How to Start a Widows Ministry
My applause to you for wanting to reach out! One of the most frequently asked questions coming in my email is “How can I start a widows ministry?” While most of you asking the question are widows, several are not and just care about us!
I am going to offer suggestions from four viewpoints:
- A widow who wants to start a group with church support
- A widow who wants to start a group on her own or with another organization
- A person who cares about us and wants to start a group with church support
- A person who cares about us and wants to start on her own or with another organization
In each category, the following are common and vital:
Prayer is a vital and first step.
Assess what the needs are of those you want to serve. A survey form is available on this website.
Expect to persevere through surprises, challenges, and opportunities.
Revel in the blessings of obediently serving those close to God’s heart.
A widow who wants to start a group with church support
Make an appointment with a church leader, pastor, elder, or deacon. Simply tell them of your interest in starting a group. Depending on the needs of your church, it may be a Bible study, prayer and share time, social outing, or lunch-bunch. Needs are different and it is important that you find what your widows need. Remember that few, if any, widows are on church leadership teams and they may have ‘ideas’ that simply do not serve or comfort widows. Gently share your experience and help them see how the church can support you in providing for this group.
Our meeting format is a two hour Saturday morning format of greeting, 45-50 minutes studying the Bible, followed by breaking into groups of 5 or so, around tables to share, pray, and/or discuss our Bible study topic. Your group may prefer evenings, or have a Sunday School time to meet.
Churches usually are eager to include activities in their bulletins, provide coffee, and mail announcements as needed.
Groups may choose study materials or create their own. Griefshare is a popular resource providing videos and workbooks. Others may be social events or prayer. Our group has gone to tea houses and museums, and had game nights. The important thing is not to be overwhelmed by what you might do. Simply start doing what you can do.
A widow who wants to start a group on her own or with another organization
There are often good reasons to meet in a home, library, or community facility. This may be a better environment to bring friends, or create a group from widows of different faiths and church affiliations. As the leader, you may still state that the underlying orientation will be Christian in nature though any person is welcome. While it may take more effort to create and distribute flyers, local papers may publicize your meetings. Again, determining the needs of the group is key. You will probably be approached by those who want to be ‘guest speakers.’ Be aware that some may see that as a potential market to sell products, financial, travel, and others. It is wise to have your purpose well outlined to keep the meetings focused on ministry to widows.
A person who cares about us and wants to start a group with church support
While a widow has empathy for other widows like no other, there simply may be no such person to lead such a ministry. If you have a heart to serve, you can be incredibly helpful and have a thriving group. I have a single friend who began a group consisting mostly of widows and widowers. They love her! The group satisfies their need for connection. The material they study is secondary and any topic is fine with them. As we suggested above for a widow starting the group, begin by making an appointment with a church leader. Assess the needs in your church and begin. I offer our format as an example above, but again, provide what your group needs.
A person who cares about us and wants to start on her own or with another organization
While this is a more challenging scenario, I do know of some successful ministries to widows that are neither widow lead nor church based. If you have a passion to help widows, you will persist through each challenge. My main additional advice beyond all in the above scenarios is to be clear on what you are motivated to provide, and ‘stick to the knitting’ as the old business adage goes. Providing a support group, home repairs, housing, encouragement, the opportunities are endless.
As you move forward with forming and growing in your ministry, let us help you. Use the resources on Widowconnection.com. Information under ‘Church Resources’ provides a model and information your pastors and leaders may read. There are sample surveys and sample referral forms to download and use. Use our topics under ‘Moving Forward’ for study and discussion. Blessings as you begin this important group!
STEPS TO ORGANIZE A WIDOWS MINISTRY
How can churches respond to the widow today? The problem is complex for several reasons. First, churches today are varied ranging from small struggling bodies with limited resources both in staff and financing to mega-churches whose staffs are lean and depend on volunteers to minister to most needs other than teaching. Second, the experiences and needs of widows vary widely and there is no ‘one model fits all’ to be created. Recognizing that the following recommendations must be adapted to the individual church, here are some suggestions.
1. Form a leadership group including at least one widow.
Scripture is clear that there should be appointed leaders in the body to oversee the care of widows. (Acts 6: 1-7) The ministry arm might well be done through deacons and deaconesses following the model of I Timothy 3: 8-13. I would personally add (clearly this is my personal addition) that all leadership groups related to widow’s ministry have a leading member who is a widow. Ministry leaders are typically married men who understandably cannot fathom our circumstance. It has been my experience that lacking this leading widow, churches decisions of how to serve us often miss the mark of meeting the real needs of widows.
