Researchers at the Barna Group on Monday released part one of their "Christian Women Today" series and asked the question, "Are Women Happy at Church?"
The study was conducted by surveying 603 adult women in the U.S. who say they are Christians and have attended a regular church service within the last six months. Overwhelmingly, the majority of women expressed "a great deal of satisfaction within the church they attend when it comes to leadership opportunities," the study's author wrote, but others are not so satisfied.
While 73 percent of women say they are making the most of their gifts and potential in their churches, 72 percent feel their ministry work is meaningful and 59 percent say they have "substantial influence" in their own congregations, some women say their experiences haven't been so positive.
A smaller percentage of women say they are held to low expectations in the church (31 percent), are under-utilized (20 percent), under-appreciated (13 percent) and taken for granted (11 percent). As the study indicates, these percentages are somewhat small but, on a national scale, they represent millions of women.
David Kinnaman, president of the Ventura, Calif.-based Barna Group, explained in a statement that the research can help people to better understand the context for the debate over women's roles in the church.
"It's tempting to take the examples of those closest to us as representative of all Christian women today," said Kinnaman. "Yet, the research shows there is an enormous range of experiences for women in today's churches, from those who are very satisfied to those who feel as if the church is one of the least welcoming places for them to be."
Women play a key role in the American church, as they are more likely to attend, volunteer and serve as Sunday school teachers than are men. Kinnaman says churches shouldn't use the information in this study simply to keep their female "constituents" pleased, but should instead use it to help men and women create a more "Christ-like community" together.
Other findings from the study show that one out of three women describe themselves as a "leader" (the same proportion as among men), while half of women identify themselves as a servant. Of those who self-identify as leaders, 52 percent said specifically that they are leaders in their congregations.
On the issue of allowing women to serve as leaders in the church, 78 percent of women say the Bible does not prohibit them from leading but 24 percent feel the role of pastor is not open to women. Still, 84 percent say their church is mostly or totally open to allowing women to fulfill their leadership potential within the church.
On Tuesday, Kinnaman posted to his blog an interview he conducted with Jim Henderson, author of The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam's Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church's Backbone?
Although many women are happy with the opportunities they are given in church, Henderson says many others have been avoiding the church altogether. He says Jesus Christ was counter-cultural in that he opened the door for women to become equals to men, although he also acknowledges that the controversy over women's roles in churches is an ongoing one.
"The issue of what women are and are not 'allowed' to do in the church has been debated for centuries," said Henderson. "When well-intentioned, reasonable biblical scholars like John Piper, Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright and Tim Keller disagree about the meaning of Scripture as it relates to women, then you know this is not a settled issue. Add to that the freedom people now have to express their opinions quickly to a widespread audience and you know this issue is not going to go away anytime soon."