Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness

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October is Pregnancy & Infant Awareness Month, perhaps you have seen someone mention it on their Facebook page, or social media.  While many may share their experience of loss, there are others who are grieving in silence.  October may be the awareness month, but the feeling of loss doesn’t leave the hearts of these families on November 1st.  

We are going to take a break from our series on starting your own Women’s Ministry Council, to hear from our dear friend Kayla Pesce.  For the next couple of installments, Kayla is going to share her heart, experience, and advice for how we can walk alongside grieving women in our churches, community, and even family.

Why Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month Matters

While in the throes of planning our church’s 2018 women’s retreat as co-leader, I unexpectedly lost my first child to extremely pre-term birth. Our retreat theme was “Our story for God’s Glory,” and the irony of that still brings tears to my eyes. Frankly, I thought it was kind of a cheesy theme, but I believed in its purpose and vision. I went into planning with the confidence in the completed story God already gave me; a broken sexual past, marriage struggles, and His redemptive healing of it all. I had come to love this testimony and I openly share that with other women because I am comfortable with its details and the truths about God that brought such healing. I had resources, books, scriptures, friends who I related to, and podcasts. You name it, intimacy and sexuality were my know-how (still are)…..but THIS? Loss, death, grief, anger, sorrow, pain, jealousy, sadness. This was not the story I was ready to HAVE much less share, but I knew that in His Sovereignty God could use even this tragedy for His glorification. I clung to that knowledge as we proceeded with planning.

I had a miscarriage. I am a mother to a child in Heaven. My baby died.

While these statements appear harsh they sadly remain the latest headlines to my life’s story; and although my experience seems tragic and rare you should know that I share this narrative with an estimated 1 in 4 women. Yes, 25% of the women in your church’s women’s ministry are mothers to babies in Heaven too (not including those who experienced abortion). If we could all say in unison, “my baby died,” its sound would pierce the silence. Not because of its volume, but because of its profound declaration of vulnerable truth that is often grieved discreetly. The statistics don’t lie, but they are merely that: a number. Behind each number is a grieving woman and with that I know I am not alone, and if this is your story please know neither are you.

How does this fact apply to you as a leader in your women’s ministry?

My personal prayer and desire is that my transparency on this topic would in turn inspire other women, especially leaders, to notice and grieve with their sisters that have experienced the loss of a child they never knew. This includes miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, still birth, fatal diagnosis’, and early infant death. I see this variety of tragedy and sorrow, like any, as an opportunity to encourage a sister in her obedience to the Lord, but also a chance for you to practice obedience to Him as well. It is an opportunity for you to uniquely care and pray for, grieve, share truth, long suffer, and show the love of Jesus with a fellow woman who is in desperate need of support.

October was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Is there someone you need to be aware of that has grieved or is grieving this type of loss within your church and women’s ministry? If not, pray and ask the Lord to reveal a chance to love on someone in this way in the coming months if the opportunity is available. Remember our grief is not limited to one month of the year nor a year alone, but a lifetime lived without someone we love.

In a later submission I will share ways to practically help this woman and her family, but in the mean time I hope this brings the awareness to your mind to acknowledge this great heartache in your midst. I believe it will allow you to grow nearer to the women you lead, and more importantly provide a chance to serve our Lord in a new way.While we “the 1 in 4” are often grieving in silence, I want to write out loud on our behalf and welcome you, our fellow sisters, to be aware of our losses and join us in the grieving journey as women whose babies are in Heaven. You too are part of our story for God’s perfect Glory.

This was written in memory of Anna Joy Pesce, born into Heaven on October 7th 2018. May her life and memory always point to Jesus as Creator, Savior, and Sustainer.

For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. THEREFORE, I also have lent {her} to the Lord; as long as {she} lives {she} shall be lent to the Lord.” So they worshiped the Lord there. -1 Samuel 1:27-28

Get Connected

Get Connected

Whether you are trying to find speakers, partner with community organizations, or invite women to participate in your meetings, you will need to get connected.  There are several ways to connect in your community with others.