2. Survey widows needs.
Once the leadership team has been established, determine who are the widows, and then follow up with a survey to discover their needs. A survey is included at the top of this page as a sample. While financial needs and help with upkeep of living space are common, need for connection is typical. Remember the 75% loss factor? Most connections with the church are broken upon becoming a widow. This time period is the widow’s most painful, lonely and vulnerable part of her journey, a time when she needs believing friends near her.
3. Address the needs as expressed in the survey.
Some churches have sources of help in place. Do not assume that a new widow is aware of your household helper team or any other resources you offer. We prepared a referral list which is included at the bottom of this page. These are typical needs of widows in our area. Ideally contact will be made with new widows to inform them of your resources.
4. Provide a specific connection for widows to the church.
In our Widow to Widow ministry we study Scripture together, share our journey, and do fun things together as well. If your church has few widows, you might partner with other churches and provide a seminar day. Widow Connection is available to consult with you as you plan.
On my journey as a widow, I have learned that we all change. And much of the change is good. We become faith filled because we can not face the day any other way. We become strong because we have no other choice. We are compassionate because our heart has been broken. As I listen to other widows stories I am awestruck at what they have learned and accomplished.
One of my change points occurred in Africa. I traveled to follow in Bob’s footsteps to a place I had not been able to accompany him. I was connecting with believers whom he had assisted in broadcasting. Prior to my trip, I received an email asking me to speak to widows groups there since that was now my reality. “Of course.” In one season of my life I had taught Bible studies and my interpreter would be Bob’s friend. This would be a way for me to give back in Bob’s footsteps.
The result: I spoke to 7 groups of widows from 20 to 200. I spoke in one church service where the men were the predominant note-takers. I spoke to one assembly of 5 churches which I thought would be a group of widows. (I quickly sorted my notes from the widow and her pot of oil to the transitions in Joshua’s life.) I delivered my message with five pastors sitting behind me in large impressive chairs. After listening intently to my teaching, one pastor issued their pronouncement: “It is good.”
I can only say simply, I was changed. I remembered Bob’s encouragement to me to accept my first speaking engagement after my first book was published. I was hesitant. He said, “Honey, they want to hear the person behind the book.” So I went reluctantly. This was different. A different woman emerged in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Open Bible, hungry learners, I was energized and embraced the opportunity.
Yes, we have changed. As we get acquainted again you’ll discover that we believe Romans 8:28 with a new tenacity. We have new and relevant gifts to offer not in spite of, but rather because of our loss. We are bold because we have already faced death in a part of ourselves. We laugh at things many people fear and count blessings among the mundane events of an ordinary day. Invisible? Let’s change that. Welcoming the widows reflects the heart of God.
WHAT CHURCHES SHOULD KNOW
800,000 join our ranks every day. We are a fast growing demographic noticed by new home builders and a lucrative niche for health and beauty products. We are invited to dinners by financial planners and surveyed by designers for home features that will convince us to sign on the dotted line.
In contrast, one pastor described us by saying we moved from the front row of church to the back row of church and then out the door. We moved from singing and serving to solitude and silent sobbing, and then on to find a place we belong. Approximately 50% leave the church they attended as a couple.
Scripture says the character of a nation is shown by how it treats us, in fact the character of individuals and the church is shown by how it treats us. 103 references to us in scripture indicate that we are close to God’s heart.
Who are we? We are the invisible among you—the widow.
I am one. I am a part of the fastest growing demographic in the United States as baby boomers age. We loose 75% of our friendship network when we become one. 60% of us experience serious health issues in that first year. One third of us meet the criteria for clinical depression in the first month after our spouse’s death, and half of these remain clinically depressed a year later. Most experience financial decline.
If someone had described this scenario to me five years ago, I would have stated emphatically, “It can’t be so! In the community of believers we support each other. We walk together on the journey.” I look back on my own responses to women who became widows and realize how little I understood, how little I empathized, how seldom I walked beside them. Many, in fact, became invisible whether it was in ministry positions, small group participation, or social events. Of the approximately 50% who leave the church they attended with their spouse, some reconnect to a place that matches their needs.
If someone had quoted the friendship statistic, I would have thought, “That won’t be me.” With the network that surrounds Bob and me, I will never experience loss of that magnitude. Yet I did. Connections that are primarily through our husbands, change and departures, while appropriate are still painful to process.
May I help you understand us by describing some of my personal experiences? Becoming a widow means nothing is the same. With Bob’s exit to heaven absolutely every iota of my existence has changed: my calendar, my check book, what’s in my frig, the wake-up alarm time, the thermostat, the traffic pattern in the bedroom, which restaurants I can enter, and yes, the look in my children’s’ eyes when they step in the door on holidays. My living space is more cluttered, make-up is seldom used, and I am familiar with the smell of car oil as I sit in Lube Right next to the overdone coffee wondering what Bob did when he waited here.
