Think about who does what in your student group, your movement, and the evangelistic outreach events at your church. Who speaks? Who is quiet? Who takes the initiative, and who follows?
Are there women who have the skill and the heart, but who don’t step forward?
A 2019 study demonstrated a considerable self-promotion gap between men and women, showing that men are far more comfortable than women at putting themselves forward. Even with the knowledge that they performed as well as men, women in the study consistently underestimated their own performance in comparison.
These trends can carry over into Christian communities, too. Churches can often focus their attention and enthusiasm for training on men, overlooking the vital contribution women can make in public evangelism. There are lots of women in our churches and student groups with the potential to enrich our ministry with their insights, perspective, ability and Christlike character, and who just need a bit more encouragement to step away from the sidelines, and into the full use of the gifts God has given them.
Let’s Do Something
Nay Dawson, previously a staff worker with UCCF, the UK national movement, (now Regional Training Coordinator for IFES Europe) noticed very few female public evangelists speaking at student events. Seeing how this inhibited the ability to connect with non-Christian students, she established Passion for Evangelism, an annual conference gathering women together to practice evangelistic speaking and receive mentorship and training. A Facebook group started to organise the conference quickly developed into a network of women supporting one another, including IFES students, staff, and numerous general secretaries of national movements. The network is open to those outside IFES also, broadening perspectives to include those keen to impact their churches and communities beyond the student world.
Nowadays, alongside the Facebook community, Passion for Evangelism has become streamlined into two separate initiatives. A termly online book club equips women by talking through helpful resources, as well as hosting a Q&A with the author, giving space to consider relevant topics and be discipled together. The Greenhouse Project is a five-week program giving women a chance to be mentored and trained in public evangelism. Three times a year, a new cohort will commit to producing evangelistic material and delivering it at student events, church events, or on social media. In its last cohort, 26 women from Europe and beyond used their Greenhouse projects to ponder and present on the theme of the incarnation. They are finding joy and confidence; Katerina is General Secretary of SEAM, the student movement in North Macedonia. She resolved to deliver the evangelistic talk at a Christmas student event herself this Christmas. She shared that after meeting with the Greenhouse project, ‘I have wings to fly’.
New Things Flourishing
In a greenhouse, plants that need a bit of extra warmth can flourish and grow; seeds can germinate, and tender shoots can grow sturdier. This is what the Greenhouse Project aims to do with the ability and confidence of women who may never have had the chance to develop these areas before. The church and student movements will have more vibrant, creative, Christ-glorifying evangelists who have a message to tell and can tell it well. They will also have new ways of telling it.
‘Social media is an open door for the gospel’, says Nay, ‘so we’re trying to encourage that.’ As some have written talks with nowhere to give them, it’s liberating to see them create their own opportunities on social media. The participants are also encouraged to be creative, and some have found it more intuitive to create music, video content, poetry, spoken word or storybooks than a talk – whatever will resonate most with their target audience in their own context and community.
Training female evangelists uncovers new ways of telling the gospel message in other ways, too. They can reach women with their issues, from a female perspective, in a way that men cannot. Having female evangelistic speakers can also offset the prejudices and preconceptions non-Christians might bring. Nay has even heard stories of British students who immediately dismissed an event upon seeing the identity of the speaker. If unbelievers who perceive Christianity to be oppressive and bigoted see men and women working together in evangelism, ‘one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28), they will see the fruits of the Spirit, healing divisions of gender, and glorifying God.
For the first few months of 2022, the new cohort of women in the Greenhouse project will be preparing materials on the resurrection for Easter events, partnering with A Passion for Life, an evangelism training campaign in the UK. In the book club, they will be reading Ros Clarke’s 40 Women (2021).
Passion for Evangelism is an opportunity for students, staff and graduates to train in public evangelism, developing their gifts and trusting that the Lord will lead them to do wonderful things for him through their courage and confidence. The initiative is equipping and encouraging student leaders to have confidence to serve alongside their male counterparts, such as Kez, the third female president of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union in the UK. While Passion for Evangelism is an IFES Europe initiative, it is open to participants from all over the world, and participants from as far afield as Mexico have joined in. Additionally, the Greenhouse Project and book club are easy to multiply. Previous participants from Croatia and Germany are working to start Greenhouse projects in their own languages. Nay also hopes that a conference, such as the first one in 2019, can go ahead in 2023. This would give participants a long-awaited chance to meet and pursue training and mentoring in person.
It’s true that women are often less inclined, less comfortable, and less free to put themselves forward than men. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Let’s pray that our student groups would be places where everyone is encouraged to use their gifts to build God’s kingdom and for his glory.
If you’d like to get involved, you can find out more about the termly book club here, Greenhouse Project here, or the Passion for Evangelism Facebook group here. The Passion for Evangelism Instagram is here, where you can get in touch with any questions. Twitter is here. For more on women in the church, see the She Needs series on Nay’s blog for some insightful testimonies and perspectives.