Renewing My Commitment

Renewing My Commitment November 13, 2013

From Jon Merritt, a revealing report. This report from Jon has made me renew my commitment to women — beginning at the local church and moving out.

Is the Christian conference industry sexist? I’ve attended or spoken at many Christian conferences over the years and most had either an exclusively male speaker list or were male-dominated. But I haven’t encountered them all or even most of the major ones. So I decided to survey some of the biggest Christian conferences in the evangelical world to uncover what level of female representation they had on stage. Here’s what I found:

Catalyst Conference – East (Atlanta, GA): Total speakers: 13 / Female speakers: 3

Christianity 21 (Denver, CO): Total speakers: 21 / Female speakers: 9

Circles Conference (Grapevine, TX): Total speakers: 12 / Female speakers: 2

Cross Conference (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 0

D6 (Dallas, TX): Total speakers: 22 / Female speakers: 4

D6 (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 32 / Female speakers: 5

Desiring God Conference (Minneapolis, MN): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 0

Exponential Conference (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 27 / Female speakers: 3

Experience Conference (Orlando, FL): Total speakers: 4 / Female speakers: 0

Gateway Conference (Southlake, TX): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 1

Global Leadership Summit (Chicago, IL): Total speakers: 13 / Female speakers: 2

Hillsong Conference (New York City, NY): Total speakers: 6 / Female speakers: 2

Hillsong Conference (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 6 / Female speakers: 2

Kidmin Children’s Ministry Conference (Chicago, IL): Total speakers: 7 / Female speakers: 3

Ligonier National Conference (Orlando, FL): Total speakers: 9 / Female speakers: 0

Love Does (Austin, TX): Total speakers: 11 / Female speakers: 3

Mosaix National Multi-Ethnic Church Conference (Nashville, TN): Total speakers: 50 / Female speakers: 6

National Worship Leaders Conference (Can Juan Capistrano, CA): Total speakers: 9 / Female speakers: 2

National Youth Workers Convention (San Diego, CA): Total speakers: 80 / Female speakers: 20

New Life Leadership Conference (Colorado Springs, Co): Total speakers: 7 / Female speakers: 0

Orange Conference (Atlanta, GA): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 2

Q (Los Angeles, CA): Total speakers: 35 / Female speakers: 13

Resurgence Conference (Seattle, WA): Total speakers: 6 / Female speakers: 0

RightNow (Dallas, TX): Total speakers: 8 / Female speakers: 1

Simply Youth Ministry Conference (Columbus, OH): Total speakers: 71 / Female speakers: 11

Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference (Houston, TX): Total speakers: 10 / Female speakers: 0

Story Conference (Chicago, IL): Total speakers: 18 / Female speakers: 5

Storyline Conference (Nashville, TN): Total speakers: 9 / Female speakers: 3

Together For the Gospel Conference (Louisville, KY): Total speakers: 19 / Female speakers: 0

The Nines (Online): Total speakers: 110 / Female speakers: 4

Thrive Conference (Granite Bay, CA): Total speakers: 6 / Female speakers: 0

Velocity (Cumming, GA): Total speakers: 32 / Female speakers: 3

Wiki Conference (Katy, TX): Total speakers: 47 / Female speakers: 6

Wild Goose Festival (Hot Springs, NC): Total speakers: 74 / Female speakers: 44

Total speakers: 805 / Female speakers: 159

By my count, that’s around 19% female speaker representation at these major Christian conferences–presumably better than it was even a few years ago, but still lower than it should be. While I don’t think we can conclude that the Christian conference industry is downright sexist, we can say that most conferences have some serious work to do if they want their stage to look anything like the 21st century church.

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  • Rick

    I have had The Nines on today and started to see this blow up on its twitter feed.

    The stats are interesting, but the story behind each conference needs to be understood as well. I don’t think we would expect much of a female speaker showing at some of those conferences anyway (ex. Desiring God).

    Catalyst on the other hand, may have more to the story:

    “Jonathan Merritt @AndyStanley You’re one of the good guys.”

  • patriciamc

    There’s an interesting story about The Nines conference on CT’s website today. The comments are particularly interesting in that they include some details that are left out of the article.

  • Barry M

    Way to go, Wild Goose.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Thank you, Scot.

  • KentonS

    It’s worse than it looks. Take away Wild Goose – just one conference – and the number drops to < 16%. Then start looking at the roles the women plan in these. Lots of "worship leading" and "breakout sessions."

    So what specifically are you "renewing your commitment" to? Will you refuse to participate when these things are so lopsided?

