Interview with Lisa Jernigan and Patty Wyatt

Patty Wyatt (left) and Lisa Jernigan.

Patty Wyatt was reeling. A college roommate had been shot and killed at Wedgewood Baptist Church and just seven months later a man walked into her parents’ homeowners’ association meeting and randomly shot and killed Patty’s mother. About the same time, Lisa Jernigan’s mother passed away after a tough fight with cancer, and Lisa’s husband, Cal, had been asked to serve as the new senior pastor at Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona. But the move from Central’s youth ministry to “big church” left Lisa feeling very alone. A mutual friend saw these two women—both with grieving fathers and hearts for ministry—and brought them together. As Patty says, “Our worlds collided.” They had the same passion to make ministry to women “real,” and since that time, thousands have been touched by these “girlfriends.”

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How do you make women’s ministry relevant to younger women who are looking for a challenge?

PATTY WYATT: We have learned that even calling it “women’s ministry” makes it like your mother or grandmother’s church. That’s why we call it “Girlfriends.” Changing the language brings everyone in.

LISA JERNIGAN: It’s not so formal. You hear, “Hi, Girlfriend!” It helps women feel more safe and relaxed. Women don’t have to feel perfect; they have to feel like they fit. I didn’t feel like I fit and I wanted to know that I belonged.

Is there a unique appeal to women ministering with women?

JERNIGAN: Women were created for relationship, and if the church isn’t providing it, women will find it outside the church walls. Women’s ministries often are not intentional—we have a tea or Bible study, but we can’t say why. You have to attract women to events that have a purpose. We have women who hike for a cause, or quilt for nursing homes, and everything we do leads to the next thing. We don’t just put something on the calendar to fill a space.

WYATT: We just did a Girlfriend event in Kenya. We painted fingernails and did tribal dances and laughed and played games. We were connecting on a level of friendships, and the people were hearing about Jesus. A pastor who drove us to the airport said, “This whole Girlfriending It has taken me off my feet!” He said, you’re adding those relationships, you’re giving it a high priority, and you’re loving Jesus and loving Girlfriends.

Do you have a defined approach to women’s ministry, or should I say, Girlfriends ministry?

WYATT: We have a philosophy of four Gs (we have some quirky lingo). First is girlfrienditude. It’s changing your attitude toward each other, and even yourself. Making sure you’re getting into Jesus. Girlfriendalogue is your dialogue—changing your dialogue, how you’re communicating, discovering your temperament and your spiritual gifts. Girlfriendiffluence is looking at your sphere of influence.

JERNIGAN: Who are you surrounding yourself with? Are people lifting you up, and are you lifting others up? Girlfriendapply is how am I applying my faith? If I’m just sitting in a Bible study, I’m sitting and soaking, I’m not serving. If I’m soaking in Jesus, why am I not serving Jesus?

WYATT: It’s taking women out of the “holy huddles” and bringing them into a realm of relationships, which is how God created us in the first place. So they’re not competing with each other. It changes the culture.

How do you get out of the “holy huddles?”

JERNIGAN: Women really want to be challenged. So often we make it too comfortable for women. and they get bored.

WYATT: When you’re attracting sharp, high-capacity people, they see that you’re not just doing a party. When they see how intentional you are in creating this ministry, when they begin to focus on their influence, you get strong leaders because they see it is done with excellence. They begin to discover their temperament and spiritual gifts.

JERNIGAN: Women are the ones who will get things done a lot of times. So many times women are relegated to tasks. Why aren’t we letting women use their gifts of leadership, their gifts of organization, and their business sense? When it comes to church, there’s nothing wrong with doing tasks, but some high-capacity women find the corporate world will let them use their gifts but the church won’t.

Do strong women leaders give men reason to abdicate their role of leadership?

JERNIGAN: We’re not saying we have spiritual authority over men. These women are leading in our ministry. When one ministry is alive, it kind of inspires other ministries. We’ve had other churches say, “Our Girlfriend ministry is thriving, and because of that, we now have a good men’s ministry!” It’s like if you get excited about one area of your life, it morphs into other areas.

WYATT: Women are powerful. Eve turned the world upside down with one forbidden fruit! Women can turn the world right-side up!

How do you develop community?

JERNIGAN: You become aware of the needs in your community with others. For example, let’s say a new mom gives birth. Patty and I are not culinary queens, but there are some women who love to cook; the women who cook, however, may not want to deliver the meal; but there are other women who would love to do that. It’s getting someone to use their gifts and see their part of it. It’s not asking everyone to do everything, but completing each other.

WYATT: For example, when we do ministry in the strip clubs, we have one gal who organizes it and others who make cupcakes. The ones who make cupcakes may not want to set foot in a strip club, but they know they are a part of the ministry because they’re making cupcakes.

Going to strip clubs doesn’t sound like old-fashioned women’s ministry.

WYATT: We went into a strip club and met this one girl, Nia, who had tattooed across her chest, “Dying to be loved.” This woman needed to be thrown into the Girlfriend frenzy of just being loved. She couldn’t get a regular job because she didn’t have her original birth certificate or a Social Security number. Within six months we were able to send out an e-mail saying Nia was looking for a job. One woman helped her write a résumé, one went shopping for clothes with her. She is now living with a woman in our church who took her in. It’s women rallying women to do the remarkable. Often we say, “I’ll pray for you,” but we don’t become the hands and feet of Jesus.

How do you attract women to get involved in the ministry?

JERNIGAN: We started thinking, let’s do an event that’s interactive instead of speaker-driven. We put together an event where we did pampering and played games, so the room felt alive from the moment the women walked in—it wasn’t just sitting in a chair listening to a speaker. Women feel comfortable bringing other women inside the church walls for these events. We did them for six months; we started with 100 women and after six months we were having 1,000 women!

WYATT: We saw it was truly a Girlfriend movement. Other people across the U.S. wanted to put on something like this. You can’t just ask girls to listen to a speaker. You entice them by saying, “We have boutique shopping, makeup, jewelry, shoes. . . .” It was like the Holy Spirit was bouncing off the walls! There were decisions made for Christ! It was Girlfriends being “Jesus with skin on” to the unchurched who showed up.

Are you able to connect with younger women, or is Girlfriend It primarily about getting to moms?

WYATT: We spoke at Arizona State University a couple of weeks ago, and these college gals just swarmed around us wanting to get involved. The younger generation really wants to get their hands dirty. They don’t just want to hear the pastor or someone else speak.

JERNIGAN: The younger generation really wants a compelling vision. They want to know their role is in that vision and they also want to see the celebration of that vision. You’ve got to let people know the difference they’re making and share the celebration of the victory so they can say, “What I did really makes a difference!”

And, of course, moms are in the mix, too.

JERNIGAN: Mothers have the capacity to greatly influence the next generation. The influence of mothers can carry on a strong legacy. As relationships develop between moms and kids, they start seeing the church as their community, their extended family. You even see kids wanting to help other kids.

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