The need to reach and equip Christian women is only growing
Words by Cathie Ostapchuk
A few years ago, as I flew home to Canada from yet another American women’s conference, I reflected on a challenge offered by one of the speakers, Eugene Cho: “The grass is always greener on the other side,” he said. “You need to go home and water your own grass.”
I knew I was being called to cultivate the soil, the mission field, beneath my two feet.
Gather Women, a non-profit organization that equips Christian women in Canada, grew organically to become a network that leaned into several powerful questions. What would it look like if Canadian women of faith from coast to coast were connected through a network? If they were championed in their callings and unified in their geographical, generational, denominational, and cultural diversity?
A gap existed in Canada for a national women’s initiative that linked women of faith to each other, offering opportunities to connect face-to-face and virtually. This was evidenced by the ever-increasing influx of and reliance on imported resources, conferences, and speakers from outside Canada. There was a need to invest in our national “talent” by identifying and developing potential in Christian women from across Canada.
Toward this aim, Gather Women offers internships, development cohorts, and opportunities for service to equip women to serve Jesus in their spheres of influence. One aspect of this work is advocating for the voices of women to be represented in equal value and strength in all kingdom conversations taking place across Canada and beyond.
What we believe about the value of women is of vital significance.
What message does the Canadian church offer women in the twenty-first century? What message are we sending to the world by how we value and mobilize the next generations of women? What is it costing us when half the church’s gifts aren’t tapped to their fullest potential?
Gather Women serves women who are currently under-served and under-represented in many Canadian churches. As I’ve spoken with women across Canada, I’ve received consistent feedback that female Christian leaders are looking for a place to be connected and equipped to assist them in the roles they have been called to. Although not exclusive to those leading within a church context, women serving in church or ministry roles often face opposition because of theological perspectives, gender bias, or lack of self-confidence.
Increasingly, we’re seeing that traditional church and women’s gatherings do not reach, nor do they appeal to millennials. This shift is reflected in younger Christians across the board. In Faith for Exiles, David Kinnaman shares that the church dropout rate among 18 to 25-year-olds has increased from 59 per cent to 64 per cent in the past decade. The same report also found that two-thirds of young adults are prone to feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
This population is hungry to find their place in the Church. Compelling opportunities are important—not only to ensure that this key generation of women stays engaged in their faith, but also so that we can be strengthened by the expertise they bring to the table.
One example is Joyce Chang, who was searching for Christian women leaders who could provide mentorship. She came across Gather Women. In 2021, she participated in the DevelopHer Internship program. “It helped me to grow in confidence in my skills and my strengths,” Chang says of her experience. “I found women who supported me, encouraged me … I learned my worth is not how much I produce, but my identity is completely rooted in God who He says I am.”
Through my work, I’ve learned that many women consistently remain unreached by traditional women’s gatherings and church offerings, including those who are new to Canada and are displaced; those who are in remote areas with little to no access to community; those who are in marginalized people groups and excluded because of socio-economic status, oppression or inequity; those who have been hurt by the church, or wounded and feel “less than” in comparison.
Gather Women is an invitation to champion a culture of support as women walk out their callings. It connects women regionally and nationally through a robust network both on the ground and online. The vision is to call forth a unified yet diverse national voice for Canadian Christian women, coast to coast.
Each year, Gather Women hosts a national conference called Gather Rise. Through speakers, networking, and discussions, this conference is a space of equipping and inspiring for Christian women in the Church. The next conference is coming up on February 4; find out more here.