Speakers:  Not only will you be able to eventually pull from the various leaders who are attending your local meetings, but you can extend that out to other women and even men in your community.  Reach out to Pastors to come and speak about Women’s Ministry from their perspective, how they consider budget requests, etc.   As you meet with Women’s Ministry leaders (or other leaders in the community), ask for referrals to women who have spoken at their events before.  Be willing to start off presenting the material yourself, but also have a plan to help/encourage the women attending who want to become more comfortable speaking in front of groups.   As of date, we have never advertised for speakers.   The more involved we have become in local events, speakers have come across our paths and we definitely take note.  A firm recommendation, from our experience, take the time to vet the speaker before you ask them to speak at your group.  Follow their social media accounts, have a few lunch dates, and learn as much as you can about who they are and what they believe.

Community Organizations:  There are a few ways to get to know the organizations that are serving your community.  Google searches and even Facebook searches can help connect you to the larger more common organizations in your community.  This could include foster agencies, crisis pregnancy centers, food banks, etc.  For the smaller, more personal, ministries and organizations attend local fairs, festivals, rallies, and events.  Specifically, you are looking for ones related to causes or that allow non-profits to set up a vendor booth.  As you walk through these events, pick up business cards and literature from the organizations to research when you get home (or to share with your planning team).   Ask for referrals from your attendees or friends in other churches, who may have worked with local organizations.  Keep an eye out for advertisements related to special events or fundraisers that organizations are hosting, and pull their contact information from the notice.

Attendees:  In order to invite women to begin attending your meetings, the internet is a great place to start.  Create a group on Facebook for your Women’s Ministry Council group, and share the link on your own Facebook page asking for Women’s Ministry leaders to join for more information about this new ministry.  Also consider if Women’s Ministry is confined to those who are leading formal Women’s Ministry programs, or if that includes any ministry where women are leading other women.  If it does extend to those other ministries, you can look up local MOPS groups, BSF groups, etc. online and reach out to their leadership with an invitation to attend.  Place a flyer on community notice boards (restaurants, cafes, libraries, community centers, stores) about the group and how the reader can find out more information.  Reach out directly to churches via their email or regular mail with a quick intro and invitation for their women in ministry leadership.

Another avenue, to connect with any of the above, is to connect in some sort of a networking group.  There are many types of networking groups that meeting throughout your city.  Some meet on weekdays, weekday evenings, or the weekend.  There are ones that are for Christian Business Owners, and then there are secular ones.  Christian Business Owner networking groups will introduce you to community groups, and potential speakers.  Also, as Christians, most are regularly attending a church where they can bring your information back to their Women’s Ministry leaders.  In the secular groups, you will have an opportunity to meet with community groups, and while not everyone attending are Christians… some are.  You may find attendees and speakers there as well.   Participants in those groups may not even want the information for themselves, but may have a friend that they would want you to connect with.

Finding Speakers

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During our first year of Women’s Ministry Council meetings, which was just four meetings, the speakers were limited to the co-founders.  However, we quickly added a third leader to our team, and had her speak on areas she was experienced and passionate about.

After that it became a bit easier to build up our guest list.  First, I must share that we do not pay our speakers for our local meetings.  We are clear about that, it’s a no-profit, no-budget ministry.  However, we do provide them with a little gift of appreciation and a opportunities.

  • Get to know the attendees.  Find out their ministry strengths, and invite them to speak about those strengths to the group.  Group sharing is a great way to invest in each other, as a community of leaders.
  • Ask for recommendations.  Surely the leaders have heard of other local leaders (even if not in Women’s Ministry) who might be a good speaker for a meeting.
  • Network in the community.  Meet up with non-profit organizations in your community, and invite their team to present information about their ministry and how Women’s Ministries (or churches) can support their work. I always recommend they share financial and tangible (goods, volunteering, etc.) options.

