Women Are Struggling Too: The Sobering Statistics and How to Respond
Discipleship is essential to the Christian life. Jesus made this clear in the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations. . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20). I’d like to focus on the state of single evangelical women—and more specifically, young women—in the church today.
The National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) is an initiative from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that began in 1973. It’s one of the largest comprehensive data sources on the behavior of Americans in areas of marriage and cohabitation, infertility, use of contraception, family life, and general and reproductive health. The data can be separated out by religious affiliation, frequency of church attendance, and even by denomination. There’s also a growing body of data and research being done on female pornography use and other web-based sexual activity. I’d like to highlight some of the data from the most recent data set (2017–2019) of the NSFG, as well as other current research on women and the prevalence of their online sexual behavior.
Among evangelical women aged 15–44 who attend church weekly, one-in-ten have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior.
Among evangelical women aged 15–19, 11% have engaged in same-sex sexual behavior. That number jumps to 21% and 20% respectively for ages 23–27 and 28–32.
According to the most recent data from one of the world’s largest pornography sites, the fastest growing demographic in mobile device pornography traffic on the web is women.
According to Barna, more than half of women under 25 have sought out porn at some point (56% versus 27% among women over 25), and one-third of women under 25 seek out porn at least monthly (33% versus just 12% among older men). I would venture to guess that this statistic has only risen in the seven years since this data came out in 2016.
Single evangelical women are potentially the demographic most rapidly abandoning a biblical sexual ethic in churches today.
To state it plainly: if you’re a ministry leader or pastor, roughly one-in-ten to one-in-five of your female teen and young adult weekly attendees have pursued same-sex sexual activity. Single evangelical women are potentially the demographic most rapidly abandoning a biblical sexual ethic in churches today. This crisis demands a response from pastors, ministry leaders, and those who minister specifically to women.
Lament and Action
In a recent lecture, Carl Trueman asserts that those in exile should practice lament—but that the people of God should not stop there. Cultural crises should also result in a call to action among God’s people.
I believe Trueman is touching on a prevalent trend in the church today. When you survey comments about sexual ethics, how would you describe the theme? I’m disheartened to regularly hear an adversarial, “us vs. them” tone, often based on fear. I long to hear more of the humility that Scripture presents when talking about the makeup of the Church: “And such were some of you. But you were washed. . .” (1 Cor. 6:11). We should have a posture of deep humility when examining the changing terrain of the culture because we ourselves have been washed, sanctified, and justified by the Lord Jesus.
What if, as Trueman suggests, we didn’t just stop at lament but also took these sobering statistics as a call to action to engage in hearty, full-life discipleship in our local churches? Churches routinely talk about discipleship in the spiritual disciplines, stewardship of time and finances, and so on—but what about sexuality and gender? How can we respond to the changing terrain among single women in our churches?
Four Ways NOT to Respond:
- Assume “Not in My Church!” and Do Nothing
This is a deadly mistake. Women in today’s church are indeed grappling with issues related to sexuality, gender, and relational wholeness. Being the pastor’s daughter or serving in children’s ministry does not preclude her from these struggles. Your denomination or expository preaching does not shield women from particular sin struggles.
We all need discipleship in sexuality, particularly when our world is utterly saturated in lies. Church leader or pastor: it’s not if, but when a young woman confesses a struggle in this area—how will you respond? For every confession, there are many other women who have not come forward because of the shame involved in confessing to a male pastor or church leader. Assume sexual struggles are more common than those you’re aware of. In the words of a former colleague at Harvest USA, “seek to be ‘un-shock-able’ when confessions of sexual sin come to your doorstep.”
- Adopt an “Us vs. Them,” Culture War Perspective
This is not “an issue.” This is about Christian women struggling in your church right now. God’s daughters are bound up in sin. They’re in dire need of shepherding from the local church. If we view this as primarily a culture war, we may fail to see the women right in front of us. The issue is no longer “out there” in the world—it’s right here, sitting in your pews.
If we view this as primarily a culture war, we may fail to see the women right in front of us. The issue is no longer “out there” in the world—it’s right here, sitting in your pews.