  • gapaul

    Nothing will change until it becomes embarrassing to put on a conference, or to be associated with one that has the representation of women in leadership as what we see in (most) of the conferences above. Racism and sexism will not yield to “but we tried,” there will have to be definitive efforts, and a refusal to allow business as usual by the keynoters who are much in demand. Major figures need to say, “we will not speak at conferences in which at least (1/3? 40 percent? Pick a number) of the other speakers are women.” Women won’t be invited until they are known in greater circles, and things have to start somewhere. People need to decide they just won’t tolerate the old boys’ network anymore. And I’d say the same about race.
    We’ll know we’ve arrived when women can be just as mediocre as many men and nobody says, “Well, see? there just aren’t that many women around.”

  • Kati

    Scot, I really appreciate your bringing this issue to the forefront. As a woman who loves to speak and teach, I am often discouraged and disillusioned by the subtle and overt expressions of misogyny (I use this word intentionally b/c it fuels every act/belief of sexism) I encounter in the Body of Christ.

    Jesus LOVES women! When he walked this earth, time and again he encountered us: intentionally, seeking us out, shocking and surprising us—showering us with dignity, respect, and giving us a voice. Jesus invites us, as women, to BE WITH HIM.

    “A house divided cannot stand.” The Church is divided along gender lines. There remains a culture of “good ol boys” that my brothers in Christ must address in their own hearts and in our communities. This culture keeps women on the outside looking in and makes it extremely difficult to fully pursue our callings within the context of the Church…so, many move on to serve and flourish in para church organizations or the secular world. How sad!

    I’ve had to face my own heart along these lines, choosing not to allow the ignorance and fear I encounter to drive me away from relationship with men in the Body. Every day I choose to look beyond the assumptions I want to make about this issue, and ask God to help me see the true hearts of the men around me. There is redemption and freedom available, but each of us has to make a choice to go there. Please, go there, for the sake of the Kingdom!

  • I would love to see more women added to speaking schedules at these conferences. I absolutely agree that churches and conference planners need to be more heavily considering female speakers at their events. But I do also think that the pool of male speakers is generally larger and the ratio of male to female speakers leans heavily toward men. If not simply because for so long the Church discouraged, or simply did not encourage, women to be public figures. It stands to reason that, until that ratio is more balanced, the speaking roster will continue to favor male speakers. I don’t however, think that an event should add any speaker, male or female, just to balance the numbers . . . ultimately that’s just church-politcal-correctness.

  • I think the conversation in the Church has to make the shift from “its about equal rights” to “we really want to hear what women think about this issue.” For one, God gave us almost ten times more white matter than men (connecting parts of the brain), and that affects the way we view things. He obviously gave us different experiences, as well. I’m proud that my Anglican Church, in their “Men and Women in Marriage” C of E report from this year, said this: “the sexual differentiation of men and women is a gift of God, who ‘created humankind in his image… male and female he created them’. It is on male and female that God gives his blessing, which is to be seen not only in procreation but in human culture, too (Genesis 1.27-8).” And this: “For individuals to flourish, men and women must relate well
    in a society, offering emotion and perception differences to each other.” Our culture, the Church, and individuals will flourish the more women’s perspectives are heard.

  • Maybe its the conference system itself that’s broken. It has become a defining expression of the Evangelical church and in that alienates people who can’t afford to hobnob with the elites.

  • Susan_G1

    “God gave us almost ten times more white matter than men (connecting parts of the brain) and that affects the way we view things.”

    Can you please give me a source for this? It is a complete surprise to me as a physician.

  • David Lamb

    InterVarsity’s tri-annual Urbana Missions conference (in Kansas City now), had at least five female speakers (some of these were shorter, “testimonies”), perhaps about 30% overall, and many of the males were from overseas. Usually about 20,000 students. I’m still trying to get Shannon Lamb to be an Urbana speaker.

  • Susan, it’s from an Issue Analysis by the Family Research Council: He appears to quote David Geary, professor of psychological sciences at the Univ of Missouri, and Robert Gur, a neurologist at the Univ of Pennsylvania. Is it wrong?

  • RJS4DQ

    Schwarzwalder is quoting from page 2 of this WebMD article How Male and Female Brains Differ

    I believe the original article is Richard J. Haier, Rex E. Jung, Ronald A. Yeo, Kevin Head, Michael T. Alkire “The neuroanatomy of general intelligence: sex matters” NeuroImage, 25, 320–327 (2005)

    The researchers say:

    GM voxels correlated to FSIQ represented 9.6% of all GM voxels (693,360) in the male brain. GM voxels correlated to FSIQ represented only 1.7% of all GM voxels (612,007) in the female brain. WM voxels correlated to FSIQ represented only 0.1% of all WM voxels (492,814) in the male brain. WM voxels correlated to FSIQ represented 1.3% of all WM voxels (416,630) in the female brain.

