Seven Reasons Why Your Church Should Have a Ministry to Widows

February 17, 2016
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This verse in Scripture cannot be more compelling or clearer:

“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

Scholars have produced massive volumes on the biblical mandate to care for orphans and widows. The Bible is not ambiguous on this topic. I am grateful churches around the world have taken some steps to care for the orphans, though much more remains to be done.

But, in North American churches, I see hardly any intentional church wide ministries to widows. Millions are left to suffer and struggle in silence.

Though the biblical mandate to care for widows should be sufficient motive for our churches, consider some of the struggles widows experience. These seven factoids should give you at least a glimpse of the need for ministries to widows in your church.

  1. The death of a spouse is the number one stressor in a person’s life. Too many survivors are not ready to deal with the issues of widowhood (Holmes and Rohe stress scale).
  2. Over 800,000 persons are widowed each year. Of that number, 700,000 are women (U. S. Bureau of the Census).
  3. Widowhood lasts on the average 14 years. That is a significant portion of any person’s life (U. S. Bureau of the Census).
  4. There are over 14 million widows in the United States today. That is an average of 40 widows for every church in the United States (AARP).
  5. Upon the death of a spouse, a widow loses 75% of her support base. It is imperative for churches to stand in the gap (Widow’s Hope).
  6. Widows have a 30% higher risk of death in the first six months after the death of their husbands. They truly die of a broken heart (University of Glasgow).
  7. The poverty rate among widows is three to four times higher than elderly married women. Financial needs among widows are often great (Social Security Administration).

Please don’t walk away from reading this short post without considering some type of action in your church to care for widows.

It is one of the clearest mandates of Scripture.

It is also one of the most neglected mandates of Scripture.

Let me hear from you.

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86 Comments

  • Great challenge for the church, especially the men. I would encourage pastors and men’s ministry leaders in every church to consider New Commandment Men’s Ministry. As a pastor Herb Reese was broken over this commandment to love and serve widows (and others) with a long term commitment to show up and be the hands and feet of Jesus. The result is a strategy where teams of men adopt a widow or single mother. After training they commit to meet together one Saturday morning each month, study the Bible and pray then go and serve their recipient for a few hours. Herb’s commitment to this initiative has resulted in hundreds of teams caring consistently for widows throughout years of relationship. If you’re looking for a practical way to address this Biblical mandate, visit http://www.newcommandment.org. The New Commandment strategy is a great way to equip and encourage your men to be the church as they minister to the least of these.

  • I recently obtained a copy of Vance Havner’s “Though I Walk Through the Valley”, in which he told about his own spiritual struggles during his wife’s illness and death. I think that would be a good resource for those that want to minister to widows or widowers. Any chance that Lifeway might get the publishing rights to that book? (Hint, hint!)

  • Thom, My wife runs our widows ministries, They have a series of meetings at Church, a quarterly luncheon offsite, annual Christmas dinner, It is one of the busiest activities in our congregation and I believe it keeps us vibrant and relevant in the community. My wife and I were each widowed after 30 yrs marriage and met at church where we also host grief recovery ministries. It is one of the very necessary callings in the church.

  • I am 44 years old and have been a widow since July 1996 (20 years this year!). I have never dated and feel as if God is blessing me in my singleness. Having said this, it is tough sometimes! I feel as if we not only lack in the area of widowhood, but also just as a single parent. Too much stigma for single parents regardless of “why” you are a single parent. I definitely feel my church and many others in our area lack in this area. Thank you for this post!

    • Thank you, Lisa. My prayers for you. Thank you for your faithfulness.

    • I’m just offering this as a suggestion, but judging from your comment, you sound like you’d be a good candidate to lead such a ministry. After all, you understand what they’re going through because you’ve been there. Maybe you could talk to your pastor or other church leaders and offer to start such a ministry. I’m a pastor, and I’d be thrilled if someone offered to do that in our church.

      Like I said, just a suggestion! 🙂

  • We provide a small monthly pension to our widows over 60; as the scriptures suggest. Although it’s small, they seem to really depend upon it.

    One unexpected benefit is that our seniors (widows and non widows) are not only quick to embrace change in the ministry but are often the first partakers of new initiatives.

