Church Deploys “Girlfriends” to Spread Faith

November 18, 2008

church-girlfriends.jpgMaking friends – real, true-blue friends – doesn’t come easily for many people. Irene Christian understands.

Even in a congregation of more than 5,000 people, the 58-year-old grandmother has been surprised to find some members of Savannah Christian Church who feel they haven’t “connected” on a deeper level with someone they can call a friend.
And for women, that’s especially important.
“I know so many younger girls who need a mom or need a girlfriend,” Christian said.
“They need somebody to be accountable to, somebody they can talk to and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening to me.’ “
Helping women find deep, lasting friendships is central to the ministry of “Girlfriends,” a nationally marketed, faith-based program offered by Savannah Christian Church.
Christian and her 32-year-old daughter, Christy Warren, are coordinators of the Girlfriends ministry at Savannah Christian.
The duo organizes parties and other gatherings with the goal of fostering friendships and a deeper connection to Christian faith.
“We know that once women start building relationships, they’re more likely to attend church and even a Bible study,” said church spokeswoman Esther Griffin.
Christian and Warren have organized four, large Girlfriends parties at the southwest Chatham County megachurch since 2007, drawing more than 350 at each event.
The women’s ages range from 18 to 80-something.
Gatherings are designed to take on a youthful energy. Themes including a pajama party and a “gaudy gala,” have offered games, crafts, dancing, massages and hand waxing.
A Nov. 7 Western-themed party included hay rides and turns on a mechanical bull.
Most of the women who have participated are already members of the church.
But members are encouraged to bring an “unchurched” friend or relative, someone who has no experience with church or even religion.
“For me, it’s just been really important to let 18-year-olds on up to younger 30s, to let them know there’s an alternative to having fun other than being out drinking in the bars every weekend,” Warren said. “It’s important for me to let them know the Christian life is a blast.”
Through the Girlfriends events, volunteers dubbed “secret sisters” look out for women who seem to be alone.
Meanwhile, other volunteers known as “heart whisperers,” located in another part of the building, pray for the event’s success.
Girlfriends events are so large, “it’s like planning a wedding,” Christian said.
She and Warren have hosted two parties a year, but plan to host just one event in 2009.
Still, the work is paying off, Christian said.
“It’s just the most rewarding ministry I’ve been a part of.”
Faith through friends
The Girlfriends program was created in 2000 by two Colorado women who had lost their mothers at an early age.
Today, their blueprint is being used by more than 800 churches and Christian organizations around the nation, according to Group Publishing, the Colorado-based company that markets the Girlfriends program.
The concept was based on the premise that many women struggle with feelings of isolation, don’t consider their own needs and don’t take time to develop healthy friendships.
Although church conferences and retreats may address those points, the Girlfriends strategy is that real spiritual transformation is more likely to happen in a informal chat over a frappuccino.
“It’s a fresh and innovative way to do women’s ministry,” said Group employee Susan Lawrence, who trains groups in hosting Girlfriends events. “We befriend women. We give them a place to belong so that they’ll believe in Jesus and become more like him.”
Group hosted a training event on Nov. 7 at Savannah Christian Church for about 65 people interested in the Girlfriends ministry for their congregations.
Although one of the goals of Girlfriends is to draw in “nonchurched” women, the program has lead to some surprising discoveries about longtime church members.
“There are women who have been in the church their whole lives and they’re still hurting,” said Christian, who believes many are lacking female companionship.
As American families become more transient, wives and mothers are finding themselves hundreds of miles from their mothers, sisters and female companions. And they’re moving more frequently, often leaving established friendships and having to start all over again.
Churches, she said, can meet women’s spiritual needs by first meeting their social needs.
“Women understand women,” she said. “It’s all about connecting and seeing each other through this rough world.”
After the Girlfriends parties, guests are invited to participate in one of the special interest clubs for women, called “G-groups,” that meet regularly at the church. G-groups are organized around interests such as scrapbooking or going to movies, but the end goal is to draw participants closer to faith.
“It’s not only a way for us to have fun, but a way to reach out to the lost, the lonely and the hurting out there,” Christian said.
“It’s just a different way of reaching out.”
Source: Savannah Morning News

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