    And a bit later:

    With respect to voxel types, men had roughly 6.5 times the number of GM voxels identified as related to intellectual functioning as did women, and women had roughly nine times more WM voxels than did men.

    That is rather unintelligible to anyone but the expert (and I’m not one) – but it isn’t the grey matter (GM) and white matter (WM) that is so different but the structural areas of the brain correlated with IQ in their imaging measurements. The authors conclude that “the current results suggest that different types of brain designs may manifest equivalent intellectual performance.

    Oh – added: A voxel is a volume element or volume pixel.

  • Rob

    To add to the data: Fortune magazine reports that women CEOs make up only 4.5% of the Fortune 1000 companies in 2013.

  • RJS4DQ

    I think the bottom line is that they used MRI imaging to map brains and correlated differences in these maps with IQ scores. These correlations are different for the males and females in their sample.

  • Susan_G1

    Neuroimage. 2003 Apr;18(4):880-94.
    Sexual dimorphism and asymmetries in the gray-white composition of the human cerebrum.
    Allen JS, Damasio H, Grabowski TJ, Bruss J, Zhang W.
    Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics — Abstract:

    Using high resolution MRI scans and automated tissue segmentation, gray and white matter (GM, WM) volumes of the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes, cingulate gyrus, and insula were calculated. Subjects included 23 male and 23 female healthy, right-handed subjects. For all structures, male volumes were greater than female, but the gray/white (G/W) ratio was consistently higher across structures in women than men. Sexual dimorphism was greater for WM than GM: most of the G/W ratio sex differences can be attributed to variation in WM volume. The corpus callosum, although larger in men, is less sexually dimorphic than the WM as a whole. Several regions demonstrate pair-wise asymmetries in G/W ratio and WM volume. Both the cingulate gyrus and insula exhibit strong asymmetries. The left cingulate gyrus is significantly larger than the right, and the G/W ratio of the left insula is significantly greater than that of the right. Although statistically significant sex differences and asymmetries are present at this level of analysis, we argue that researchers should be wary of ascribing cognitive functional significance to these patterns at this time. This is not to say, however, that these patterns are not important for understanding the natural history of the human brain, and its evolution and development.

    I can’t see how both can be true. If females have 10X white matter than males, the G/W ratio cannot be higher, regardless of brain size. But I’ll keep looking.

  • Susan_G1

    The statement in FRC was quoting either Geary or Gur, and WebMD didn’t cite their sources. I found a Gur paper from 1999. I’ve found one with contradictory findings (below). I will look into this more.

    Edited to add, intelligence is more than G/W matter ratios. It also depends on where the differences are, as well as connections and sizes of various other “processing centers”. Neurotransmitter types/concentrations and hormones are also involved, as well as other factors. Actually, I think a lot of what is believed about intelligence is at this time conjecture. Studies involving a wide variety of testing while PET scanning and possibly rapid magnetic scanning may be more helpful, but even then, I would wait.

  • Susan_G1

    I went back through your sources and you are quoting your source correctly, but I have found two different original papers which have contradicting evidence. But you quoted your source correctly. So thank you.

    What I would not do yet is quote what this means either in intelligence, processing, or memory, even though it got picked up and spread in the popular literature.

    You have sent me on a quest! Thanks for your answer.

  • Emily S.

    I also wonder how many of those women were main headliners … probably closer to 5%. You don’t think the Christian conference industry is sexist? Try being female.

  • Susan_G1

    As Fred Clark pointed out: “Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men…” (the theme song of Two and a Half Men)

  • Susan_G1

    I found several examples and one very significant answer in Haier et al. All of the papers I’ve found support that men have 10% larger brains (along with 10% larger body size), but that women had a higher G/W ratio, including Haier et al.

    It is well established that men have a larger cerebrum than women by about 8–10%… In our sample, using the voxel classifications obtained with VBM, women showed a slightly higher GM/WM matter ratio (1.47) than did men (1.41), consistent with these previous reports.


    With respect to voxel types, men had roughly 6.5 times the number of GM voxels identified as related to intellectual functioning as did women, and women had roughly nine times more WM voxels than did men.

    Edited I think what he’s saying is that the areas in the brain which correlated with verbal and performance IQ are different in males and females. In males, the areas that correlate with IQ are higher in gray matter (6.5 times higher, I presume compared to the same areas in women), whereas the areas that correlate with IQ in women, areas that are different than men, are higher (9 times) in white matter than the same areas in males. This does not hold true for the entire brain; just in parts of the brain relater to verbal and performance IQ.