  • We have an intentional widow ministry that focuses on their needs through our deacon ministry, through support with life groups and Sunday School classes just for them, and an active group of leaders, who are widows themselves, that actively reach out to widows. It is a blessing!

  • Dr. Rainer, years ago we went to having a Widow/Widowers Christmas Dinner. It is prepared by our Deacon’s and Staff Wives and served by the Deacons in grand fashion. We have some fun and them remember their loss. Our hope is to encourage this special group during a difficult time of the year.

  • Do you consider divorced single women who have children widows in the church?

  • I agree with your comments, but I fear that ministry to senior adults in general and widows in particular is going the proverbial way of the dinosaur. Many churches have become so obsessed with reaching “the younger generation” that they’ve come to view the older members as a burden. Mind you, I’m absolutely in favor of reaching out to younger people, but we’re making a huge mistake if we neglect older members in the process. I fear many churches are doing precisely that, and that’s a reproach to the name of Christ.

    • I don’t think widows should be separated from those divorced. I think ministry to the elderly, all of them, is a priority for the church – not just those that can get to church. Our church has a noon service every day for elderly and for workers who come in their lunch break. This is very successful. 10 am is too early for those who need help and a lift. Don’t please separate out widows as the only ones needing church.

      • I don’t know what you mean by “separated”. I agree the church should minister to both widows and divorcees, but I personally believe they have different needs and require different kinds of ministry.

      • Elizabeth Burnett says on

        I certainly agree that the needs of a widow (or widower) are totally different than that of a divorced person. An active “Senior Adult” ministry is a ministry that includes many widows / widowers but there are so many young widows raising children that are not included.
        I fall between the two age groups with no children at home and have been a widow for almost 3 years.
        I have a wonderful church family, SS class, active in several ministries in the church but there is a specific area of life as a widow that is not answered by the church. Thankfully the words of Isaiah 54:5 are a great encouragement.
        Personally, I am reaching out one on one to individuals as they become widows and praying for how to develop a ministry within my church. There is a lot of good Christian literature and even private facebook groups available.
        Thank you for bringing this subject up.

      • I, too, think that the needs of the widowed and divorcees are entirely different. There is a huge difference in losing a spouse because of marital differences and losing a spouse to death. Sadly, I think that a lot of churches take on this mindset.

        The other mindset is that widows are always elderly. That’s not always the case. I have girls in my online ministry that were widowed in their early twenties. One gal in our group had a newborn and was napping while her husband was taking care of the baby. The baby’s constant crying and lack of consolation was what had alerted the mom to her husband. He died instantly of an anyuerism to the brain. (I have permission to share that story.) She was 23 years old and had only been married for a couple of years.

    • Jennifer Wallace says on

      There are many more young widows and widowers these days. I became a widow at 38 with two young daughters. Since that time I have known of many young men and women loosing their spouses. My church has been a major support system in many ways. But, my husband and I were a part of leadership and I have continued to be a part. My daughters have become a part of the leadership of our church, too. I have really felt the tug to start a support system in my church. I feel like being in leadership I knew where to go and what to ask, but everyone doesn’t.

      • Your points about young widows are certainly well-taken. We have a couple of those in our church as well.

    • Dear pastor and elders,
      Greetings to you in the most precious name of Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I would like to introduce myself to you, I am pastor: Gootla. Dora Babu, I have been working for Jesus Christ as full time servant among Hindu people in spreading good news of Jesus Christ in district east Godavari of our state Andhrapredesh, India.
      Please pray for our ministry!!!
      May God bless you abundantly!!
      Yours in His service,
      Pastor:Gootla.

    • Thanks a lot man of God We deal elderly people and young one too please pray with us

  • Just met with one of our members yesterday who admitted God has been giving her a burden in this area for a number of years and she’s finally being obedient by coming forward to lead such a ministry! We are in the initial stages of gathering a team of members who will carry out this new, intentional ministry to our widows, shut ins, etc.

  • Eddie Powers says on

    Would love to hear practical ways to minister in this way.

    • I know our readers will provide some examples, Eddie.

    • Hi,

      I am a remarried widow and I am the founder an international online ministry via Facebook group for young widows called Mourning into Dancing.

