Could you be making common mistakes in your single moms ministry? Wondering how to fix them?
Thank you. Thank you to brave the leaders who have answered the call to serve single moms all over the country. There is an army of you out there! Thank you to each of you who have begun the sometimes arduous task of meeting with your pastoral team, gaining approval to launch the single moms ministry, planning, preparing, and praying. Thank you for the sacrifices of time away from your only family. We applaud your efforts.
With all the commitment and sacrifice that each of you pour into your single moms’ groups, there is no doubt that it can be frustrating as we run into common mistakes when thing are not going well. When you’ve planned and no one shows up for the meetings, it’s hard not to take it personally. When you’ve prepared meals for many and only few attend, it can really hurt. When you have poured into the lives of moms for weeks, months, and years, and there seems to be no fruit, it can be frustrating. Single moms’ ministry can be tricky business, no doubt. Until recent years, there has been little on the market in terms of supporting single mom ministry leaders. Most of us have been on an island attempting to do the best we can.
That’s why The Life of a Single Mom has devised a list of the most frequent challenges we see in single moms’ ministry and ways to avoid those pitfalls. After more than a decade of front-line single mom ministry experience and having worked with hundreds of churches across 19 countries, we believe the following list can help you get your ministry off to the right start (or improve an existing ministry).
- Failing to be open to change. What worked four years ago, may not be working now. Or maybe you just launched your ministry and no one is attending. Be open to changing what you are doing. In fact, early on, it may be necessary to change paths a number of times, until you find the rhythm that works for your ladies. Be okay with change. If you have been working in single moms’ ministry for some time, it may be time for a face-lift. Something new gets people excited.
- Meeting too frequently or infrequently. We recommend meeting in a single moms’ gathering two times per month. Meeting once per month is too infrequently. It doesn’t allow the women to forge strong relationships. If they happened to miss one meeting, they could be going as much as 60 days without seeing one another. However, meeting too frequently, such as once per week, can often lead to burnout of yourself and other volunteers. We found that the sweet spot is usually twice per month. (Alternate ideas are short-term weekly meetings over a 6-week or 8-week span, or meeting monthly with a more casual get-together at the two-week mark).
- Talking too much. This is hard one for many of us. We are often take-charge, type A personalities, who have leadership roles in other ways in our churches, communities, and jobs. We also tend get uncomfortable with silence. However, it is crucially important that we don’t monopolize all the time in our single moms’ Bible studies. This is a time of fellowship. It is not weekend service. It is a time for ladies to get to know one another, discuss the topic for the day, release burdens they may be caring, share, and grow.
- Lacking food & childcare. We often say having single moms’ groups without childcare and food is like having a potluck with no food. They simply don’t work. Now, we know there are several factors that come into play. Maybe you don’t have a budget for food and childcare. No worries. For the first 5 years we conducted single moms’ groups, our local church didn’t offer a budget either. We simply utilized volunteers who were willing to cook and/or babysit and put them on a rotating list. The important thing is to remove as many obstacles as possible to assist single mothers in attending the meetings.
- Attempting to do it all on your own. It is critical that you do not attempt to carry the ministry on your own. You need volunteers, even if you only have two women attending regularly. How can you grow if the infrastructure isn’t there for growth? It is important to solicit volunteers to help you. Volunteers can be utilized for many tasks including prayer, social media management, event planning, clean-up, set-up, greeters, food prep and distribution, babysitting, registration, and so much more. Don’t get stuck in the habit of doing it all on your own. We often do this, because volunteers can sometimes prove inconsistent, but use them anyway. Many have a heart to help and one thing removed from your plate assists in keeping healthy balance, which leads us to the next point.