    That is why the original claim made no sense to me; if women had 10X more white matter than men, I would have seen that during dissection, and learned that in school and I would have seen it on MRIs.

    I (more humbly) submit this is why these number are floating around. It is not a representation of total WM or GM, it is a representation of how GM and WM is different in areas associated with intelligence in men and women.

  • Susan_G1


    It is wrong!

    Studies show men have larger brains (consistent with their overall larger bodies) then women, but only a slight variation in white and gray matter proportions.

    Thank you. I had a great time finding the answer!

  • Susan, I’ve actually had the privilege of having a private meeting with my former boss and Schwarzwalder and the president of FRC, Tony Perkins. No way they’d remember me, but I found them to genuine men doing in general good work. But scientists they aren’t! 😉 So whatever edited paragraph you decide on I’ll send to him.

  • Phil Smith

    I note that the list is exclusively US-based (besides the online one, which is presumably US led?) conferences.

    Merritt asks “Is the Christian conference industry sexist?”
    Does he not mean “Is the USA’s Christian conference industry sexist?”

    Why not include the scores of evangelical conferences in the rest of the world in the sample?

  • Phil Smith

    That’s not to say that non-US Evangelical conference speaker slots aren’t also dominated by men.. by the way.

  • nate shoemaker

    i agree that there is clearly an issue here, but i can’t help but think the conference line up is mostly a symptom of a larger problem. these conferences are filled with people who are leading churches and/or are authors primarily. i haven’t checked the stats on this, but my gut feeling (guess) is that 19% women representation in conference line ups is better than the women representation in church leadership and authorship.

    what this leads me to believe is that ‘fixing’ the conference line ups will not actually steer culture into a greater distribution of women leaders and authors, but will simply help us feel better about it because we’ve managed to put more women ‘up front’ on the conference stages.

    what do we do to build up women in our church leadership? how do we equip women (and men, and children, etc… because equal should be equal, right?) to be influential leaders and authors in our churches and denominations? wouldn’t it stand to reason that conference line ups would follow? (and if not, THEN have this conversation about why conferences don’t seem to be following the influence and leadership in our actual church cultures.)

  • Susan_G1

    whoever downvoted you has an axe to grind… maybe women shouldn’t be telling males that their interpretations are wrong?

    In any case, here’s the newly edited paragraph, corrected. Good Providence with this. 🙂

    Females and males maintain unique brain characteristics throughout life. Male brains, for instance, are about 10 percent larger than female brains. But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean smarter. Disparities in certain brain areas may be more revealing. In areas correlating to intelligence in males, the brain has about 6.5 times more gray matter — sometimes called ‘thinking matter” — than women. Female brain areas correlated with intelligence have more than 9.5 times as much white matter, the stuff that connects various parts of the brain, than male brains. That’s not all. “The frontal area of the cortex and the temporal area of the cortex are more precisely organized in women, and are bigger in volume,” according to (professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri) David Geary. This difference in form may explain a lasting functional advantage that females seem to have over males: dominant language skills. “Most of these differences are complementary. They increase the chances of males and females joining together. It helps the whole species,” (says Ruben Gur, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania)

  • Susan_G1

    Julie, I hope you see this. There is another possible (and most likely accurate) interpretation of the results. They are: the areas in the brain which correlated with verbal and performance IQ are different in males and females. In males, the areas that correlate with IQ are higher in gray matter (6.5 times higher, I presume compared to the same areas in women, whereas the areas that correlate with IQ in women, areas that are different than men, are higher (10 times) in white matter than the same areas in males. I will edit my paragraph. I am so sorry to drag you around like this. Please forgive me.

  • Susan_G1

    Julie, please see above. I’ve read the Gur paper, and the Haier paper (the latter about five times now) and have amended my interpretation, I think much for the better. So while the statement that women’s brains have 10 times more white matter is still incorrect, it is more accurate to say that in Haier’s paper, parts of the brain associated with Verbal and performance IQ are different in males and females and in those areas, the amount of white and grey matter is different. I stated it better above. I edited the paragraph to reflect this hard-won comprehension (but quite worth it if it’s closer to the truth.) My deepest apologies.

    Also, thanks to RJS for making me think through this yet again. Functional refers to areas functioning in intelligence, as opposed to, say, functioning in voluntary muscle movement, etc.

  • Thanks, Susan. I’ll pass it on to him. (Personally, I could care less about down-votes–who knows what their issues are? Besides, Jesus got a few down-votes!) I appreciate your humility, attention to detail, and scientific knowledge.