      One of the biggest things that I think my girls deal with is loneliness and lack of fellowship with like-minded folks in the local church – particularly for young widows. From a practical standpoint, allowing them to meet with others who are also going through loss is a big help to them. Our group meets online, but they have deep desires to meet in a face-to-face group setting. They are constantly asking for retreats, meet-ups and the like to be with like-minded individuals. So this is very much a desired thing for the group. Our group is for females only to weed out web predators and we do check for length of time on facebook, whether they are actually widowed and look to see whether they are a good fit for our group.

      Holidays (Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter), wedding anniversaries, anniversaries of the spouse’s death and birthdays are HUGE reminders of loss. A personal note to folks on those hard days will mean a lot. Luncheons, outings and fellowship time are much desired and needed. If your church is has several widows, I would say that it would be helpful to start a small/connect group for them.

      Offering group or individual counseling is also helpful. I went through a support group that my (former) church offered almost immediately after my first husband died. He was 40 at his death – I was 35. We worked through, “Grieving the Losses of Life,” by H. Norman Wright (the same guy who wrote “Before You Say I Do”) in our group. That was a really big help for me and I highly recommend that workbook to my girls. Many churches now offer, “Grief Share.” for those who are grieving in their congregations. It isn’t specific to widows, but it does help in the support group area.

      If they are young widows and are tech-savvy, online websites like, “One Fit Widow” and the “Widows Might” are also popular and offer devotionals, as well as practical advice. Mourning into Dancing is a girls-only closed group forum, allowing the women to have a time of asking questions, getting encouragement, sharing prayer needs and is a safe place for venting among like-minded ladies who understand and are walking the same journey. As Beth Moore is fond of saying, “we girls love camaraderie.” That’s been the basis of our group. We spur one another on to love and good works… while keeping our focus on Christ… He is the SOLE source of our healing and our strength.

      For those who are younger, help with parenting issues, opportunities for practical help around the house (help with lawn care, honey-do’s, etc.), car repairs and so forth are also helpful. Many of the younger widows do not have life insurance and are left behind without any source of financial help. Often, they will have to begin new jobs outside the home and find more affordable housing because of a very large loss in income. So, help in those areas are also often needed – financial counseling, real estate advice, buying a new car, etc… (So many of those things were either done with their husband or by their husband…. )

      That’s a long list, but hopefully it will give you something to chew on a bit. 🙂

      Bitsy

    • Our church started a “Ministry of Caring” about 3 years ago. A retired lay person came forward to volunteer and serve as the coordinator for the ministry. The announcement and introduction of this ministry was presented to the church during a Sunday morning worship service. Members were asked to sign up to volunteer, indicating the skills and services in which they able to serve. We received approximately 100 responses. During this presentation all those in need were encouraged to call and request assistance from the ministry. Follow up announcements have been made to remind those in need to utilize the service. We have subsequently expanded the ministry to serve the entire community beyond the church.

    • Please pray with us www. Kjbforkenya.wix. com/kenya

    • Valerie S Ponder says on

      Eddie, Just ask some widows what they need. Sit down and talk to them. What I need as a younger widow might be different than an older lady. Or both of our needs will be different than a widower. Just sit down and talk to them.

    • Ways to minister to a widow or widower. Don’t assume they have somewhere to go for the holidays. Offer an invitation. What things need to be done at your house? They need to be done at theirs as well. If you see their yard needs to be mowed instead of talking about it, instead Of ridiculing, offer to mow it. If they have children at home take their children on outings with your family.

  • James Holleman says on

    Don’t forget the widowers — many who have lost spouses after 30, 40, 50 or in my case 57 years. !!

    • I, personally don’t see any widowers suffering for very long, they all seemed to remarry within a year or 2 no matter how old they are or how long they were married. Some even sooner. (And I know of at least 5.)

      • This was not the case for my father. He was not completely but largely ignored as he was a widower and not a widow. He had cancer and mild dementia that was more perceived as a bad personality. His final years were very challenging.

      • Heather says on

        That is a bad statement to make! I’m 58 and have been s widow for 8 years .after my husband died I took care of my dad, my brother committed suicide. My family are all deceased and I have no kids. I’m truly a widow and an orphan. Financially, I struggled than I developed stage 4 cancer and was given 3 months. Two years later I’m still alive. I thank god every day. Financially, I have been living off credit cards and no one has helped. I sold everything! No one should assume things until you’ve walked in our shoes . I pray everyday for help.

