women, society and sobering statistics

Some rather interesting statistics have crossed my desk in the past few weeks. The first study was an Australian Communities Report by Olive Tree Media. It noted that the perceived role of women in the church was a “belief blocker” for 60% of Australians. This composite figure included the respondents who named the perceived roles of women a “belief block”, completely (20%), significantly (14%) and slightly (26%).

The second study that came to my attention was completed by psychologists at MIT and Carnegie Mellon in the US. They divided people into teams and asked them to complete intelligence tasks together. Interestingly, the IQ scores of the group members barely affected collective performance. The number of women on a team, however, affected it a lot – the more women, the better. It seems that the capacity of women to raise the “collective intelligence” of a group is related to the fact their “social sensitivity” is usually stronger than that of men. Thus they tend to draw out more and deeper responses from a greater number of people, increasing the capacity of the group to make well thought-through decisions.

Another couple of studies that came to my attention suggest that (in the US and the UK at least) women are now leaving the church at a significantly faster rate than men. I wonder whether this is true in Australia? I have heard some anecdotal evidence this may be the case. See here and here.

The vast majority of Churches of Christ in Vic/Tas are “theoretically” egalitarian. The issue was discussed and for the most part resolved by most of our churches here decades ago. (Churches who have theological reservations about women’s ministry are invited to consider and discuss the paper I have written on the topic here). However, it remains true that some of our churches are egalitarian in theory, but in practice men dominate in positions of authority.

Why should this be an issue for us? Well for one thing, Churches of Christ have an opportunity to counter one of the community “belief blockers” by actively involving women in all levels of ministry. Churches of Christ affirm that all believers are set aside for ministry at baptism. We have the opportunity to counter a common “block” to faith by publicly affirming the full value of both men and women in the life of the church. We can also hope to address the possible “drift” of women from the church by affirming them and involving their gifts in every level of church life.

Another reason it is worth doing a quick “audit” of the participation of women in leadership in our churches is related to the study on “group intelligence”. It is hardly news that the Australian church is in decline overall and that society is in a period of rapid, discontinuous change. The Christian story is a distant memory for many, and an unknown for many more. These difficult times call for exceptional Christian leadership: for passion, for prayer, for discernment, for creativity, for experimentation, and for novel attempts at engaging our surrounding communities with Christ. I suspect if we were to wind 30 years forwards, the church will look far more diverse than we can even begin to imagine. I do not anticipate there will be one model of church: rather that the Kingdom of God in Australia will look more like a bio-diverse rainforest than a monotonous franchise.

The pathway to the future will require teams of church leaders to think more deeply, pray harder, and experiment in mission more creatively than ever before. If the study on group intelligence is correct, increasing the numbers of women who actively participate in church decision-making can only help increase our collective wisdom.

I encourage you to reflect on the proportions of men and women involved in decision-making in your own church communities. (While doing such an “audit”, it may also be worth looking at the age and ethnic profile of your church leadership). I also encourage you to reflect on who are the women in your church community who would benefit from being encouraged to grow in their leadership and ministry capacities. This is one way to help the health of the church into the future.


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