We have gifted speakers small gifts as a token of our appreciation.  If the speaker is not part of our group, but from the outside, we also allow the group to bring promotional materials to share with the women and bring back to their churches.

We never share the contact information of our attendees with these organizations, but will allow them to pass around a sign up sheet to collect contact information from those who are interested.

Past and future speaking invitations have been extended to:

  • Crisis Pregnancy Center, Post Abortive Counseling Services
  • Foster Advocacy and Placement
  • Hospital Hospitality House for family, patients receiving treatment that are not local residents.
  • Missionaries
  • Evangelism Training Ministry
  • Homeless Advocacy Group
  • Child Sponsorship Organization
  • Teen Pregnancy Program
  • Hunger & Poverty Organizations

 

Budget Matters

BUDGET

Starting a new ministry may intimidate you with concerns about budget, who pays for what… where does the money come from… what do we need money for.  Here’s a quite low down of how we have spent money in starting the ministry.  We have learned our lesson, and some things have been cut back or out completely.

Printing, Mailing, & Postage – in the beginning we needed to get the word out.  One of the easiest ways to do this was to print out an introduction letter about what we were doing.  We found churches online in our area, that indicated they had a Women’s Ministry, and mailed the letters to them.  We included a self addressed, stamped envelope, for them to respond to us with.  The letter included a tear off portion that they could add their contact information to and send back.   Save the money of the return envelope and postage.  Create a Facebook group.  When you send the letter or post card, include the link to the group on the card.  If they are interested, they will join the group.  You can then build a mailing list through there.  Share links to the FB group in social groups for your area, your own FB page, and ask those who join to share it with other leaders.  Make the group closed but not secret, so that all interested in joining must be approved.  FB groups now have a 3 question feature that you can ask questions of those interested in being a member of the group.  You can ask interested people Q1) What is the name of your church or ministry, or who referred you to this group?   Q2)  What is your position in the church or ministry?    Q3)  Please include your email so that we can add you to our mailing list.

Signs & Wonders –   You may benefit from signs so that people don’t wonder who you are, what they are doing, or if you are in the right place.   We purchased a simple vertical banner and stand from Vistaprint when there was a 50% off sale.  Using their templates, we were able to create a simple sign that gets the message across.  Over the years, we have ordered different types of signs, fancy name tags for the leaders, etc.  In retrospect, one good sign is more than enough.  And, you can hold of that until you have some budget money to spend on it.  Simple DIY lanyard style name badge can be picked up at an local office supply store or online.  Make them yourself, save some money.

Print Materials –   In the beginning, we started with a 3 fold brochure.  Then we started making rack cards with our annual calendar printed on it.  In the first year, I would print out invitations and mailing them to churches. I was very mindful to watch for sales and specials.   Whether you print it yourself or use a printing service, there is a cost.  Add in postage, and it goes up even more.  In the end we found that the majority of what we mailed to churches was very rarely passed on from whomever intercepted the mail and the Women’s Ministry leader.  I can’t tell you how many new attendees will tell me that they had never heard of our ministry.  After speaking with them and learning what church they attended, I knew for a fact I had mailed invitations to that church (on more than one occasion).  Now, we have reduced our print material to just a single rack card.  On one side is our annual calendar, on the back side is brief information about our ministry.  Easy, peasy, and inexpensive.

Meeting Materials –   Having sharpie markers and labels for nametags is a blessing.  When we first began meeting, I had a small basket for each table that included pens, small notepads, etc.  Sometimes we would print out notes related to the training topics.  We would purchase cute giveaway items.  I would solicit item donations from companies, and sometimes they would ask us just to cover the cost of shipping.  When we stopped having the cute giveaways and gifts, we did notice a drop in attendance.  That was okay, as you really only want women attending because they want the community and training.  The extra pens and paper, was pretty much unnecessary as most women came prepared to take notes. 