- Leading from an empty cup. Don’t attempt to pour out what you don’t have. Set boundaries in your ministry, including limited time to return phone calls, establishing days when you will not work on ministry at all, etc. Commit to the things that pour into you, regular church attendance, accountability, healthy friendships, days of rest, and prayer. It’s also important to avoid burn-out by establishing sabbaticals. For many, this means that your group would not meet year-round. Maybe you meet six weeks at a time. Maybe you meet during the school year with breaks during the summer. Maybe you take holiday breaks. There are many ways to take a sabbatical, but they are important. The rest will allow you to stay in this for the long haul.
- Focusing only on current attendees versus future attendees. This pitfall is one we see often. When a leader has been compelled to change a portion of the Bible study, such as meeting date, time, structure, volunteer solicitation, or otherwise, they poll the 3 ladies attending the group, and….they shoot the idea down. Alas, the leader is stuck leading the same way she always has, and the group never grows. Now, don’t misunderstand. It’s important to know how your group feels about certain changes. However, they cannot be the only gauge on whether or not you implement change. We must always be thinking about those single moms “who are not yet here.” How do we grow? How do we reach out? How do we continue to think about the ones who don’t feel comfortable in our groups yet? Focusing on fresh ideas for those who are not yet in attendance is critical for future growth.
- Curriculum choice. Now, this is a biggie. We love many of the great Christian authors that are on the market today and we love how God is pouring into them to pour out on His people. However, it is important to be mindful that the latest Christian women’s study may not always be ideal for your group. Consider selecting materials that are tailored for single moms and single parenting. Of course, you can integrate in some great women’s studies, but the truth is, it’s likely other women’s groups in your church are already utilizing them. Consider focusing your group on single mom-centric topics with single mom-centric curriculum. (Consider the above point, regarding thinking of the ones who don’t attend yet. Maybe a study on the Proverbs 31 woman is difficult to digest for the hurting, unchurched, single mom.) (insert photo of TLSM books)
- Lacking evangelism or discipleship. We believe the best approach to single moms’ ministry is a two-fold approach – evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism is the outreach component of what you do – events for those who haven’t attended yet or one-time events to create excitement – to share the Gospel. Discipleship is the in-reach component of what you do – regular Bible studies to create fellowship and minister to the single moms who are currently attending. Effective, long-term ministry requires both. We must look at the single moms who are not yet attending and create environments for them to consider attending (events), but then must look at how to minister to them once they get there, through a regular meeting. We’ve found that many churches lack one or the other.
- No fun. Yes, sometimes your meetings will be heavy. There will be topics that require serious thought and discussion. However, it can’t be all work and no play. It’s okay to laugh in church. It’s okay to play board games and have a scavenger hunt and just simply let your hair down. God created us and he knows we like to have fun. Don’t get so stuck in routine and the 18 points of your Bible study that you forget to just enjoy your time together. Integrate icebreaker games into your group. Think through creative ways to have fun. Ask the Lord for creativity.
- Forging strong relationships. Your group grows, when people know you care and you’ve taken the time to truly see and hear them. Get to know what matters to your ladies. Get to know their hopes and dreams and children and job aspirations. Forge the relationships that are meaningful and lasting. Your attendees can’t simply be another number used to grow your ministry. They are people with hurts and needs and feelings. Take the time to get to know them. Check out THIS ARTICLE by our friend, Joy Anisa for more info on how to forge those relationships.
- Failing to pass the baton. It is important to continue to seek out leaders that you can invest in within your ministry. (And yes, that can absolutely be single mom attendees!). One of the biggest challenges we see within single moms’ groups at churches is there is no exit strategy. Consequently, when a leader remarries or simply wants to move on, there is no one to carry the baton. Always be looking for your replacement, even if it’s years from now! For more on passing the baton, visit HERE.
- Making it all about you. This ministry is not your ministry. Avoid ever using the term “my” single moms’ group. This is God’s. You are here to answer the call of God on your life by doing what he’s asked you to do. Nothing more. Nothing less. This avoidance of making it your ministry also will prevent hurt feelings, when someone criticizes or falls away from the ministry for various reasons. Now, don’t get us wrong. Do it well. Do it with excellence. Take ownership and responsibility for it. But ultimately, surrender it to God. The personal attacks will become far less personal when you realize it’s already about God.
