More Women in Missions: Four Reasons Why

Why so many women? Where are the men? We can’t say for sure. But consider these four factors.

“Women hold up half the sky,” says the Chinese proverb. Half our children, all of our mothers and wives and sisters are women. But did you know that in the mission world, women hold up considerably more than half the sky and have for at least a dozen decades?

Since the year 1900, missionary women have outnumbered missionary men, sometimes by a 2:1 ratio—especially in the hardest places. Today about two-thirds of missionaries are married couples, and 70-80% of the rest are single women. Here are four factors that may play a part.

1. More women follow Jesus.

Statistically, women are more likely to join churches, attend worship services, pray frequently, and place a high value on their faith. So we ought to expect more to serve in missions, too. Just do the math. Some say the way faith and Christian service are typically presented have a greater appeal for women, as well. Could be.

Read a research roundup on The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World (Pew Forum).

2. Many men become pastors instead.

If a man’s faith is on fire and he wants to serve the Lord, he’s more likely to head to seminary and become a pastor. That may not be a lucrative or easy path but it’s a well-trod one and easy to relate to. What if you’re female? Doors may be closed and role models scarce. That may be another reason more women take a serious look at serving in missions.

See Mary Lederleitner’s book Women in God’s Mission for a balanced look at opportunities and obstacles for women who lead mission and ministry efforts (IVP Books).

3. Men may feel more pressure to pursue other things.

Let’s face it, you’re not going to get rich serving cross-culturally. So if you want to be self-reliant and consider yourself responsible to feed a family, you may have a hard time living “by faith” and raising support. Women may feel they have less to lose in giving up that steady job or promising career for what could be a crazy life overseas.

John Piper goes further, suggesting single men hold back from pursuing a life in missions for the same reasons they might be hesitant to pursue marriage. Both seem a lot to live up to. Listen to his short interview, Why Are Women More Eager Missionaries? (Desiring God).

4. The world actually needs more women in missions than men.

We’d love to see more men serving in missions, but reaching the world with the gospel requires men and women alike to make disciples. And where cultures and customs prohibit men from interacting with women who aren’t family, the ministry of women is particularly essential. Reaching and discipling women who live restricted, secluded and/or often very busy lives takes more people and more time and more effort. Not less. It’s no job for a man. We’re glad to see God raise up both married and single women for this crucial task.

See also our article Serving Single, in which a former missionary shares what she discovered about singleness and the hidden benefits it may offer those serving cross-culturally.

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