Meeting Location –  Our first few years of meeting, we met at a public restaurant.  In the beginning we could meet there free, but eventually they added a caveat to use their party/meeting room.  To use the space we needed $75 in catering.  For the number of women meeting, we could actually accommodate that cost.  It was cheaper for the women too, versus having to buy their own individual meals.  We also would run into women from churches at the restaurant and many new attendees came from those encounters.   We would probably still meet there, but it was becoming increasingly harder to use their space.  We ended up moving to the building of a local ministry that graciously hosts us, and now we don’t have to pay to use the space.  We take a collection of goods for their ministry at each meeting as a thank you.   In addition to meeting in public spaces, ministry venues, you may even be able to save funds by meeting at a local church or perhaps someone 

Food & Refreshments –  When we were meeting at the restaurant, initially everyone was for themselves.  Buy what you want, buy nothing.  When it shifted to having to pay $75 in catering, we could make that stretch to accommodate up to about forty of us.  Now that we are meeting at our new location, they graciously provide the coffee.  We provide the coffee fixings, paper goods, and bites to snack on.    You could probably save money by taking turns on bringing snacks and drinks each meeting.  We intentionally provide these things because it is a way to serve those who are always serving.  However, do what works for you and your budget.

Now that we have addressed all the spending, you probably wonder where the money comes from.  At the very beginning it was an investment of love by those of us who started the group.  We pitched money out of our own pockets to get things up and running.  Which is why I wanted to detail out all of the above.  Learn from where we spent unnecessarily.

At every meeting, we do take an offering to offset our expenses.   We also would occasional have small fundraisers that would bring in additional funds to the budget, which allowed us to cover print materials and expenses.  To date, we have never been in the negative.  Sometimes, we squeeze just in to break even.  There have been times where we fell short on a single meeting, but the next meeting made up for it.  At the end of each year, we break even, almost to the dime.

If you can start your ministry up under the umbrella of one of the local churches, you can process the offering through the church and run the ministry under their tax umbrella.  If you are going to run it independently of a church, you will need to consider running it as a 501c3 (nonprofit) or 501c7 (social group/club, also nonprofit).    If you are NOT collecting any funds from those attending, then you can totally disregard those two previous sentences.  

I think it is fair to say that in some ways we complicated things from the beginning.  I may be an old dog learning new tricks, but with the ease of the internet and social media, it is getting easier to communication information to people.  Use that to your advantage.   Not every meeting needs to have cute décor and favors, remember you are all leaders who deal with enough of that in your own ministries (and personal lives).  It is ok to keep things simple.

WMC Meeting Agendas

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As we continue our series on how you can start your own Women’s Ministry Council for your community, we tackle the topic of meeting agendas today.  Over the last five years we have tweaked the format through our experiences and feedback from the attendees.

I believe in honoring people’s time, and therefore I tend to pack schedules from start to finish.  If there is time being wasted, I worry that I am not being a good steward of other people’s time.  Our early Women’s Ministry Council meetings would have 3 speakers over the course of the two hours.  We would allow a short time for women to get their refreshments, announcements would be made, three topics would be presented, and in the middle somewhere would be a restroom break.  My thinking at the time was that the ladies could fellowship after the meeting.

Every so often, we provide a link to an anonymous survey to those who attend to provide feedback.  Repeatedly there would be a request to have time for fellowship to get to know one another better.   Ultimately, we dropped one speaker/topic and made room for fellowship time.  Even then, we still had tweaking to do in order to discover what is just the right amount of fellowship time.  From what we have learned, we recommend no more than twenty minutes.

An average meeting now, looks something like this:

9:30am start time – people arrive, get their refreshments, we quickly pray over the food, and allow them to fellowship.

9:50 meeting officially begins.  We have about 10 minutes of announcements.

