am thinking of certain proverbs verses here, but the first???

    Also 73% of women’s faith is characterized by joy yet 36% admit to giving into the negative behaviour of anger???? 73 + 36 = 109% total – at least 9% have completely contradicting answers to the two survey questions.

    Also 72% experience freedom in their faith, yet 42% struggle with the “sin” of efficiency? Freedom from work/duty much? 72 + 42= 114% so 14% suffer from the sin of inefficiency and feel spiritually free from things like, oh, worldly worries.

    I wonder if these surveys are really getting well thought out answers or are people not realizing what sin is or what spiritual freedom is? Either that or I have been getting it wrong all these years. Jesus preached to the Marys yet the church is full of Marthas.

  • Amanda

    Recently, I read this great book by Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile entitled, “I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids.” To my knowledge, neither author is a professing Christian and both held high-level careers before starting a family (and after as well.)

    In one of the early chapters, the authors talk about how they interviewed hundreds and hundres of women in preparation. The most interesting commonality between all of these women? During the first 10 minutes of each interview, the moms would talk about how much they loved being a mom and a wife and the glories and beauties and wonders of rearing children, etc. At about minute ten, the women interviewed (of various race, religion, creed, etc.) would finally begin to fess up and admit to how hard it is to be a mom. How draining, painful, difficult, sometimes unrewarding, etc. it is in the every day life of motherhood changing diapers, discipline, potty training, temper tantrums, etc.

    There is something in women in general (I think) and not specific to women of faith … (at least it seems common in my experience) that women strongly desire to give the appearance of having it all together and wanting everyone to know that their life is just great.

    I’m fortunate to be a part of a church community that does a really good job of encouraging us to speak honestly about our lives and even go so far as to ‘widen the circle’ and invite others into our junk.

    It’s a beautiful mess.

  • Diane S.

    Maybe part of the reason why these women who were surveyed have relational isssues is because they have an over-inflated opinion of themselves and can’t see their own faults?