- Attempting to fix people. We have never been designed to fix anyone. We will fail miserable, when we attempt to. The Holy Spirits job is to fix through prompting. It is our job to point people to the One who can fix them. Know the difference. There will be great freedom from burden, when you lovingly give people over to the Lord to fix.
- Failing to accept criticism. This one is hard. Man, when you’ve poured heart, soul, mind, strength, money, and time into a ministry and someone criticizes, it’s like making fun of your baby! And moms, don’t like that! It’s important to understand that the wounds others carry can sometimes make you an easy target of unfair or undue criticism, so take it with a grain of salt. Understand that sometimes the focus of criticism is the deflection of responsibility in their own lives. And that’s okay, because we were there too! However, there is a time, when it’s important to listen to constructive criticism. Maybe your pastor has some feedback. Maybe a volunteer or attendee has noticed something that could make your ministry stronger. Pray and begin to ask God to show you where you can grow. For more on handling criticism, visit HERE.
- Focusing on the numbers. Yes, we know there are millions of single moms out there and many in our communities. Yes, it’s important to track successes and gauge our growth. However, it is not the most important thing, so don’t put too much weight on this area. God smiles just as big for your three single moms who have grown leaps and bounds in your ministry, as He does for the hundreds going to another ministry across town.
- Early exits. If God has called you to it, He must release you from it. You can’t quit because it’s hard, or no one sees you, or you aren’t getting any credit or any support. You must be released by God to pass the baton onward. This is important. In a day and time, when instant gratification is promoted and culture lacks patience, it can be hard for us to stay the course, when we feel overwhelmed, unsupported, or unseen. But God sees and He rewards and is well-pleased. Be encouraged to stay the course.
- Failing to submit. Submission is not a dirty word, contrary to what the world would have you believe. Submission is God’s design for our lives. We submit to Him, our leadership, and those he has put in place to shepherd us. Submit to the authority of your church. We’ve seen this many times in single moms’ groups. They go rogue, as we like to say. They begin doing their own thing, without informing the church leaders. They feel unsupported, so they begin to make decisions without submitting them before the church. Ultimately, this is a huge mistake. Not only is it likely that the group will eventually be forced to close or dissipate, but you lose what support you do have. In other words, maybe you do feel unseen and lack the support you feel you need to make it successful, any support is better than no support. Use of the church building, the church’s name, the church’s volunteers, childcare workers, or any other component of the church (whether in part or whole) is a value to you. The longer you stay the course and honor them, the more God will honor your faithfulness. Also, as a word of caution, don’t let bitterness take root. Have an open dialogue with your pastoral team. And…that leads directly into the next point.
- Failing to address conflict. Don’t ignore conflict. If there is conflict among two single mom attendees in your group, teach them to address it. If you are struggling with feeling unsupported, causing conflict between you and a church leader, ask for a meeting. If you know there is gossip spreading in your group or back-biting, bring it to the light. This is CRITICAL. Satan would love nothing more than to get a toe in the door – forget a foothold! Address it in love with hopes of reconciliation and a commitment to hearing from the Holy Spirit. For more on addressing conflict, visit HERE.
The Life of a Single Mom is a national, faith-based, nonprofit that exists to see that no single mom walks alone. To date, we have worked with more than 1,500 churches & community groups to start or improve a single mom’s support group in cities throughout the U.S. and beyond. We have a large array of books, curriculum, training materials, and online instructional videos to support ministry leaders who lead single moms. Our single mom programs focus on empowering single moms to grow spiritually, emotionally, financially, and parentally through a number of projects including: Single Mom University, Single Moms Across America, the National TLSM Single Moms Conference, and a variety of programs throughout the U.S. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com