A practical suggestion is to evaluate how you talk about sin in your own life and how you talk about sexuality and gender in the news and culture. I’ve heard many stories of women feeling that their church was not a safe place to receive care because the comments they consistently heard from church leaders were disparaging or harsh regarding “those people.” Is the way you talk about sexual sin one of derision and mockery? If so, the women in your church are listening, and the message they hear is shame and further isolation. Remember: “But such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). The gospel leaves no room for looking down on any sinner as if we’re above that sin or that confusion. Following the example of our Savior, our words ought to be truthful and tenderly compassionate.
- Assume This Is for Someone Else to Address
Maybe the pastor can cover this? Surely there’s an older woman in the church who can address all these things? If we’re honest, most people feel intimidated by helping sexual strugglers. That’s okay! Let me share something with you: I’ve seen that “expert advice” isn’t what helps most women struggling with sexual sin. Rather, the godly humility and character of brothers and sisters in the church invites them into the light.
To be sure, not everyone will directly disciple single women bound up in sexual and relational struggles. It’s appropriate for women to disciple women (Titus 2:3–4). But men, don’t underestimate the impact you can have as a brother in Christ. When a man pursues integrity in his interactions with single women or a brother demonstrates sacrificial love, the body of Christ is built up in love. Brothers, don’t underestimate the impact of your godly character on the whole church.
- Paralysis and Fear
You may feel like the tidal wave of the sexual revolution has already crashed on you and your church and it’s too late. Maybe you’re scared you won’t say the right thing or feel completely out of your depth. The humbling truth is that these things are too big for you and your church. You need the strong help of God’s Spirit. Hear Paul’s words: “Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God, we speak in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:16–19). It’s not your weakness that makes you ineffective, it’s your delusions of strength. Rest in the strength that Christ supplies to serve the women of God among you.
Four Ways to Respond
- By Faith
Take heart, Christian, Jesus himself commissions you with tenderness. After the command to “make disciples of all nations. . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” Jesus assures us, “And behold! I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19–20).
If you’ve weighed struggles related to sexuality so heavily above other sins, you may be hindered in approaching strugglers with humility. All sin is an issue of the heart.
If you’re a church leader, pastor, or member, Jesus promises to be with you. He will enable you to disciple his people, just as he commanded. And there have never been so many biblically sound resources for discipling women in sexuality and gender. By God’s grace, more and more will emerge in the coming years! Check out our resource page and blog for more on this.
- Through Prayer
Join with others in your church and pray! Ask God to show you how you can step into discipleship and care of women in your context of ministry and local church life.
- Asking Questions
Don’t assume that women in your church aren’t struggling in areas of sexuality. Get to know them!
I was so encouraged by a woman I know who, after one conversation with a woman who confessed struggles in this area, printed out one of Harvest USA’s free e-curricula and started discipling that young woman the very next week. She felt overwhelmed and under-equipped, but she had a posture of seeking to know and serve women, and God gave her opportunity. Discipleship is a relationship—one of knowing the other and pointing them to Christ. Seek to know the women in your own context. Do this by asking genuine questions.
- In Humility
Remember the heart is the source of all kinds of evil—that includes your heart! It can feel daunting to help someone bound up in sin when you feel their struggle is foreign to your own. Same-sex attraction and related temptations have been referred to as an abomination, but, lest we forget, another sin God calls an abomination in Proverbs 6 is “haughty eyes” (Prov. 6:16–17). If you’ve weighed struggles related to sexuality so heavily above other sins, you may be hindered in approaching strugglers with humility. All sin is an issue of the heart (Matt. 15:19.) Check out Harvest USA’s tree model for a helpful framework on how all sin struggles emerge from the heart.
May the church of Jesus Christ grow in her awareness of the need for robust discipleship in sexuality and gender for women. No, we may not win the culture war here and now. But is that what we’re called to pursue? Jesus’s words when he left his earthly ministry were very clear: make disciples. Ultimately, God calls us to be found faithful to Christ. Brother or sister in the local church, seek to be faithful where God has you. God’s daughters are in great need.
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