There are other changes so private and personal they cannot be shared. Loneliness and solitude are words that are not descriptive enough of the space that becomes the cocoon of the widow. We discover that our journeys are very different and we fit in no mold. However, we have an incredibly strong connecting bond that links us to each other because of our shared experience.
What do we have in common? We discover we are vulnerable as never before. We are pressured to purchase products we neither need nor can afford. Salespersons use their influence as ‘our friend’ and even fellow believer looking out for us.
We are concerned about our finances. Most experience financial decline. Women experience fewer years of employment and less income which often impacts their preparation for being alone or retired. In my decades as a church goer, I have never heard a message on I Timothy 5:8 (a passage which admonishes believers to provide for their family) which included appropriate attention to wills, trusts, and life insurance. The likely event that one person in the marriage will exit to heaven before the other with its financial implications are important to address. While in biblical times, God’s people were told to take care of the widows and orphans among them, it is assumed now that the government through Social Security and other programs will care for the invisible among us—a theory for which the numbers do not work.
Our emotions change more drastically than the reversals on the extreme Sheikra roller coaster ride at Busch Gardens—a ride I entered ignorantly rather than have my grandsons unaccompanied through the long line. I regretted that ride immensely as a 200 foot drop rearranged my insides. Imagine this contrast. Two become one in marriage. At nineteen years of age I embarked on my journey with Bob that lasted 41 years, 2 months, and 21 days.
Sixteen months after meeting Bob, this 19 year old sophmore who had never been to Chicago or heard of Moody Bible Institute married a man who knew his life calling was to serve God through Moody Broadcasting. Finishing degrees, farm girl becoming city girl, moving six times, having children, adopting children, church choirs, lots of hospitality where ever we lived, and traveling to 40 countries together was part of the journey. I became an educator—a teacher and counselor in public high schools for 26 years—yes, a working mom. As he followed his calling he lead the MBI network to 36 owned and operated stations. He negotiated with the Federal Communications Commission successfully and was able to begin a satellite ministry that at times has served 600 affiliates. We parented our children to adulthood which was unquestionably the greatest challenge in our marriage. We enjoyed the marriages of three and worked and toiled over our home as two chose to have their wedding receptions in our yard. No smile was broader on either Bob’s face or mine than watching our three incredibly handsome African American grandsons grow.
In an incredibly productive season of his life while serving as Vice President of Moody Broadcasting, treasurer of National Religious Broadcasters, and board member of HCJB (Heralding Christ Jesus Birth—an international broadcasting group), Bob fell. The inconvenience and pain of a dislocated shoulder began the journey to doctors through disease, through sorting through our theology, to facing the bleak reality: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is untreatable, fatal, and had gripped Bob’s body.
Less than three years after that fall he entered heaven willingly: I gave him up with more than reluctance. Our ‘one’ was now ripped in ‘two.’ My inarguably better half was gone and the gapping wound created by his exit had every nerve ending screaming even though I was supposed to be numb. The ride on the Sheikra was docile compared to this.
While every widow’s story is different, we all share the common understanding of a loss that is final beyond description. There will be no phone call, no plane delayed but still landing, no second chance to right our past regrets. Sitting curled up on the cold ground watching the gardener gently work the grass seed into the fresh dirt on my husbands grave set me apart forever from the life I once had. Other widows understand that.
What else do we share? We gain a fresh perspective on Scripture. II Corinthians 1: 3, 4 is so relevant. No one can comfort us like another widow. In turn we are moved deeply when we see another woman enter this experience and we want to comfort her in her grief. We study the 103 Scripture references to widows with desperation to find whether we are invisible to God as well. With gratitude we discover that we are not only close to God’s heart, but He measures everyone by how they treat us. (James 1:27) This is both a comforting and sobering insight. Widows, orphans, prisoners—the voiceless—God chooses to speak for us.
He instructs that our needs be met (Deut. 24:17) through the church’s tithes if necessary (Deut 14:29; 26;12, Acts 6:1-4) He instructs that in our vulnerability we be given our legal rights, (Isa. 1:17 Luke 18: 1-8) He commends us for our sacrificial giving. (Mark 12:42-43) He tells our story—the widow at Zarephath and her generosity, (I Kings 17: 9) the widow, her pot of oil, her faith and obedience. (II Kings 4:1)
As I studied Scripture on widows these themes emerged:
To the widow:
…be generous regardless of the quantity of your possessions, no one’s ‘stuff’ is their own anyway
…be filled with faith, you can’t help but be when you see how special you are to your Creator and your new husband.
To the church:
…The significance of your church is not in its numbers but that its priorities match those of God.
…The character of your leaders is not measured by their popularity or power but by their attention and care for the powerless and voiceless among them.