March 7 (Charisma)--It's no secret that women play an important part in the life of their churches, but the significant degree to which their contributions outweigh those of men is revealed in a new study that warns of a potential female exodus as many "burn out" from their heavy involvement.

There are up to 13 million more Christian women than Christian men in the United States. And their participation rated markedly higher than that of men in 12 out of 13 religious activities assessed by the Barna Research Group (BRG), including church attendance, leadership, giving and evangelism.

Citing women as the "spiritual heavyweights," the California-based organization found they were:

  • 57 percent more likely to attend an adult Sunday school class.
  • 56 percent more likely to hold a leadership position.
  • 54 percent more likely to join a small group.
  • 29 percent more likely to share their faith with others.
  • 23 percent more likely to give money.

But that commitment has come with a price. Women's church attendance has dropped 22 percent since 1991, and there has been a 21 percent fall in women volunteering to help at church over the same period, noted the report.

"While women represent the lion's share of Christians and the majority of participants in religious activities, many women appear to be burning out from their intense levels of involvement," commented BRG President George Barna. "Women's monumental effort to support the work of the Christian church may be running on fumes."

Churches need to consider whether they are providing enough opportunities for women to receive ministry as well as provide it, he said. "We may continue to see tens of thousands of women leaving the church unless there is a widespread, aggressive, thoughtful approach to recognizing and appreciating women."

Seventy-nine percent of women interviewed in the 4,755-person study described themselves as "spiritual," compared to only 63 percent of men. Seventy-five percent of women said their religious faith was "very important," while only 60 percent of men had the same level of commitment.

The efforts of men's initiatives like Promise Keepers notwithstanding, women more often than not still take the lead role in the spiritual life of their families, the study also found. "If the church is to stem the tide of biblical illiteracy and waning commitment to the Christian faith, men will have to re-establish themselves as partners and leaders of the spiritual functions of families," Barna said.

"The apparent lack of spiritual leadership exhibited by millions of Christian men has significantly hampered the spiritual growth of tens of thousands of well-meaning but spiritually inert families...We must impress upon men the importance that they model spiritual maturity and more actively participate in the life of the church."

Although women fill more lay leadership roles in their churches, only 5 percent of churches are currently led by a female senior pastor, said the report, "Women Are The Backbone of the Christian Congregations in America." The only religious activity in which men and women were equally likely to participate--19 percent of each sex--was meeting with a mentor or spiritual coach.

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