The idea of a group for women in churches is not a new one. The first groups appeared in the west, and they have been found in Singaporean congregations for decades.
Women generally outnumber men in Christian congregations. They are therefore not a minority group. But they are as diverse as they come. There are young wives, senior citizens, widows, and single adults. So women’s gatherings are a strategic and meaningful way for local churches to help women to know Jesus and make Him known.
True Way’s women’s ministry started in 2010. Its goals were to evangelise, edify, and establish women of all ages in our church. More than ten years later, its leaders now admit that attracting younger women to join their programs is a challenge.
And it is not for want of trying. Koh Siew Peng, a church deacon, has been a women’s ministry leader for many years. She is the group’s current chairperson. Says Siew Peng: “There are no easy answers.”
Siew Peng and her co-workers have tried tweaking their programmes. They adjusted the timing of their meetings. They talked to women who were members of discipleship groups. But it is rare that, year-to-year, more than 20 to 25 women become firm regulars at women’s ministry events.
The ones who come regularly, the stalwarts, are women aged 50 to 70 years.
Siew Peng, who took the reins in Jan 2022, says: “We see that many younger women, say those who’re 25 to 45, are already in same-age discipleship groups. Their strongest connections are there, with their peers.
“They don’t see the need to join another ministry regularly. Perhaps to them we’re a generation apart. We’re their aunties and mothers and grandmothers.”
It wasn’t always this way. In the early, heady days of the women’s group, it wasn’t uncommon to see moms bring their daughters to the meetings. But things have changed.
The women’s ministry know they should think about making substantive changes. If they merely preserved the status quo, their membership will become smaller and smaller, unless a younger cohort arrives to take over.
A recent line dance class is hence a cause for excitement and hope.
A line dance is a choreographed dance in which a group of people dance to a repeating sequence of steps while arranged in one or more lines or rows. The lines usually all face the same direction, and dancers are not in contact with each other.
Most dance experts say the line dance began in North America. At first, line dancers danced to country and western songs. Later, disco and even salsa were used as dance accompaniment.
“At one women’s ministry picnic at Botanic Gardens, newcomers were asked to share something about themselves,” said Cynthia Soh, the woman who has been teaching our women to dance.
“I was quite new in church. When they asked me about my interests, I said I’d been doing line dance for a long time.”
The group leaders all thought line dancing was a brilliant idea and felt that it would be a draw.
“Cynthia was a godsend,” says Siew Peng. “The person whom we’d asked couldn’t make it due to unforeseen circumstances.”
After some planning, the day of the inaugural class came.
In the first two classes, some 25 women showed up. Siew Peng: “It feels like an increase! I was excited.”
In the group, the women were cheered that a young adult, Nicole Tham, who just graduated from university, showed up. Nicole was in the second class with her mother, Rennie Chang.
“I have never done a line dance before, this was my first time,” said Nicole. “It was interesting to learn a new activity. I had to memorize the steps, it really exercised my brain!”
Unlike Nicole, her mom Rennie had danced before—the waltz and cha-cha. “I had a fun time with fellow church mates. I dragged Nicole along. It wasn’t tough even though it’d been a long time since I danced. I really saw that everybody had a wonderful time, learning new dance steps as well as getting to know each other in the process!”
The dance group included Margaret Fu, a member of the Chinese congregation. Margaret is in her 80s. But she said: “Oh, the classes were very manageable. They were not pressurizing!
“If the steps were too complicated for me, I would just walk around my little space. To me, the most important thing was to enjoy myself with the other sisters-in-Christ!”
Nicole: “I don’t know how long I’d stay. It’s hard to commit to a regular church ministry. I’m already very involved with the Navigators in school.”
Indeed, life has become busy across all levels of Singaporean society today. “I think this is partly why younger women are not coming,” Siew Peng says. “Younger women are busy with careers, families and children.
“Maybe there is really no need for us to worry too much over women in their 20s to 40s. We could just focus on the ladies between 50 to 70.”
Siew Peng is not discouraged but determined to find the niche purpose for the ministry.
While her core team wants to remain faithful to its early aims of reaching and establishing women, they know they won’t quite achieve these aims if they don’t get women to show up.
But what new activities will draw women? The group had taught handicraft, baking, cooking, and sewing. They had climbed Bukit Timah Hill. They had held evangelistic Christmas teas. They had even traveled to Johor Bahru and Batam.
Exercise enthusiasts meet on the second Saturday of most months for a morning walk along Singapore’s canal connectors and MacRitchie Nature Park. The women have dubbed this ‘Walking with Jesus’.
But women’s ministry is not just a social club, the group holds talks and Bible sessions as well. Siew Peng, together with five other ladies, formed a book club and are reading a book together.
For now, everyone is talking about the line dance classes. Cynthia said: “It’s a joy to welcome the participants, which included non-believers and members of the Chinese congregation!”
She added: “Although we end at 12 noon, many people stay behind for revision. I’m happy to go through the dances with them.”
Would the women be open to accepting men participants, particularly for their line dance?
Instead of waiting two hours for their wives to finish, perhaps a few intrepid husbands would join the women for a few handsome turns on the dance floor.
Rennie wonders: “I think my husband would join me if the group went bowling, and maybe several other husbands, too. That could be a way to breathe life into the activities.“
Siew Peng: “We have discussed the question of admitting men several times over the years, but we are a women’s group, after all.”
Several men turned up with their wives after an announcement was made that men would be admitted to the class. One such man was Wilson Fu, Margaret’s husband. “I got to dance! I guess the people in charge felt it was alright.”
Siew Peng adds: “It might be more realistic to see women’s ministry as a place where some women in our church and their friends can drop in for activities that interest them rather than a foundational ministry that has a membership roll like U12 and YZ.”
Before her third class, Cynthia muses.
“My family and I came to True Way last October. We transferred our membership recently. In a way, the church has become a home to us.”
“The pastors and elders are good role models of caring for new members. I pray that as members meet and serve together, we too will encourage each other.”