      • I’m so sorry for all you have been through! My heart and my prayers go out to you and I praise God for your strength. If I could help in a financial way I would but I was caring full time for my mum who has recently passed and now I am alone, unmarried and struggling. But I will pray for you! God bless! Tania.

      • Heather
        I’m praying for you.
        I want to talk to you.

      • Laura A. Senner says on

        Hi Heather,
        My name is Laura and I too am 58 and widowed for 8 years. My mom passed in 2002, my husband 2008, and my dad in 2009. I can totally relate.
        I would love to talk with you!
        p.s. I just came upon this website or I would have responded sooner.

      • Jane Verhoeks says on

        I’m so sorry and my heart breaks for the abandonment you’re experiencing.

      • Miso sorry have you applied for widows benefits. I pray you can get iy

      • This is so true! One will not understand until they have walked in a widow/widower’s shoes. I have been a widow for two years after losing my husband , suddenly to a heart attack while driving. I have an adult son, but my younger son was just 14 at the time. This devastated us all. We had to move to another state to live with my father who is suffering heart failure and we’ve been caring for him. The loneliness, financial hardship, depression from having a broken heart is indescribable. My husband was only 46 and did not have a known heart condition. You don’t only deal with your hurt and pain , but your children as well. I thank God for Jesus who gives me strength each day!

      • So sorry to hear this cece. Widowhood can not be understood until someone walks the walk.

      • This is so true. That is why I am trying to get a Widows Ministry at my church to promote understanding to the congregation, and healing, encouragement, and assistance to those widows who “are truly in need”, and hope to them as prescribed in the scripture of the Holy Bible. God Bless
        .

        Cynthia

      • Suneet masih says on

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      • Fredia Singleton says on

        You are truly a widow, indeed. Many are widowed with grown children who SHOULD help take responsibility for their parent, but for varying reasons, they do not. Herein lies the problem. Also some live seemingly on very modest means while having huge bank accounts and money squirrelled away in money markets and CD’s to “leave something for their children”. This poses a problem to churches wanting to help the truly needy, such as yourself, and not wanting to contribute to someone’s inheritance fund. It put’s the Church in the position of seeming to be nosy but how else can they discern WHO really needs their help.

      • Deborah Long says on

        Sorry for ur loss Heather ,hugs to u ,I loss my Husband 9 months ago

      • LIZETTE GONZALEZ says on

        Heather how are you

      • Jane Verhoeks says on

        P.B. I’m nearly without decent words for you. What a cold, heartless, judgemental response. You can’t possibly be a Christian. You sir, have never suffered great loss. I’m guessing you have issues with your mother. Only God knows your heart, but the heart you have demonstrated in this post speaks volumes of your lack of love, understanding and compassion. You’re disgusting.

      • Clara Hammons says on

        I’m a 47 year old widow. My husband died 2 years ago. My church has a ministry to help widows and they helped me tremendously when I had to sell my home. I am not “suffering” in the way I am sure some older widows do because I have a job and am young enough to be able to take care of myself, but the past 2 years have been filled with tremendous pain, grief, and anguish, times in which I wanted to die and begged God to “take me home. ” The thought of being married by now is unthinkable. I haven’t dated and am not looking to. I have been to Griefshare and know other widows who have never remarried. I am thankful for my church’s help and don’t believe it’s true that all widows remarry by 2 years.

      • Shelly says on

        Oh, really? Then your scope of view must be very narrow.

      • Shirley McCloud says on

        I have been widowed and single for 6 1/2 years. Your statement shows a total lack of understanding and compassion. I was married 47 years to my hero. The loneliness at times is palpable. I will never look for anyone else. However I certainly understand why others do. Shame on you for your heartless response.

      • Really guess what your wrong since my husband has passed I have had to install 2 bedroom windows myself and pull off plywood off the side of my home and replace it myself as well as getting up on a ladder and painting my own home at the age of sixty also have a disabled son now trying to figure out how to repair my roof next.

      • Gloria Metayer says on

        That may be true, never the less, there are still a large percentage of widows that are suffering tremendously.If Jesus prioritized widows in the church, so should we❤

      • Well, given that you know 5 must mean it is the same for all widows. No. I am painfully alone and widows tend to look quickly for a partner because they have lost so much. Maybe they needed support they were not getting?

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