10:00 the first speaker presents topic

10:30  restroom / beverage refill break

10:40 (or 10:45 if there is a larger group) the second speaker presents topic

11:10 (11:15)  we have our closing words, additional reminders, pray the women out, etc.

11:30 the meeting ends

There have been deviations to this schedule.  We have allotted 1 entire meeting to specific training on certain topics.  We have had speaker presentations that are shorter, and allotted for an additional speaker.  Things are flexible enough that we make adjustments from meeting to meeting as needed.

When we have a community group or ministry present, usually we give them about 10 to 15 minutes.  This can be slid in at the end during our closing segment.  Or, we may shorten the speakers time down to 25 minutes instead of 30.  This creates a 10 minute buffer that we can add to the community groups and ministries.  I have found that most of these groups do not need a significant amount of time to present.

 

LeadHer Conference Sneak Peek

Saturday was the 1st annual LeadHer Conference, hosted by the Women’s Ministry Council and sponsored by One Child Matters.

We have a lot to share about that time, as well as finish our series on starting your own WMC…. but here is a sneak peek while we recover from an amazing day!

More to come, as we share about our speakers… sponsors… and attendees.

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Reaching Leaders

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When we first began to plan the first Women’s Ministry Council meeting, we decided upon a meet and greet. We wanted to get to know other leaders, and introduce to them our vision for this ministry.  We began by heading to the internet and scouring local church websites, churches that we knew of in our community.

First, since we know of them (but didn’t attend) it meant they were an active church.  Second, active churches usually have up to date websites.  We figured instead of spending money on a mass mailing, we could visit the websites and only mail to churches that listed Women’s Ministries on their site.  We sent emails and good old fashion stamped mail too.

This is why I’ve written for years about making sure your Women’s Ministry is listed on the church website.  I can’t tell you how many churches didn’t include this information.  There were some that also didn’t have a mailing address or email address listed on their site.  It is really hard for new members or those considering a visit to your church if you don’t include the basics of where your church is or what it offers.

The first mailing briefly introduced our idea, and then gave the recipients an opportunity to respond back to us if they wanted to be added to our mailing list.  Our meeting and greet had about 18 women.  We have had meetings with as many as 40 in the last year.  It has grown quite a bit.

The additional growth came from reaching back out to churches and leaders via mail and email.  We even contacted the same church a few times.  Often I will run into a new leader and when they comment about how they have never heard of our ministry… my first question is to identify what church they are from.  In about 90% of the cases, I have mailed information about our ministry to the church address at least twice.  I have no idea why they do not pass it on to their Women’s Ministry leaders, but it has brought me to the point of making sure I sent something out at least once a year.

Finding email addresses for either the church, ministry leader, or just a woman who leads a Bible study in the church is helpful.  Usually a study leader is involved the ministry as a leader or attendee and will pass the info on to the right person.    This takes a little internet sleuthing.   Once I did attempt a google search to area churches, and there are mailing lists you can purchase.  In the end I felt, over all, this was not the best investment of time and resources.

Our number one way of meeting new leaders was meeting in a public place on a Saturday morning.  We met at a Panera Bread, and almost always there was a women’s study group there at the same time as us.  Someone would notice us, inquire, and take information back to their church.  The second way of meeting new leaders was for us to be present at things happening in our local churches.  If I heard another church as hosting a women’s simulcast event, I was there.  Women’s retreat that was open to non-members of their church?  I was there, too.  Denomination meetings?  Attend them.  Pastor breakfasts, I showed up at some.  Christian Business Networking luncheons, there I was.   Sponsoring a table or booth at a local event, always a plus.

Taking the time to get to know women in leadership vs. just sending out mailers was a third way that helped.  Either getting their information from the internet and reaching out, or asking for introductions from other members in the community.  We had some tshirts made up that I wear in public.  I did start social media accounts.  I would look for, and then make posts, in Facebook groups for our community extending and invite.

No matter how you reach out, make sure that you are being a good steward of your time and resources.