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More Women in Missions: Four Reasons Why

Women in missions have long outnumbered men, sometimes by a 2:1 ratio—especially in most challenging places. Why? Is it a problem?

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Marti Wade

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March 19, 2021

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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 of our children and all of our mothers, 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 1900, missionary women have outnumbered missionary men, sometimes by a 2:1 ratio—especially in the most challenging 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 value their faith highly. So we ought to expect more to serve in missions, too. Just do the math. Some say the mystical way faith and a call Christian service are typically presented also has a greater appeal for women. Could be.

See a research roundup from Pew Forum on The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World.

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 that is easy to understand and relate to. What if you’re female? Doors may be closed, and role models may be 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 make enough money to provide for a family, you may have a hard time considering 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. He suggests 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 often very busy lives takes more people, time and 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 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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<p class="rich-text-callout"><strong>See Also: </strong><a href="#"><em>Discerning Your Calling: How Do You Know If God Is Leading You to Serve Cross Culturally?</em></a></p>

Take the next step

Check out this book about serving single or look for biographies of singles who have served in missions.

Read these articles about singleness and marriage overseas.

Read about a Pioneer named Megan, a single woman who became a spiritual mother in North Africa (Mission Frontiers). It's part of a whole issue of the magazine Mission Frontiers focused on women in mission: the quiet majority.

Going Deeper

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