Women in World Evangelization: More Study Needed

From the time of creation, God blessed both man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). As we continue to read redemptive history from Genesis to Revelation, God’s design has been for all of creation, and both men and women specifically, to be filled with the knowledge of the living God and to proclaim the good news (Mark 16:15). From Priscilla and Aquila to William and Catherine Booth, men and women in partnership have advanced the gospel together throughout history. In the modern missionary movement, the partnership between men and women in proclaiming the good news, and the role of women in particular, has not diminished, but has grown stronger. However, a search of available materials does not reveal much consideration and in-depth analysis of the current strong and strategic influence of women from across the world involved in world evangelization today. This is an unfortunate travesty that must be addressed.

Throughout the age of modern missions, women from Great Britain, Europe and North America found increasing influence in the realm of world missions both on the homefront through “an impressive array of mission societies,”1 as well as on the international front as foreign missionaries. Christian missions afforded Western women, especially those from middle and upper classes, the opportunity to exercise their power and skills in the socially acceptable sphere of religion which was considered at that time “feminine.”2

Studies on women in global missions are primarily qualitative biographical and case studies rather than quantitative systematic analysis.

Today, a brief Internet search on women in global missions in one missions magazine showed only four articles throughout the 1980s, no directly related articles since 1989 and only an incidental article in 2001. Whatever reputable studies on women in global missions there are, they are focused on Western female missionaries from the dawn of the modern missionary movement in the 1800s on into the 1900s, and not on the growing number of women from the global South who are also engaged in global missions.

Studies on women in global missions are primarily qualitative biographical and case studies rather than quantitative systematic analysis. Most notably, these qualitative studies are usually written by Western women about Western women, focusing on women as “influencers,” social reformers, advocates and educators.3 Unfortunately, this is not reflective of the current direction in which Christianity is growing most, that is in the global South, and as Dana Robert argues, “The current demographic shift in world Christianity should be analyzed as a women’s movement.”4

Roberts indicates further that there is no “hard data behind this assertion—because there wasn’t any,” yet we have indicators that “if the fastest growing indigenous groups in Latin American and Africa were predominantly female, and that if in the year 2000 these two continents together contained roughly forty-one percent of the world’s Christians, then one could speak of the typical Christian in 2000 as Latin American or African female.” More concerted efforts must be made to investigate and unveil the data that lies underneath these swells for which we currently only have indicators.

In-depth Study Needed for Women in World Missions
In-depth study focusing on women in global Christianity, and especially those involved in world missions, is required to take world evangelization to the next level of strategic thinking. Although there currently is no such study available, there are some figures to help us in our initial search provided by David Barrett, Todd Johnson and Peter Crossing.5 Although their data gives aggregate figures from 2005, there is not much in the way of gender-based data. According to Johnson, there is insufficient data from around the world to compile such an in-depth gender based studies. Nevertheless, Barrett, Johnson and Crossing do give us a few figures to consider.

The following data is pulled from Barrett, Johnson and Crossing’s Global Table 2 in “Missiometrics 2007.”6 In 2005, there were over 4.4 million women engaged in full-time Christian work around the world, including home pastoral care, home mission and foreign missions. Over half of home pastoral workers (fifty-three percent) were women, and women constituted nearly half of all full-time foreign mission personnel (forty-five percent). Women constituted about forty-five percent of foreign lay personnel, forty percent of foreign lay ministers and about seventy-four percent of lay foreign missionaries. Women also comprised fifty percent of pilgrim evangelizers as well as seventy percent of tourist evangelizers.

In 2005, there were over 4.4 million women engaged in full-time Christian work around the world, including home pastoral care, home mission and foreign missions.

Special consideration must be made for the strategic training of unmarried women on the job, as two-thirds of all women in full-time ministry were unmarried. Over half of the women in full-time missions were unmarried (fifty-two percent), and just under half of the women in home missions were unmarried (49.7%). The overwhelming majority of women in home pastoral staff (77.7%) were unmarried.

Not only do women have a formidable role in world missions today, but also on the homefront as former missionaries and retired personnel. In 2005, women constituted about fifty-seven percent of ex-foreign missionaries (about 120,000 of 210,000), and about fifty percent of retired personnel from foreign missions (about 5,000 of 10,000). For total background supporters, according to Barrett, Johnson and Crossing, women constituted about fifty-six percent of all background supporters in missions, both in home missions (130 million, fifty-nine percent) and foreign missions (258 million, fifty-five percent). Sadly, of those who were retired personnel, only about thirty-six percent of those with pensions were women, and among retired personnel from foreign missions there were twice as many women than men who were unpensioned.

These figures help us gain a little more insight into the significant role of women in the task of world evangelization today, especially as lay foreign missionaries and evangelists where they constitute over two-thirds of the workforce. The figures also show that women are in need of better support following their tenure as world evangelizers. With these facts in mind, more strategic training and especially the strategic deployment and utilization of women are needed.

Currently, there is a surprising dearth of strategies and scholarly studies focusing on the role and effect of women in world evangelization, especially considering their very large numbers. If we are indeed to be on the cutting edge of evangelical world evangelization, greater energy and focus must be devoted to strategic consideration and study of the other half of the team, the half invisible, the half that is woman.


1. Robert, Dana L. 2005. American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice. Macon, Georgia, USA: Mercer University Press. ix.

2. Okkenhaug, Inger Marie. 2004. “Women in Christian Mission: Protestant Encounters from the 19th and 20th century.” North South. Gendered View from Norway. Special Edition of Kvinneforskning, 3.

3. Okkenhaug, I.M. 2004. cf. Robert, Dana L. “World Christianity as a Women’s Movement.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 20(4):180-188; Robert, D.L. 2002. “The Mission Education Movement and the Rise of World Christianity, 1902-2002.” Delivered at the Centennial Celebration of the Mission Education Movement, NCCCUSA General Assembly, November; Haddad, Mimi. 2007. “Missionary Pioneers: A Legacy of Women and Men Advancing the Gospel Together.” Lausanne World Pulse. March. 1-5.

4. Robert. “World Christianity as a Women’s Movement,” 180.

5. Barrett, David, Todd M. Johnson and Peter Crossing. 2007. “Missiometrics 2007: Creating Your Own Analysis of Global Data.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research. 31(1):25-32.

6. Ibid, 28.

Sandra S. K. Lee currently serves as a research associate with the Center for the Study of Global Christianity on the campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. She is also research assistant to Doug Birdsall, executive chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.